I’m continuing on my tour of the United States through literature, and I’m now entering the Southwest. These are all books that have a deep sense of place.
I’m starting this portion of my travels in Texas. For convenience sake, I’m including Texas in the Southwest even though you could argue that it belongs in the Deep South or even, in part, in the Great Plains. As a native Texan and an environmentalist, I’m hoping that “Goodbye to a River” by John Graves will tick all of my happy boxes. Graves traveled down the Brazos River to explore the land and reflect on it’s history before a series of dams were erected and irreversibly changed everything.
From Texas, I plan to head to New Mexico with the book “Code Talker” by Chester Nez. This is Nez’s personal story of being a Navajo Code Talker in the Marine Corps. Much of this book takes place in the Pacific Islands during World War II, but even that is a reflection of his upbringing on the reservation in northwestern New Mexico called “The Checkerboard.” His ability to be a Code Talker was a direct result of his time spent both on the reservation and in the boarding school that he was sent to in order to “civilize” him. His story could not even be told until the operation was declassified in 1968 and it was still kept fairly quiet until he, along with the other original Code Talkers, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001.
Moving on, I am heading to Arizona with a book by one of my favorite authors that I have somehow still not managed to read. “Animal Dreams” by Barbara Kingsolver is about a young woman who returns home to care for her father and, inadvertently, helps herself as well. It’s a story told in a blending of flashbacks, dreams and Native American legends.
For my trip through Nevada, I have chosen “We Are Called to Rise” by Laura McBride. It is a convergence of several stories in the non-tourist area of Las Vegas: a woman whose 29-year-old marriage dissolves and whose adult son is troubled; a soldier who returns from war, battered and bruised both physically and emotionally; an immigrant 8-year-old boy and family whose lives are thrown into tragedy due to cultural differences. At the core of each story is despair and sadness. These characters are called to rise: to move forward in their deepest, darkest moments; to repair, recover and redeem themselves. It’s promised to be a story about healing and of hope.
And now I will finish off the Southwest with California. Yes, there could be an argument that California could also be included in the Northwest because it’s so large but that would leave me reading two books for California and that’s just not fair. So, as with Texas, I will leave it here. I plan on reading another favorite author: Joan Didion. Her book, “Where I Was From,” is a memoir in which she uses a journalistic and historical lens to look at the themes of the “Southwest,” such as the political idea of self-sufficiency.
I have more options for each southwestern state in this list if you want to follow along on any part of this journey. You can also find past posts in this series at Travel Through Story: The Deep South.