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Etter's picks for best Southwest books

December 28, 2009

Each year, retired ASU librarian Patricia Etter compiles a list of the best books about the Southwest she has read in the past 12 months.

Five other avid readers do the same, and their joint lists are published in a booklet titled “Southwest Books of the Year.” The effort is sponsored by Friends of the Pima County Public Library and the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records Agency.

Here are Etter’s picks for 2009:

• “The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman,” by Margot Mifflin, University of Nebraska Press. In 1851, Olive Oatman was a 13-year-old pioneer traveling west toward Zion with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she had been kidnapped and was a “white Indian with a chin tattoo,” caught between cultures. She was fully assimilated into an Indian society and perfectly happy when, at 19, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.

Etter said of the book, “Here is Indian captivity, murder and adventure, Indians and the army, a long lost brother and sister reunited, a splinter sect of Mormon converts, the Methodists, an array of interesting cultures and innocent children.”

• “Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan: Excavations at the Bluff Great House,” by Catherine M. Cameron, University of Arizona Press. Chaco Canyon, northwest New Mexico, became a major center of ancestral puebloan culture thriving about 1,000 years ago. In addition to monumental Pueblo Bonito, the canyon was home to other "great houses" as they came to be called. Ultimately, more than 200 centers containing great houses were built in numerous sites in the San Juan basin.

• “Naked Rainbow and Other Stories, The El Arco Iris Desnudo y Otros Cuentos,” by Nasario García, University of New Mexico Press. The author's childhood village of Ojo del Padre (modern Guadalupe) in the Rio Puerco Vally southeast of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, provides the inspiration for these stories about the common folk in the tiny town. Whether it is the group of variously disabled men who meet regularly to curse their condition, or the village women who created their own method for permanently ridding the village of a cheating peddler, or the constantly maligned three-breasted woman who lived happily ever after, there is something to be learned about the human condition.

• ”New Mexico Colcha Club: Spanish Colonial Embroidery & the Women Who Saved It,” by Nancy C. Benson, Museum of New Mexico Press. Early migrants to Spanish Colonial New Mexico packed only necessities for the 1,500-mile journey from Mexico City. But the women did bring needle and thread and the knowledge of one stitch they called Colcha. Using this one stitch with wool from Churro sheep, they created multiple and colorful designs on wool or cotton bedspreads, clothing, altarcloths, table linens and more.

• ”Simon J. Ortiz: a Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance,” by Susan Berry Brill de Ramírez, Evelina Zuni Lucero, University of New Mexico Press. Simon Ortiz is a gentle, friendly, and unassuming individual who turns out to be a giant in the field of indigenous literature. This book celebrates his life and literary legacy. He is from Acoma pueblo and early on worked in the uranium mines, served in the U. S. Army and attended the University of New Mexico. He has taught in many places and recently returned to the United States following a number of years at the University of Toronto and is currently a professor of English at ASU.

• ”Telling New Mexico: a New History,” by Frances Levine, Louise Stiver, Marta Weigle, Museum of New Mexico Press. What a great way to get a history lesson! Sit down, open this book anywhere and enjoy. Perhaps this is because 43 New Mexico historians wrote in their area of expertise in such a way that one could hardly wait to turn the page. For sure, the Land of Enchantment has an exciting history, from the Spanish entrada to Denis Chavez and the making of modern Mexico.

• ”Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe,” by Mary Anne Redding, Krista Elrick, Museum of New Mexico Press. Climate, backdrop, adobe architecture, Native peoples, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Americans, the artists and the tourists have all had a hand in creating this unique and wondrous town, the oldest capital in the United States since settlement in 1609. Then about 1859, on came the photographers: Wittick, Vroman, Jackson, Nusbaum, Lummis, Porter, and more, to record the town's history in all its forms to the present day. These are just a few of the 800,000 images stored in the photo archives of the Palace of the Governors that preserve the history and show change over time.

• ”To Walk in Beauty: a Navajo Family's Journey Home,” by N. Scott Momaday, Stacia Spragg-Braude, Museum of New Mexico Press.

"Walking in Beauty" is a state of being that can best be described as grace and creation of balance in the universe. These concepts helped the Begay family face various challenges in their return to Jeddito Wash in the Navajo Nation and to reclaim their cultural identity. Integral to the story of the Begays is their effort to raise Churro sheep, considered a sacred practice.

• ”The West of the Imagination,” by William H. Goetzmann, William N. Goetzmann, University of Oklahoma Press. All of the 600 pages are a delight to read, with their faultless reproductions of great works of visual interpretation of the West. Included are drawings, lithographs, paintings and photographs. In spite of artistic license, here is a history of the West in all its varied forms: the Indians, the battles, Western expansion, railroad surveys, magnificent views and, of course, the enduring figure of the West, the cowboy.