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What I'm Reading This Week Booked Up

Booked Up

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR


Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws

The gold standard in field guides: informative, compact, durable and lusciously illustrated by artist and naturalist John Muir Laws. If only Laws would venture out of the Sierras and into the Cascades, the San Juans, the Sangre de Cristos, the Smoky Mountains …

The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald

Finally resurrected back into print as part of the Black Lizard crime library, Ross Macdonald’s The Doomster’s is a tale of greed, politics and familial dysfunction in the hothouse of southern California’s orange groves from the last great master of the hard-boiled detective novel.

Bacavi: Journey to the Reed Springs by Peter Whiteley

A fascinating, if dryly written, inside look at one of the most secretive communities in North America, the Hopi Village of Bacavi, near the Reed Springs at the western foot of Third Mesa. Peter Whiteley, a British anthropologist who spent nearly a decade on the Hopi Reservation, recounts the strange history of this village, which was founded in 1909 after a nasty split between the elders in the village of Oraibi, one of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the US. The split arose over whether the Hopi village should be opened to outside cultural and religious influences. The group known as the Hostiles were opposed to such intrusive relations with white settlers, traders and missionaries and split from Oraibi to found two new villages: Hotevilla and Bacavi. The so-called Hostile included many of the spiritual leaders in Oraibi, men who took their vast knowledge of Hopi ceremonies, oral history and dances with them. Soon after the founding of the village, Bacavi began to open up to the very outside influences its leaders had resisted: a BIA school and clinic and a Mennonite Mission. The old dances were halted, the kivas shuttered and traditional ceremonies eroded away. This short modern history of the Hopi mesas is an informative if somewhat creepy read, as if we are being made privy to secret knowledge that the Hopi elders had desperately tried to conceal from prying whites.

Making Certain It Goes On by Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo’s poem "Driving Montana" begins like this:

"The day is a woman who loves you. Open."

To my ear, that ranks with the best first lines by any American poet and it is fully representative of the body of Hugo’s work: vivid, personal, honest and finely attuned to the music and heartbreak of life in the American West. Hugo writes about the essentials of life: love, bars, mountains and, yes, trout fishing.

* I’ve titled this column Booked Up after one of the great (now defunct) bookstores in America, owned by novelist Larry McMurtry, where I once worked many years ago.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, will be published this spring. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.