Viva los libros!
I’m a fan of books, I just am. I have to say that The Flamenco Academy (chronicled here a few days back) has really fired me up lately. I haven’t read a book in a long while that made me feel like there is hope for popular fiction. And that a book set in New Mexico was so well done makes me double happy.
So I know this has been covered plenty of places elsewhere, but here’s my top five list of the best works of New Mexico fiction. These are just the ones that are in my opinion, the books I read that make me proud to be a New Mexican.
Without further ado (in no particular order):
1) Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
This is a quintessential read for anyone living in New Mexico. It ranks not just as one of my fave NM books, but one of my fave books of all time. The main character, Josh is brought from Alabama to New Mexico by his parents and is introduced to the clannish people of Northern New Mexico including the bully Chango. The scene where he and his buddy get liquored up remains a classic. I almost always quote from it when I, myself, tie one on. A classic, truly. And an easy choice for the list.
2) Bless me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
One of those books that gave me a wry smile as I read it. One of those where you nod as you read, thinking “yeah, that’s familiar”. Anaya is a beautiful writer and it is an honor to be a fellow New Mexican with a man of his caliber. This coming of age story is a nice contrast of old vs new, how Hispanic culture rolls into American culture in a way that is beautifully unique to New Mexico. It’s lyrical in the storytelling and a must read.
3) The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols
Yeah. This had to be here. You know it did. When I’m homesick I put on the movie to see the land as much as anything. It’s a salve for my soul, always. The book was a little tough for me to get through, but worth the effort. It really captures the feeling of that time in New Mexico in the 1970’s. It always takes me right back to that time, effortlessly.
4) Cavern by Jake Page
A thriller about a group of spelunkers who explore a hidden cavern and discover a near extinct species of bear…who is none to happy to be bothered. Not a particularly great novel by most standards, but it does speak to a bunch of interesting things including a fairly detailed explanation about how the caverns, including Carlsbad Caverns, were formed. Both my parents worked for a while at the WIPP site, so this book also showed the ongoing battle of all the government agencies involved out there. DOE, Environmental groups, BLM and private interests do war daily and there is some discussion of WIPP in the book and how it may affect things in that geographic area. My mom turned me on to this book and laughed at how true to life some parts of the book were portrayed. Working at WIPP left her a bit…scarred…so it was good for her to see it in print, sort of validating. For me, it was a fascinating read and name checked a lot of places I know from living in Carlsbad, including some truly dive bars (including one frequented by miners, ranchers, roughnecks and college kids. They stopped serving beer in bottles because there had been too many fights. But on a good night, the dancing was unbeatable).
5) Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry
Ok, not technically a New Mexico book but about a New Mexico legend (Feh to the Texas town that claims ownership. FEH! I say!) and certainly New Mexico figures into the story. I am a massive fan of McMurtry and this is my favorite of all his books. He portrays Billy as a young, impulsive, spoiled, petulant brat. It’s fabulous. To me it was a fresh look at an old legend and to do that takes talent that Mr. McMurtry has in spades.
You’ll note my list is strangely devoid of Hillerman books. I’m actually not a fan. My mom is an avid reader of his stuff. I am not. : shrug : I’ve got no issues with Hillerman, it’s just not my taste.
Lois Duncan is another author I’m proud to know is New Mexican. As a kid I avidly read all her stuff. Loved her writing and always got geeked out when we saw her at the Coronado Club at Kirtland Airforce Base. My mom would always point her out. Her husband worked at Sandia Labs like my dad so she’d wait there (like we did) for her husband to get off work. Those were fun sunny summer days as a family. For some odd reason I associate Duncan with that time in my life.
I know there are probably a bunch of good choices I’m missing, but for now, that’s my list. I reserve the right to add, delete and change the list as we go.