Primogeniture has much to answer for in British history. The need to find employment for those who would not inherit th"What to do with younger sons?"
Primogeniture has much to answer for in British history. The need to find employment for those who would not inherit the estate sent thousands of young men darting about the empire -- but not just the empire, it seems. They were also packed off to America.
While admittedly something of a historical sideline, the exodus described in Prairie Fever is engagingly told. There are the laughably Wodehousian episodes involving fox hunting and amateur dramatic societies out on the prairie, but there are also striking descriptions of the rendezvous of hunters and trappers out in Wyoming and vivid portrayals of aristocrats such as Sir St. George Gore, who viewed the frontier “in purely recreational terms.”
Pagnamenta chronicles more than a minor demographic trend, however. The years from 1832 to 1890 witnessed the conversion of a frontier to homesteads and cattle ranches, many accessible by railway. As this happened, much of the romance that initially drew British aristocrats faded but new financial interests took hold. As the 19th century drew to a close, one British visitor was disappointed upon arrival in Indian Territory to find four native Americans playing an affable game of croquet next to the railway platform. She need hardly need to have left home to witness that. ...more
A tale within a tale, Angle of Repose is ultimately an examination of marriage, of forgiveness, and of priHow two such unlike particles clung together
A tale within a tale, Angle of Repose is ultimately an examination of marriage, of forgiveness, and of pride. Toward the end of the book, Lyman Ward, the protagonist, comes to grips with his motivation for writing a book about his grandparents:
"What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them. That’s where the interest is. That’s where the meaning will be if I find any.
Lyman ruefully reflects that his grandmother had been "more lady than woman" while his grandfather had been "more man than gentleman," a fundamental difference that led to an ultimate severing not of the marriage, but of its underpinning of intimacy and compassion. Lyman's own failed marriage, he comes to realize, does not have to end as pridefully and wrongheadedly as his grandparents' did.
As the story of two marriages in two different generations, Angle of Repose is a complex and compelling tale. Yet it also is a story of the West, not the West of stereotypes but of real people and complex social strata. There are frank assessments of historical personages such as Clarence King and John Wesley Powell, and there are hints and echoes of what will come to be. The reader finds multiple angles to examine.
On a personal note, as I read the novel I could not help but think about my grandparents, who were also two very different people held together more by convention and pride than mutual sympathy. Like Oliver and Susan Ward, they traveled and worked out west. Like Susan Ward, my grandmother was, despite being every inch a lady, a competent career woman. Like Oliver Ward, my grandfather sought refuge in drink. Reading Angle of Repose made me reflect how much we owe to our parents and grandparents, but also how little we may understand them. ...more
Written in a lackluster style, accounts of the best-known desperadoes of New Mexico. I found it unaccountably boring given the sensational nature of tWritten in a lackluster style, accounts of the best-known desperadoes of New Mexico. I found it unaccountably boring given the sensational nature of the material. The problem with many of these "gun slinger" books is the lack of verifiable information, not to mention that whatever accounts do exist have probably been embellished. This leads to a fragmentary feeling to the narrative. ...more
A series of articles, some from magazines or scholarly journals and others from books, on various people ("good or bad") of Cimarron County. There areA series of articles, some from magazines or scholarly journals and others from books, on various people ("good or bad") of Cimarron County. There are some well written pieces, such as the one on outlaw "Black Jack" Ketchum, and some amateurish pieces, such as the one on Charles Kennedy. Overall, however, the book contains a good mix of the famous (or infamous) and not-so-famous (but representative) inhabitants of Cimarron County from the mid-19th century onwards, including land baron Lucien Maxwell, cowboy-artist Will James, explorer Kit Carson, Philmont Ranch owner Waite Phillips, and minister O.P. McMains, among others. In presenting this biographical sketches, the editor presents a pretty good account of what life was like in Cimarron during its settlement, in its "wild" days of the late 19th century, and later developments of the early 20th century. ...more
Got this book in the gift shop at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe after being impressed with an exhibit of Pablita Verlarde's workGot this book in the gift shop at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe after being impressed with an exhibit of Pablita Verlarde's work there. I've been interested in Pueblo Indian culture for some years, and Verlarde's colorful images, done in casein or hand-mixed pigments, document rituals and ways of life that survive today. I was especially interested as she's from the Santa Clara Pueblo, and we'd briefly stopped at the Feast Day there earlier in the week.
Aside from gorgeous reproductions of many of Verlarde's paintings, the book simply and elegantly tells her story -- that of some adversity but also of good fortune as her talent was recognized at an early age and then supported through various people and organizations. The author spent a great deal of time interviewing Verlarde, and while the book's first-person narrative, while not the artist's words verbatim, is engaging and (I think) gives a suitable "voice" for the artist.
I was surprised to learn that Pablita encountered prejudices not just from the outside world but from her own people, who objected to her marrying an outsider and to her writing down some of the stories passed on by oral tradition. The book presents the adversities and tragedies of her life in a straightforward and unsentimental way, while it builds on the theme that Velarde regards her life as a fortunate one. She notes that her grandmother made prayers and asked for blessings on Pablita's naming day and that "All of her prayers for me have come true."
This book is written in a simple style that make it suitable for children, but the message is equally effective for adults. ...more
I've used this slim guide not once but twice when passing through Abiquiu, NM and the surrounding area. It's just what it purports to be -- a guide toI've used this slim guide not once but twice when passing through Abiquiu, NM and the surrounding area. It's just what it purports to be -- a guide to what you can see in more or less a day. But, really, if you ever go to "O'Keeffe Country," you find yourself wanting to stay more than a day.
The book is arranged in six driving tours, each with fairly good directions and maps (though last time I used the guide to get to the White Place I realized that there is an easier way to get there than the way shown in the book). All the spots that O'Keeffe made famous through her paintings are there, as well as a number of places that are equally evocative or interesting but not painted by O'Keeffe. Although the artist is the dominant presence in the book, there is plenty on the local history, particularly the local pueblos and ancient sites.
I'm confident I'll get even more use out of this book the next time I return to Abiquiu. And there will be a next time. ...more
It's got a sort of National Geographic-y quality to it, but this tribute to a gorgeous part of the country always makes me long to return there whenevIt's got a sort of National Geographic-y quality to it, but this tribute to a gorgeous part of the country always makes me long to return there whenever I page through it. In fact, the last time I was there, I sought out a few spots specifically because I'd become intrigued by photos in the book. The text is a bit rambling, or perhaps I was merely distracted by the photos. I wouldn't have minded less text and more photos, frankly. Northern New Mexico surely must be considered one of the most photogenic places in the country. ...more
This is a somewhat odd pairing, in my opinion. The first half of this guide is devoted to the bright lights of Vegas (and a lesser extent, of Phoenix)This is a somewhat odd pairing, in my opinion. The first half of this guide is devoted to the bright lights of Vegas (and a lesser extent, of Phoenix). The second half is given over to the glories of Southern Utah, the Four Corners Region, and the areas near Santa Fe and Albuquerque. As such, it's part city guide and part outdoor guide. I'm not sure it succeeds at the latter, however. Perhaps for the driving tourist who doesn't want to spend much time from the confines of a car it would work, but anyone who wants to explore beyond the scenic overlooks will want at least one other guidebook.
Having said that, the guide is a nice visual introduction to the various regions it covers (although, admittedly, I can't really claim to know if this is true for Las Vegas, having never been there). The strength of the Eyewitness Guides is also the selection of wonderful photos and illustrations. These are supplemented with reasonably good maps, a section on hotels and restaurants, and practical information for travelers....more
Essential reading for the New Mexico devotee. Cather's exquisitely rendered tale recounts the spiritual and moral concerns of the two central characteEssential reading for the New Mexico devotee. Cather's exquisitely rendered tale recounts the spiritual and moral concerns of the two central characters, a bishop and vicar, but it also paints a remarkable portrait of the New Mexican landscape and its people. There's an incredible stillness to her writing that isn't inert -- it's alive and almost luminescent. Some have likened her writing to the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe, and certainly there is a resemblance. Both women drew inspiration from the same source.
Cather reminds me a bit of another favorite (and underrated) author, Janet Lewis. I came away from this book with an intense feeling that I knew each character and that I had actually been to the same places. It was as if I had inhaled the same scents and felt the same morning breezes on my skin -- almost an uncanny sensation of having traveled back in time.
As a bonus, knowing that Cather is writing of real events and people makes the story even more resonant. You can travel to New Mexico and still find traces of her story. ...more
The rugged individuals who headed west after Lewis and Clark's expedition -- Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Jedidiah Smith, John Fremont, and others. AfterThe rugged individuals who headed west after Lewis and Clark's expedition -- Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Jedidiah Smith, John Fremont, and others. After visiting the Museum of Mountain Men out in Wyoming, I wanted to learn more about the role they played in the opening of the West. This book was a good overview of just that, with plenty of adventure and harrowing survival tales to boot. ...more
One of the great true adventure stories of the past few centuries is surely John Wesley Powell's expedition down the unexplored Colorado River and thrOne of the great true adventure stories of the past few centuries is surely John Wesley Powell's expedition down the unexplored Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon in 1869, a journey of some 1,000 miles in ninety-nine days. Ten poorly-prepared men set out in six ill-equipped wooden boats, but only six survived.
Powell, a multi-faceted one-armed Civil War veteran, was the leader of the group, and much like another of my favorite adventurer-heroes, Ernest Shackleton, probably singlehandedly was responsible for shepherding those who did survive to safety. If the expedition had been led by a man of lesser judgment, courage, or leadership, the expedition would probably be nothing more than a historical footnote. But in addition to his other admirable qualities (and they were many), Powell was a superb writer, and his account of even the grimmest moments of the long, dangerous trip is one of insight and gusto.
Dolnick interlards generous passages from Powell's journals with present-day accounts of running the Colorado River's treacherous whitewater sections. What he comes back to time and again (with no decreasing effect) is how difficult it must have been for Powell and his crew, lacking proper rafting equipment, not to mention knowledge of what lay ahead around each bend of the river. Dolnick has crafted a taut, highly readable account which wears its mantle of scholarship lightly. The most striking thing is how many levels this book is successful on -- as adventure story, as geological/geographical account, as history, as a psychological portrait, and even as anthropological account. ...more