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The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,312 ratings  ·  200 reviews
In this invigorating mix of natural history and adventure, artist-naturalist Ellen Meloy uses turquoise—the color and the gem—to probe deeper into our profound human attachment to landscape.

From the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Bahamas to her home ground on the high plateaus and deep canyons of the Southwest, we journey with Meloy throu
Paperback, 336 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Vintage (first published July 16th 2002)
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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  1,312 ratings  ·  200 reviews

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Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of nature writing, environmental ethicists, humorists
Ellen was a close friend of my family's for many years--in fact, my father had lunch with her only a few weeks before her sudden passing in 2004 at the age of 58. Needless to say, her death hit us rather hard--hard enough that, though she gave me The Anthropology of Turquoise on my birthday in 2003, it took me until mid-2007 to begin reading it. Journeying through these pages was thus a very intimate experience for me: full of sadness at the memory of a lost friend; laughter at the ridiculousnes ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A collection of fifteen essays, this is a book meant to be savored. I didn't plan on spending nine months with Meloy, but my book club meeting came and went. And I was only one-third of the way through.

If your idea of enjoying nature is checking birds off of a list, or achieving a personal best in mountaineering, this book will be too meditative for your liking. If, however, you prefer to listen and discover what nature can teach, especially over time, you're in for a treat.

Some critics dislike
Loved this book! The Anthropology of Turquoise is lyrical and exquisite, containing Meloy's meditations on everything from the childhood euphoria of spending long hours in swimming pools to the visceral beauty of colour. It'll make you want to immerse yourself in nature (esp. the United States' desert Southwest).

On the desert horizon at dusk, where red rock meets lapis sky, at the seam of the union, runs a band of turquoise, recumbent upon the land's great darkness...Before night falls, blue-gr
Sep 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
This took me quite a long time to plow through. Her imagery is dense and her thought process is not like mine, so I found myself having to very deliberately read. She and I share a love of the outdoors (and for some of the same places, actually), so it made it worth it. I did not read every single essay, quickly exiting those that were either too focused on anthropology or places I didn't care as much about. ...more
After finishing this book I found, to my absolute delight, that Ellen Meloy lived in Mexican Hat! That was it. I was set. On my way down there to show up on her door step and sit at her feet...or at the foot of her raft, either way. Then I found out she was dead.
I've been robbed. you have too, though you may not know it. The fact that no matter how long I wait...there won't be any more books by Ellen just plain sucks.

I have felt that most of my life has been a struggle between my academically
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone living in the southwest
Our lives are compressed by change. It took centuries for the symbol zero to migrate from India to Italy. Even then, the idea did not immediately take hold. It took half a century for the westward expansion to change forever the face of the American west. Was it only a generation ago, Meloy asks, when you could find a vantage point on the Colorado Plateau and see for a hundred miles? Today, forget to update your GPS and the new houses and roads you see will appear on your screen as a vast swathe ...more
Beautiful. Exquisite. Captivating.

For the record, Ellen Meloy and I have almost nothing in common – except perhaps our disdain for Las Vegas and a preference for solitude. She was an outdoorswoman who thought nothing of sleeping under the stars with only a sleeping bag or spending a week alone canoeing a canyon river; my idea of camping involves room service. She would spend hours marveling at whatever moths, centipedes, snakes, and bats found their way into her house or across her path; I, as
Sophy H
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am officially in love with this book! It is an exquisite, delicious journey through the blue haze of life.

Its about stopping to take it all in, about nature, animals, the sea, the river, its about everything and nothing.

I feel as if Ellen Meloy came over for cake and coffee and we got talking about life in aquamarine bliss.

A beautifully written book by someone who sounds as though they had a genuine, earthbound soul.

A treat that I've most definitely savoured.
R.G. Ziemer
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book of reflections, as the subtitle explains, on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky. Ellen Meloy was an excellent writer, that much is apparent - every chapter here is a joy to read, the prose just savory. But she was also clearly a student not only of the Desert Southwest, but a well-read scholar of words written on the subject as well. I found myself reacting to the epigrams as little semi-precious nuggets with their own value. Here are a couple:

"I used to wonder why the sea w
Apr 17, 2009 marked it as to-read
Shelves: aborted
I'm reminded of a college professor, and friend, who said of Joyce's Ulysses, "I didn't know you could do that with words," upon his first read of the book and his thoughts therein. Similarly, I feel toward The Anthropology of Turquoise. The parsimonious use of colourful (please forgive the pun), phrases, lyrical and vivid words paint pictures easily in the readers mind.

Maybe it's the Southern-Utah whore in me that is drooling for her words that describe her life, landscapes, and essays about h
I am on the fence about whether this gets 4 or 5 stars, I am still so blown away by Meloy's writing. I haven't given many books 5 stars. I have a feeling that this book deserves another reading, but I borrowed it on ILL so it has to go back to the library.

Almost every day I get an email called Shelf Awareness. It is written for independent booksellers, but anyone who loves books would enjoy it. Awhile back, Philip Connors mentioned Ellen Meloy as an author he is an evangelist for. I don't know w
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
Lyrical, dense, rewarding of a slow read. These essays use a rich and self-consciously literary voice - not what I expected of a book set primarily in the severe desert southwest (of the US), with excursions to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and the islands of Barbados. Meloy writes with lush and devout love for her chosen place, and a clear-eyed awareness of the ways we have used the environment and one another unsustainably. Yet, she also writes with a lighter touch than some of the region's ...more
Feisty Harriet
Dec 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-west
I really wanted to love this book, but it took me almost a month to finish it. The cover touts it’s place as a finalist for the Pulitzer, and perhaps my disliking whole chapters of it makes me considerably less literary than I like to assume. But. Despite Meloy talking about her life in and love of Utah’s red rock canyon country and her obsession with all things turquoise–river, sea, jewelry, sky–I found her writing a bit too angry and ranty and her emotions a little too far detached for me to e ...more
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book over a decade ago and recently decided to revisit it. I think it's one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. Her love of nature and desert landscapes is deep and personal. She should be compensated by the Monument Valley tourism department.
Its deep and personal and deserves some time. It's best enjoyed if you have a chance to visit this part of the country.

Jun 05, 2016 added it
I wanted to love this book, its meditations on nature and dessert and animals and Mexico and my favorite color blue, but her writing style was felt so encumbered that I plodded along, skipping over parts hoping in vain to find some language that would open up and breathe.
Kobe Bryant
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
really makes you want to travel
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Meloy's writing about nature is beautiful. Most of these essays are set in the Southwest and speak to the way that the desert calls to her and it's beauty. Color and it's impact on our thoughts and perceptions is a part of many of the selections and I appreciated the way that she slowed down and focused on the details. ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book. I did not want it to end. I took my sweet time; a requirement in my opinion. Sometimes I dove in deep, taking in whole chapters, but usually it was a paragraph or two at a time, leaving space for reflection. The book itself has become symbolic- a silent companion on hikes, vacations, long drives and other adventures. It's the kind of book best enjoyed in a setting and I've taken it to beaches so I could observe the varying shades of blue beautifully described within its pages. I pack ...more
Jun 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Amanda, Sarah
This rating should be 3.5 stars. I developed a love-hate relationship with this book: the flowery, hyper-adjective language inlaid in run-on sentences inspired hair pulling. To the contrary, select passages struck a chord in my core and provided deep contemplation on my own home nestled in Idaho's wilderness. I sincerely appreciate the author's honesty about her role as a nature writer. Her admittance of being a mere footnote in the vast natural history of her beloved lands was refreshing, albei ...more
Elly Sands
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am so sorry this author's life was cut short. Her writing showed her vitality and insatiable curiosity for life. The detailed writing took awhile to get into but once I surrendered to it the flow of exquisite, brilliant words won me over. Her great sense of humor had me laughing out loud. Living in the southwest I've become somewhat tainted about the commercial side of turquoise. I now see it with new eyes since learning of it's history. This book is like a fun to read text book as the reader ...more
David Doty
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wallace Stegner will always be my favorite Western writer, but Ellen Meloy is now a close second. This collection of essays and personal stories about Meloy's life and travels in the West's wild places makes you want to get outside, explore off the beaten path, and slow down to take in the wonders of water, desert, canyons, Native American ruins, and wildlife. She even goes beyond the West to include some compelling descriptions of landscapes and people in Mexico and the Bahamas. Meloy writes so ...more
When I came across this book, I had been hoping that she would focus more on how things actually connected through turquoise in different cultures. I was hoping that she would spend more time actually focusing on the actual idea of turquoise. I found that the book was more about her than turquoise. I didn't actually finish the book, mostly because it didn't maintain my interest enough to continue. I may try to pick it up again later. She spent so much time focusing on her own travels to research ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it
So this compilation of essays on a theme had some really really beautiful parts, some hilarious parts, and some really insightful parts. Even so, there were a lot of chapters that were a total slog. This was an extremely slow read for me, and sometimes it didn't feel worth it. If I were to recommend the book to someone, I would probably pick out specific chapters. But, of course, that might compromise the experience of the read. Needless to say, I'm torn because I'm so glad that I've read the pa ...more
Vivienne Seaman
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wanted to read this book for the portrayal of the Southwest. Meloy did that, it was, however, a challenge for me as her education is far above my own.
It did challenge me to look up words I have never used so for that reason I gave it 4 stars. She was a very descriptive writer and I could easily picture her settings to each essay.

Interest wise, it did not meet my expectations.
Amy Beatty
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It took Matt and I over a year to finish this. But it was such a treat. I love her words and stories and life
Oct 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: environment
This book is a purple prose mess of meandering thoughts and introspection, tossed with random unsupported claims.
Barbara Meyer
Jan 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
What an irritating little book. I had hoped to learn about the gemstone - its natural occurrence, its history and associated myths. I was also interesting in its periodic and curious popularity in popular culture. Why did Pantone select it for the color of the year in 2010? What's behind those decisions anyway? If there's any of that buried in this treacly little collection, I missed it. Maybe that's because I couldn't bare reading it anymore. Any minuscule whispers of actual facts I could ferre ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: miquixote, lucyca
The beautiful phrases and descriptive phrases used in Meloy's journey is a pleasure to follow. Rich and colourful attributes of landscaping, mountains, water, desert and sky are given full attention to detail. Her writing style appears to be mostly a hunger of the senses; we immediately are drawn into the realistic imagery she presents. She winds her way through the beautiful Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the Yucatan Peninsula, the Bahamas and finally to her beloved home in the canyons of So ...more
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
While reading this book, I caught myself looking at turquoise jewelry--sucked into that strange human desire to possess an experience, to have a physical object imbibe the emotional and intellectual sensations I am afraid will slip away otherwise. But experiences are ephemeral--that's the crux of their value, which isn't monetary or physical. The memories, the pictures, the things are nothing more than the brushing of fingertips through a mirage of water that dissipates as you draw nearer. Ellen ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Absolutely gorgeous. Many times I found her describing my own feelings on a topic. Studded with beautiful passages and original thought. I was glad I had bought my own copy (used) so I could read it with a pencil in hand. I found myself inspired by her character and thoughtful actions, as well as very jealous of the place and manner in which she was able to live. It was a little hard to adjust to her wordiness after the quiet of Rick Bass, but I admit that was more an accident of timing than a f ...more
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Ellen Meloy was an American nature writer. Among the awards she garnered are the Whiting Writer's Award (1997) and the John Burroughs Medal (2007); in 2003 she was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, for The Anthropology of Turquoise Meditations on Landscape, Art & Spirit. ...more

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