Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.
Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.
There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.
Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)
Childs, Craig. The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. Seattle: Sasquatch, 2000.
Reason read: I’m reading this for several reasons. The original reason was since this is a nature book and John Muir’s birth month is in April I wanted to read this in his honor. Second reason is Earth Day being in April. Duh. Third (and probably most important reason…) I am headed to Arizona in the next month!
I just finished a harrowing tale that involved desperate illegal immigrants trying to brave the scorching harsh desert to make it to the promised land of the United States. Images of Mexican refugees left to die of thirst, roasting in the arid desert played through my mind as I read Craig Childs’s Secret Knowledge of Water. Childs willingly and eagerly traverses this seemingly barren landscape; bringing his readers through ravines and canyons; vast wastelands that look like the epitome of nothingness. But, pay attention to Childs’s lyrical language and a new desert starts to form before our eyes. Dripping caverns create pools of water rich with organisms.
There is an egotistical slant to my interest in a subject or rather, my attention to reading about it. Secret Knowledge of Water was interesting enough but it became more fascinating when Child talked of specific areas I plan to visit in May.
Lines I liked because I am in love with the night sky, “hysterical swarming of stars” (p 14), and “Then the stars took everything” (p 41).
Other lines I liked, “The world changed color when you think you might doe soon” (p 235), and “The entire Grand Canyon is thus a machine devised to capture and drive flash floods” (p 242).
Author fact: Childs also wrote The Animal Dialogues which is on my Challenge list. At the time of Secret’s publication he was a river guide.
Book trivia: The Secret Knowledge of Water does not contain photographs but it does have illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl wanted to mention another book by Childs but since it was not specifically about Arizona she settled on Secret Knowledge.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).
I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
- City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
- All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.
- The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
- Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
- The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
- The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.
Blond, Becca and Aaron Anderson. Arizona, New Mexico & the Grand Canyon Trips: 58 Themed Itineraries, 1005 Local Places to See. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet, 2009.
Reason read: Planning a trip to the Southwest this spring.
This has got to be one of the coolest travel books I have seen in a long time. There are fifty-eight themed itineraries (as the title suggests), but it’s the unique theme of each itinerary that is the real showcase. This guidebook takes into consideration practically every lifestyle imaginable. Do you want to hike the Grand Canyon exclusively? There’s a rim to rim itinerary for such an excursion. Do you want to go on an epic art tour in New Mexico? Maybe you are into beer and wine tastings? There are trips for that and that and that. Maybe you want to specifically look at Arizona architecture or follow its music scene. Like I said, there is a tour for those interests as well.
That being said, as with any tour book you definitely want to double check that the hotels and restaurants mentioned in the book are still operational. Additionally, prices for anything are bound to be different ten years after publication, but the canyons, buttes, deserts, and mesas aren’t going anywhere.
Another nice feature of this tour book is the time it will take to do each tour (providing you stick to the mileage they have laid out and avoid lengthy detours). They also suggest the best time to go, where you start and end up, and if you want to link on trip to another, which ones work the best. It made me want to take a year off and try every itinerary back to back. Of course there are detailed maps to help you plan such a thing.
Final thought: the photography included is spectacular. Then again, I think all desert photography is gorgeous.
What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.
Here are the books:
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
- Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
- Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).
- Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
- Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
- Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)
Caputo, Philip. Crossers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Reason read: Arizona became a state in February.
Be prepared to go on an epic journey crisscrossing time when you read Crossers. Caputo will seize you by the scruff of your psyche to take you back and forth from the New York of September 11th, 2001 to the wild west of the early 1900s. You will bounce from the dirty roads of rural Mexico to the tranquil streets of Connecticut. Characters from all walks of life will march across the page: ruthless drug lords and crusty wild west outlaws; graceful artists and desperate illegal aliens. At the center of the story is one man, Gil Castle. Consumed by grief after losing his wife in the 9/11 attacks, Gil retreats to his generations old family’s ranch in a remote corner of southwest Arizona. There he joins his uncle and cousin and tries to rebuild his heart while mending fences, tending cattle, and fighting off mules and murderers. In this respite he thought he could escaped the senseless violence of the terror attacks, but when the present day ancestors of ancient ghosts come seeking revenge for something his grandfather had done, Gil realizes his own family’s past has a dark and dangerous story to tell and he will pay the price.
The line that gripped me, “The interregnum of fear that had gripped him on the train had passed; as grief, the true monarch of his heart, resumed its oppression” (p 32).
Author fact: Caputo also wrote Horn of Africa, which is also on my list.
Book trivia: This could have been a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl said “There are many good reads, both fiction and nonfiction, about an important but bleak subject: the hazards of illegally crossing the Arizona-Mexico border. Two of the best novels I’ve discovered are Philip Caputo’s Crossers and…” (Book Lust To Go p 31).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).
We are nearly one full week into February and I have yet to report what is on the reading list. I have to admit, my other (non-book) life got in the way. I was selected for jury duty for a trial that lasted three days, a friend was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation for three days, an uncle was taken off hospice, and oh yeah, I turned fifty with my family and friends in attendance. The last week of January going into the first week of February was all a bit nutty. And. And! And, I am running again. So, there’s that. But enough of that. Here are the books:
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (EB)- in honor of Walker’s birth month.
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch (EB & print) – in memory of Busch’s death month.
- Crossers by Philip Caputo (EB & print) – in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February.
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (EB & print) – in honor of Brazil’s festival.
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey (print) in honor of Yates’s birthday.
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner (AB) in honor of February being Feed the Birds Month.
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (EB & print) – to continue the series started in honor of January being Mystery Month.
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett (print) – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov (EB) – in honor of Asimov’s birth month being in January.
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow (EB & print) – to continue the series started in January in honor of Alaska becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to Be a Patient by Dr. Sana Goldberg (confessional: I started this in January and haven’t finished it yet).
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.
Hyde, Elisabeth. In the Heart of the Canyon. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape, 2009.
In the Heart of the Canyon is an accurate portrayal of a thirteen day river trip down the Grand Canyon; so much so that I felt I could have been there. Hyde effectively describes the guides, the tourists, the scenery, and of course, the Colorado River picture perfect. The character development of everyone involved in the trip builds just as if you were in the boats with them, getting to know them as the days and miles pass by. The weather (and how to deal with the heat) and surrounding nature comes alive with Hyde’s words. And when it comes to rafting down the river you can tell Hyde has seen rapids and even had a “maytag” experience or two. She puts you right in the action. A story about a rafting trip down the Colorado would be enough material for a book but Hyde takes it a step further by introducing a stray dog early in the story and creating characters that are not only interesting but complex. One character in particular, seventeen year old Amy keeps a journal. Her journal gives the events described by Hyde a new perspective. She introduces a different point of view and her comments serve as a reminder that everyone has an alternate truth based on their own unique personality. It’s what happens when you put twelve strangers and three guides together.
As an aside about the guides, I am around these kinds of people all the time. I can picture them perfectly. Tanned, well-built, confident and sure-footed moving in and around the boats. Congenial and comfortable. They give off an air of relaxed attitude but in the back of their minds they know everything about the trip is in their hands. Safety and fun.
Reason read: John Muir was born in April. Being a naturalist I thought it would be appropriate to read something that takes place 100% outdoors.
Author fact: According to Hyde, In the Heart of the Canyon came about when she was on a rafting trip and got “maytagged.”
Book trivia: In the Heart of the Canyon has a YouTube trailer. It makes the book out to be more of a dramatic thriller than it is.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 31).