It’s Winter in New Mexico. It’s quite obviously Winter, which means you’re going to have considerably time for reading. I thought it would be fun to write about what I think are the top 10 books about New Mexico, and in the process I’m hoping I’ll hear from you on what books you believe should be included in the list.
Each Wednesday, I’ll post a review of one of the books I’ve chosen for the list – comment if you have a choice I should consider. I’m anxious to get your feedback – and would love to hear about a book I haven’t read but should. And by the time we’re through the list, the warm weather will be here!
My choice for the #1 book on the list is, as most of you know, Red Sky at Morning. Here’s a post I write last January about it:
My favorite books are on the top shelf of the blue bookshelf in my bedroom. There’s a copy of Salinger’s Nine Stories, and Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima. I have Ellen Gilchrist and Anne Lamott and a copy of Pam Houston’s Cowboys are My Weakness and Gilbert’s Eat Pray Loveand of course, Annie Proulx’s Shipping News and The Legacy of Conquest by Patty Limerick. All good books. Not necessarily Ulysses or Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy. My literary tastes are pretty simple. Some of the books I read in high school (Salinger) and some of them I read last year (Eat Pray Love – resisting all the way because I was pretty sure it was too best-sellerish to be likeable).
But my favorite, the book I give as a gift over and over, the book I read at least once a year just because I can, and because it makes me laugh, and reminds me how much I love New Mexico, is Red Sky at Morning. My copy is dated 1968, which was the year it was published – its probably the copy my mom bought for us to have at home, and it was probably read by my parents and Belinda and Klee and Kent before me. It’s dogeared and the pages are yellowed and there are more than a few water spots from where I’ve read it in the tub.
For those of you who are fans, this post probably seems almost cliché. Yeah, everyone knows Red Sky At Morning, yeah, everyone’s read it at least once, for a high school English class or a Southwestern Literature class. But for those of you who have somehow, amazingly, missed it, Bradford’s book is the quintessential piece of unassuming work about New Mexico and the U.S., during World War II.
It’s set in 1944, and Josh Arnold, funny, self-deprecating Josh and his very southern belle mother are moved to the fictional Northern New Mexico town of Corazon Sagrado by his Alabama father, who is headed off to the Navy to sink the Germans. He might as well have moved them to the moon. Northern New Mexico is as far from familiar to southerners as a planet in another galaxy, and Bradford does a great job of telling the story of Josh and his mother stumbling through their months in Corazon.
Josh thrives, while his mother, because of her unwillingness to bend, doesn’t thrive so much. Not so much at all.
I’m pretty sure you can get online and read hundreds of great reviews of the book. When it was published, the Washington Post called it a “true delight.” Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird said it was a work of art and the New York Times Book Review said it was a “novel of consequence.”. Josh’s immersion in Corazon culture is both funny and enlightening, and Bradford’s tale of life among New Mexicans is hilariously accurate. There are friendships and frustrations and fiestas and snowstorms and Penitentes and attempted fist fights with Pachucos.
I’ve always wanted to hang out with Josh and his friends, Steenie and Marcia. I want to play gallinaat the city dump with them. I want to eat burritos on the plaza and sit through embarrassing high school assemblies. I want to spend Christmas with the Montoyas.
But you know, I’ve actually had all those experiences, in very slightly different forms. I am a New Mexican. The reason I so love this book, other than the story line that eventually breaks your heart and mends it at the same time, is because it is so recognizable to me. I know all those natives that change Josh’s life in so many ways. In fact I am one of them.
If you don’t have it, buy it. If you’re my friend or a family member, chances are you have or will receive it as a Christmas gift. If you read it twenty years ago, pick it up and read it again. It will make you smile. And cry. You may even put it on your top shelf.