Category Archives: Book Reviews

Local Author Genny Smith

Mammoth Lakes author and activist Genny Schumacher Smith passed away this month at age 96.   Besides writing some of the first regional guidebooks, she is also credited with stopping the planned trans-Sierra highway documented by Jack Fisher in his book Stopping the Road (2014) Please find a full and interesting obituary in The Sheet  at  from the March 10, 2018 edition.

Her two most recognized books are regional guidebooks, Mammoth Lakes Sierra, and The Deepest Valley.  With several updates through her own publishing company, these are still books I do not hesitate to recommend.  The Deepest Valley incorporates enough human and natural history with trail and road information to hold a casual visitor or old timer’s interest as they explore our beautiful area.  I tried to pull copies from the shelf to photograph for this post, but I am sold out, again.

Genny Smith leaves a rich legacy in the Eastern Sierra. While I did not know her personally, like many favorite authors, it feels like I could have.   I hope her books stay in print for us all to appreciate.

Holding Corks Underwater and Leading 4H Projects

The reason our first son began his school career in a Montessori classroom was an innocent sign on the public school kindergarten teacher’s wall that said “Teaching kindergarten is like holding 25 corks underwater all at one time”.  I was trying to be a conscientious parent, investigating options and objectively choosing the absolute best for my son, but  this image of holding my baby underwater like a cork was just horrifying – plus the public kindergarten had a really awkward schedule that didn’t work for anyone.  So with minimal knowledge or conviction about the benefits of Montessori, we started him there.  Ironically, when he did go to public school the next year, he got that same teacher for two years and we all loved her.  Her little sign was just ambulance humor that did not strike me as funny at the time.

Maria MontessoriMy lack of humor was fortuitous though since I then learned about the brilliant Maria Montessori and her theories of teaching young children.  In the briefest nutshell, Montessori determined that  young children go through stages of development at their own speed, and if appropriate tools and “jobs” are available to them, they will gravitate to the tasks that teach them the skills that match their developmental window.  The children focus on a skill until they master it.   It is hard to picture this working out in a classroom setting, but it sure can.  The emphasis is on sensory exploration and manipulatives.  Lots of manipulatives, which certainly suited my active boys, and in my opinion, suits  most kids.  Both sons attended Montessori preschool and kindergarten and then moved into a traditional public school  My daughter missed the opportunity because we moved, but I had enough indoctrination then to make sure manipulatives were still part of her life.  While living on a ranch certainly helped, we made sure all three children benefitted from working with their hands.

(While I could, and probably too often do, rant about the focus on screen time in classrooms now,  I will skip it.  Honest, I will, but I don’t think Maria would have liked it either.)

My point here is that children still need to learn how to do stuff.  Real stuff like cooking,

From a 4H small engine project to a job.

cleaning, fixing engines, making clothes, building, caring for animals, knitting, growing peppers, whatever.  It is practical, they can then take care of themselves and others, they learn skills that are helpful to employment, they appreciate when difficult things are done for them, and it gives them confidence.  While some good vocational programs and teachers are still around, we can’t expect all that teaching to happen in school anymore, if we ever could.



“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”  Maria Montessori

Cody representing his club for a community service project.
Cody representing his club for a community service project.

So now is the time to sign up children as 4H members, and adults as 4H leaders.  4H is still a great place to learn how to do real stuff, but its future looks bleak.  Membership is dropping because, ironically, so many other opportunities are available.  Active kids in supportive homes end up being overscheduled and stressed out trying to take advantage of all these opportunities, which is bad.  Some kids don’t get to participate in much at all for hardship reasons, which is also bad.    There are strong arguments for all enrichment programs, but for whatever reasons, the practical  projects of 4H that are often the first activity to get chopped.  There is no team to “let down”, the initial monetary commitment is minimal, and the schedule can be crazy.  Then, when a shortage of leaders results in  projects getting cancelled midyear or unavailable altogether, kids are less likely to sign up again.

4H is made up of local clubs under the County/State Cooperative Extension umbrella.  The real action takes place locally when local adults take on a project.  Leaders are all volunteers with the multitude of other commitments we all have, and it gets tough.  But, here is my plea,  a project can be as little as 6 hours of meeting time, and even with the inevitable prep time, many people COULD fit in 6 to 12 hours of volunteer time.  Of course there are higher levels of commitment available and needed too, but PROJECT LEADERS are the most pressing need. Fun projects keep kids interested.

4h 6Projects can be very specific, like cord bracelet making or salsa preparation.  People have taught beginning dog training, trap shooting, archery, gardening, small engine repair, bread baking, knitting, recycled object crafts, paper airplane making, hiking, creative writing, photography, photo editing, and there are so many more cool ideas. As a kid in 4H,  I learned to cook, make sauerkraut and jam, raised dairy goats and lambs, and learned cake decorating (which then became my college job for quite awhile).  Projects can be geared towards “mini-members”, ages 5-8, or older members 9 and up.  Older members can help as junior and teen leaders.  It is not a bad gig!

Getting to know these great young people and helping them learn practical skills is, in my opinion, the best way to stay optimistic about our future.  When you see all the memes and political cartoons bemoaning the problems and gaps in the upcoming generation, you can think,  “well at least there’s Josi, Micimagehael,  Dani, Jared, Harrison, and ________ that know how to do things.”

If you are interested in volunteering as a 4H leader, come talk to me, or the 4H office 760-873-7854. (

If you are interested in the notion of practical learning, here are a few related books.  We may not have them on the shelf, but can certainly help you find them!  There are many more, and I would love to get your recommendations if you have read some

book 2Shop Class As Soul Craft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work  by Matthew B. Crawford .  This is a philosophical and practical look at why we need to be sure the trades are not forgotten and physical labor is not to be reviled.  Crawford now has several more books in a similar theme.


The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker by Mike Rose.  Rose investigates what should be obvious, that intelligence and calculation is essential to jobs like waitressing and carpentry.  This book  is credited with being able to shape both public policy and general opinion.

The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori.  Montessori has quite a few books on early childhood development, but this one is a classic.  Also check for biographies like:

book 3Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing.




The Unsettling Of America or What Are People For? by Wendell Berry.  Philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and farmer, Wendell Berry always has a lot to say about the need to stay connected to the land and the discipline of work.  Any of his works will give you new appreciation for labor.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben This book explores the need to refocus our economy on local production of food, goods, and even entertainment.  That requires people who can do things!

book 1Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It, by Jane Healy.  This is a  discussion of developmental windows and how missing them affects higher levels of reasoning.  I loved this book. This was published in 1991, and things have changed.  Healy has quite a few new related books out which likely address these changes, but I haven’t read them myself.

So, from a current 4H leader, and a former 4Her, please consider volunteering.  And if not in an organized program, make an effort to teach some children practical skills.

Me and my goat Marmalade 2







Regional Mystery – Authors to Try for Eastern Sierra Flavor

I think I’ve said before that if a new bookseller wants to do his or her job well, he or  she’d better study up on the mystery authors.  Every day I have customers saying they “need to find a new author, I’ve read all of my favorite author’s books”.  So…. who to recommend?  There are so many “subgenres” in mystery and suspense it can feel impossible to hit on a winner!

Quite a few readers, including me, enjoy a mystery that immerses you in a region or time period, whether it is Cadfael’s medieval monastery or even Stephanie Plum’s New Jersey.  A good mystery series involves the reader in the lives of a cast of interesting characters, one of which has to be the location. When it comes to mysteries set in the West though, I have a love-hate issue:  I love the location but can really be unnerved by the number of murders taking place somewhere that could be MY home.  Really people, if you have 6 grisly murders occurring every month, move away already!  Trenton, New Jersey, or London are one thing, but rural Montana, Window Rock, Arizona,  Absaroka County,  Wyoming, or  Niniltna, Alaska…. you don’t have the population for that kind of mayhem!  Or, don’t take your murder mysteries too seriously I suppose.

imageIf you can stomach murder mysteries in your own backyard, the spectacular scenery and isolation of the Eastern Sierra provides the backdrop for a number of authors I like to recommend.  Although not easy to find, Kirk Mitchell is at the top of the list.  Mitchell worked for law enforcement on the reservations of the Owens Valley for a time and has authored a number of mysteries as well as science fiction, alternate history, and movie novelizations.  Four  books are particularly close to home, the Dee Laguerre series featuring a Basque heritage BLM ranger who takes on range wars and green guerillas in High Desert Malice and our own Owens Valley water war in Deep Valley Malice.  His first “local” book though was, Black Dragon from 1988.  It is set in Manzanar during the Japanese internment, and a more recent mystery, Under the Killer Sun, is set in Death Valley with a Shoshone heritage investigator.  (I haven’t read that one yet!).  Mitchell’s Emmett Parker (Comanche) and Anna Turnipseed (Modoc) series is also very good, frequently compared to Tony Hillerman in that the novels rely on Native American culture and settings.  Mitchell’s mysteries have plenty of action and bloody detail as well as the cultural aspects, to satisfy all but the “cozy mystery” lovers.

If you are interested in Mitchell’s mysteries, let us put your name on the Wants List or special order them, because they don’t last on the shelf!

Along with Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller brought to life the scrappy female private investigator genre.  Her Sharon McCone series is set mostly in San Francisco, but P.I. McCone finds her way to the East Side every so often, particularly in the 1991 mystery Where Echoes Live.  McCone spends a season next to a Mono Lake look-alike, Tufa Lake,where echoes live investigating a corpse in the lake, a Nevada mining company bent on destroying the environment,  and a new murder every week or so….not the best thought while enjoying your Frosty Cone in Lee Vining.  McCone’s love interest with a local continues in the series, so the ties to Mono Lake country do as well.  It is a fun series with a strong, smart, and politically active woman character, well worth reading.

imageSue Grafton ‘s female P.I., Kinsey Milhone, barely needs an  introduction since her “alphabet” mystery series is so well known.  If you haven’t read it though, you will enjoy Milhone’s foray into the Eastern Sierra in N is for Noose if for no other reason than to see how Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, Independence, Mono Lake and the other landmarks get tossed and jumbled together in this story!  While this mystery did not get the critical acclaim of other Milhone adventures, you will also enjoy Grafton’s humor and the plot twists that get her back to her home turf in Santa Teresa (Santa Barbara).  The “good ol’ boy network” may resonate or be an irritating stereotype, so…you’ve been warned. Kinsey Milhone is addictive (X comes out in August!) and a perfect, quick summer read.

imageAn almost local author, David Sundstrand from Reno, Nevada, has clearly spent a lot of time in the Eastern Sierra, traveling up and down Highway 395.  He only has two books published so far, but the locations range from Randsburg to Topaz Lake.  Frank Flynn, protagonist and BLM investigator, melds the cultural heritage of the desert in his DNA with Irish, Paiute, and Mexican ancestry.  All contribute to his unique ability to solve grisly crimes in, quite literally, our backyard, usually involving poaching or some other resource damaging behavior as well.  These mysteries are page turners, on the bloodier side of the mystery novel spectrum, and other than a remarkable ability to travel really long distances in an eyeblink, (a trait shared by other authors writing about the West, even Tony Hillerman –  who wants to read about a six hour car ride to get back to headquarters anyway?) they are a good read.  Believe me, you will remember these stories when you pass some more colorful (or eccentric) homesteads and watering holes on Highway 395. Sundstrand clearly appreciates the unique characters of desert communities, and that is not something you read every day.

shadows of deathSince I am continually looking for interesting mystery authors to read and recommend,  please let me know if you have other authors to add to this list!  I know we also have several local self-published authors with mysteries to their credit,  so send me a review if you are familiar with any of them.  I’m sure someone has done psychological research into why we are so fascinated by murder and crime, but with these regional settings you can always claim you read them for the scenery.  And we don’t judge, read what you like.



Dreaming of Quilting

While I will probably never complete a quilt with my thread tangling tendencies, I can certainly dream and admire others’ handiwork.  The stack of quilting books we have in now are just perfect for that, or for actually designing a quilt if you are more coordinated than me.  These are some beauties, with interesting reading in addition to attractive patterns!

Patchwork PicnicPatchwork Picnic- recipeIn the dreaming category, what could be better than lovely quilts in gardens, with picnic recipes to go along with each masterpiece?  Patchwork Picnic by Suzette Halferty and Nancy J. Martin is truly beautiful, and if I never manage the patriotic Stars and Stripes quilt, I could probably accomplish the Fresh Tomato Tart, so that is something!  While most of the recipes in the I’d Rather Be Quilting Cookbook sound like the tasty imageconcoctions of a quilting grandma, I had to smile at the Sauteed Liver recipe accompanying the Kansas Troubles quilt pattern…there would be trouble at the dinner table if not in Kansas!  The author writes for the Winged Square pattern which inspired an oven fried chicken recipe, “Winged Square looks very much like a pre-Columbian Indian picture of an owl flying overhead.  The designer of this block could easily have had in mind the flapping wings of the young rooster which was about to become oven-fried chicken.”  I am positive you have never thought about your quilt patterns or your dinner this way!  This copy is signed by all three authors, and I don’t know which of these ladies are quilting grandmas, if any.

imagePlain and Fancy, Vermont’s People and Their Quilts by Richard L. Cleveland and Donna Bister is another quilt book meant for reading.  Great historic photos fill the pages along with many stunning old quilts like a Slashed Star pattern or an embroidered Kate Greenaway style beauty.  The artwork in Quiltscapes by Rebecca Barker is exactly that, art.  She has Quiltscapespainted her quilt patterns blended into lovely settings just to inspire you.  Who could pass up the blue and yellow geometrics of the Lighthouse pattern surrounding a windblown lighthouse scene with seagulls flying? The practical patterns and image Honoring the Seasonsmeasurements are included too.  Takako Onoyama has also brought us a beautiful book Honoring the Seasons, Quilts from Japan’s Quilt House Yama.  Her store in Japan opened in 1976 to a puzzled but increasingly enthusiastic clientele, and her quilts blend traditional American patterns and techniques with Japanese materials, themes and design.  It all comes out well, and makes for interesting reading!

image image image


For you practical minded quilters, we have a slew of inspired pattern books, from Beyond the Blocks, Quilts with Great Borders by Nancy J. Martin, to Quilts for Baby, Easy as ABC by Ursula Reikes, or Chameleon Quilts, Versatile Looks Using Traditional Patterns by Margrit Hall.  It is amazing how different a basic Log Cabin quilt can look with different treatments!  Advanced quilters will appreciate the plethora of unique combinations in A Colourful Journey, including items like pillows and table runners as well as bed quilts and throws.

I’ve seen memory quilts made from dad’s shirts, T-shirts,  baby clothes and of course crazy quilts made from lovely scraps.  Shirley Botsford’s Daddy’s Ties book presents patterns forDaddy's Ties quilting with the gorgeous silk patterns from dad’s old ties.  These are some great ideas, from Christmas ornaments, to lampshades to full quilts.  There are some practical considerations too, like how to take apart a tie and wash that fragile fabric.  These are pretty unique!  If you need more unique quilting design ideas, try one of the design coloring books like Swirling Designs by Get Grama.  These would look fantastic quilted!

Quilts from Larkspur FarmOne last favorite to consider,  Quilts from Larkspur Farm by Pamela Mostek and Jean Van Bockel.  Larkspur Farm is a beautiful flower farm, cottage rental and wedding venue.  Flowery quilts are spread around the grounds with patterns and instructions on other enhancing projects, like holding a garden tea party or making a blackberry pie.  Big sigh, everyone would like to move in here I imagine.

Did I mention all Quilting books are on sale this month?  15% off!


Sweet Promised Land and the Joys of Robert Laxalt


Anyone with a history  in Nevada will recognize the name Laxalt.  Paul Laxalt was Nevada’s governor from 1967 to 1971 and then beat  Harry Reid for the US Senator seat which he held through 1987.   His political legacy is solid, and his career started as a boy when he rubbed shoulders with politicians in his family’s Basque hotel, later the Ormsby House, in Carson City.  His extensive family is entwined throughout Northern Nevada’s public life and history.

His younger brother Robert though, is the one with a hold on me.  Robert Laxalt ( 1923-2001) is an author at the top of the list that I Must Have Shelf Space For.  Laxalt began his career as a journalist, and his spare, to the point, and vivid writing in both fiction and nonfiction works reflects that training.  He is often compared to Ernest Hemingway who had a similar journalism background.  He writes about Basque American sheepherders, the sagebrush, and family.  If you know Nevada or the intermountain West, you know these people and places,  If  not, you want to know them.

Sweet Promised Land, Laxalt’s first book from 1957,  is based on a trip he and his Basque immigrant father Dominque took to the homeland after Dominque’s 50 years in the deserts and mountains of Northern Nevada.  Appreciation and affection grows for his father in the process, and we come to love and appreciate the whole family before the book ends.  Sweet Promised Land , in fact, is frequently credited with winning elections for Paul, but politics aside, this is a beautiful family story, an immigrant story, a coming home story.  I recommend it to everyone.

Charles Kuralt’s review of a later book says, “Somewhere along the line, many of our writers have forgotten how to tell stories, set in places the reader can see and feel and smell with the characters the reader cares about.  Robert Laxalt hasn’t forgotten how.  He has written a yarn that I, for one, believe and cannot get out of my head.”   Readable but rich, action packed, likeable characters- these ingredients add up to a satisfying book for young adults, and Sweet Promised Land was actually a Weekly Reader publication for many years.  When Laxalt helped found the University of Nevada Press, his books were then all published by the small university press and continue to be a mainstay of the UNR backlist.

Laxalt followed Sweet Promised Land with a dozen more Basque-American stories, some loosely based on his family history, some focused more on the Basque homeland.  A Cup of Tea in Pamplona about smugglers in the Basque Pyrenees is colorful and riveting.  A Man in the Wheatfield features Italian immigrants to Nevada, and is probably the most complex and ambiguous of his fiction works.  The American Library Association named it one of the most Notable Works of Fiction in 1964, on the list with Ernest Hemingway and Saul Bellow.  The Basque Hotel, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, brings in more of the family’s hotel heritage and Laxalt’s strong, competent mama.  Nevada, A Bicentennial History of course tops the nonfiction list.

Time of the Rabies, a novella and one of Laxalt’s final books, verges on a horror story, of  the compelling, can’t-put-it-down variety.  Based on an actual rabies epidemic in the 1920’s, the short story follows a sheep rancher and crew as the rabies epidemic sweeps over their operation and lives.  Yikes.  Nightmare material for everyone I know that read it, but so, so good!  He captures that complex relationship with nature and livelihood ranchers and farmers know too well.  Read it please, but not while alone or camping….

If you are a poor soul who hasn’t experienced any Basque American culture, start with Robert Laxalt’s books.  Then get yourself to the JT Bar in Gardnerville, or the Marvin Hotel in Winnemucca, the Star Hotel in Elko, or any number of other great traditional Basque restaurants across Nevada, Idaho, Montana.  You can still find good Basque food in Bakersfield with that area’s history of sheep herding.  Thanks in part to Laxalt, Basque festivals are common in the region too, Reno has a great one coming up in July. (click here for more information) It is an ancient and fascinating culture, with deep roots now in our sagebrush and aspen west.


Enjoy the Rain with a Poem by Dr. Nellie

dr. nellie 1Dr. Nellie, Helen MacKnight Doyle, MD, was one of the first women physicians in California.  Surprisingly enough, she opened her practice at age 21, right here in Bishop.  Her autobiography, originally titled A Child Went Forth was later renamed just Dr. Nellie, with a forward by Mary Austin.  It is a well written and popular local read, but also acclaimed by the California State Library, where Dr. Nellie has been honored as one of California’s “women trailblazers in science, technology, engineering and math”.  I know at least one other customer agrees with me that it would be a wonderful Inyo Reads book!

Doyle’s brief bio states that , Dr. Helen MacKnight Doyle, a Pennsylvania native,  moved to Bishop in 1887. She later attended UC Berkeley at age 17 and received her medical degree in 1894 at age 20. Too young to get her medical license, she interned at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco where she treated children with tuberculosis. At 21, she returned to Bishop with her license in hand and opened her own practice.

I frequently recommend Dr. Nellie, but this week I came upon a little xeorox copy looking book titled A Child Went Forth, from Gotham House.  Not the autobiography though, this is a book of poems and anecdotes, with a personal note from well recognized local author Genny Smith in 1985 describing this as a collection of poems written by Helen Doyle and saved by her daughter and granddaughter.   I love the connections and personal tidbits that turn up in used books! 

To celebrate our local trailblazer and our blessed spring storms, here’s a quote from one of Dr. Doyle’s poems, titled helen doyleDesert Rain.


Gray ghosts glide down the mountain side/ To wash the desert’s dusty face./ On kind, caressing winds they ride/ In clouds of misty, silver lace. / With airy banners floating wide/ And pennants of sunshine-tinted gray/ Their errand still they strive to hide/ In seeming heedless disarray/

……………….Gathering up the wavering mist/ They swept it over the desert floor, / Each eager blossom, swiftly kissed/ Raised its thirsty cup for more. / And o, the perfume of the sage, / O, mighty miracle of rain!/ The desert , gray as though with age,/ Behold — he is a youth again!               

We can certainly appreciate that perfume of sage about now!   

( I apologize, I can’t get the poem’s spacing right in this program.)


Ivan Doig book covers

A Tribute to Author Ivan Doig

Last week before I heard author Ivan Doig had died of cancer, a customer relayed a great personal story about crossing the Sierra at age 14 with cows and a pack string in early spring. The snow got so deep they had to put the little calves into pack bags with their little faces poking out and let the biggest mule break a trail through the snow to get through. It was a great story, and I can’t do it justice. After reading Ivan Doig’s obituaries about his constant habit of carrying a notebook and jotting down good stories and phrases, I could just picture him in my store taking down notes to include another colorful story in a novel someday. What I, and so many fans, love about his work is how he captures those stories of unique but completely believable characters dealing with the land and the elements. Of course he has cowboys and plenty of sheepherders, but all the other individualistic characters that make up the remote regions are there too, in perfect accents and detail. The characters are there sometimes by choice sometimes by happenstance, but it is never recreation. It is full on living and making a living in a hard place as best they can.

When we were agonizing over a name and corresponding image for our new store location, Ivan Doig was one of a small group of authors I kept at the top of my list for the type of regional Western emphasis I wanted to infuse through the new store – a regional emphasis that is very much tied to the land and characters shaped by the landscape. Of course our landscape includes the Sierra peaks and lakes, the glamour girls of the local scenery, but it also includes the Whites and Panamint Ranges, Silver Peak and Montgomery Pass, Adobe Valley and Keeler. Literature is said to put the whole world in reach, and it does, but I can’t house all of it in one store (valiant effort though if I do say so). Instead I want to increasingly emphasize what makes the Owens Valley and Western Nevada unique and special and worth calling home, or at least visiting. Ivan Doig’s stories take place in Montana and the Northern Rockies, not geographically that close to our locale, but the remote and vast lands he describes are plenty familiar. He would recognize my Range & River region I think, and thanks to his 16 wonderful books, we can all recognize his.

If you have not yet read any of Doig’s works, I think starting with his first book, and memoir, This House of Sky would be the best idea. It is a painful but beautiful story of tough, tough people. I typically shy away from ANYTHING described as painful, but I loved this book even if it made me cry. It was honored as a National Book Award finalist in 1979. In fictional works, he is probably best known for Dancing at The Rascal Fair, part of the McCaskill Family trilogy of homesteading Scots emigrants in western Montana, and The Whistling Season, a New York Times bestseller in 2006, a tribute to rural school teachers, set farther east in Montana. With bestselling author status and eleven fine books to his credit, Doig was awarded the Wallace Stegner prize for literature in 2007. The Bartender’s Tale came out in 2012, and is one of my favorites. It’s written from the perspective of a 12 year old boy who is trying to figure out complex family relationships along with his own place in the world. You will love the father and son in this one, and the piles of stuff in the barn, don’t miss it. Doig’s sixteenth book Last Bus to Wisdom, will come out posthumously this summer and will return to the McCaskill’s Two Medicine Country with another precocious 12 year old’s story. I’m sure it will be wonderful. Doig’s website is very personable, with Readers’ Group discussion questions, synopsis, and background on each of his novels – don’t pass up that fine resource either if you want to fully appreciate his books.

Every obituary from The Missoulan to The New York Times identifies Doig as a fine writer of the American West, which is what I love about him as well. I want to leave you with his own words though, from his website, on the subject. Of course, he nailed it.

One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.

A Lack of Water


I just read this morning in Publisher’s Weekly about a new book coming out on William Mulholland, the hubris and genius behind the Owens Valley Aqueduct, the growth of Los Angeles, and of course that horrible St Francis Dam disaster.  Plenty has been written about him already, but I’m sure I’ll bring some of these new titles into the store, because who can resist trying to understand that  personality and that chunk of major history?  Here though, I’d like to focus on what has already been written about the water wars.  For many people, these books are old news, because, obviously, they are old!  But I think it is a used book store’s job to remind us all of the good things already written and keep them fresh in mind.  Some titles are out of print and we may have to search for them, but we are happy to do that.  This will undoubtedly be a summer and maybe a decade of more water wars, so I think it is a good time to look back at a few places we’ve been, and the water gone under the bridge so to speak.

Story if InyoAt the top of the list is of course The Story of Inyo by newspaper founder W.A. Chalfant.  Like the best journalists, Chalfant always found the angle that made a story compelling, interesting, and sometimes amusing.  Much of The Story of Inyo is about Paiute residents of the valley and early pioneer/Pauite conflicts (yes from a white perspective of the time), but the accounts of the early government and private maneuvering that made the Aqueduct possible are invaluable.  The first edition was published in 1922, so a lot of water war history was yet to happen, but this book is essential Owens Valley reading.  First and second editions are pricey, especially if signed, but there are many later editions and paperbacks available.  A reprint edition came out in 2012, and is readily available.

Owens Valley as I Knew ItOne of my favorites is The Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Water Controversy – Owens Valley As I Knew It by Richard Coke Wood.  This small paperback was written by Dr. Wood as his thesis in the mid-30’s, at a desk at the Inyo Register under the watchful eye of W.A. Chalfant, so there is some similarity there.  Paperback copies were printed and distributed by Chalfant Press in the 1970’s (also a drought period, remember?). Many photo credits go to Curtis Phillips, founder of our next door neighbor store, Phillips Camera House.  Dr. Wood went on to be a history professor at the University of the Pacific and wrote a number of history books on the Sierra.  This is a readable, concise account of the aqueduct history, and it is still pretty easy to find.  I have only seen the Chalfant Press edition, and I am not aware of any others.

imageThe Water Seekers by Remi A. Nadeau was available new until quite recently.  Mr. Nadeau called me from Southern California to sell me copies when I first bought the store, but I don’t think he is still directly marketing his many history books.  Nadeau’s grandfather and namesake was an early emigrant to Los Angeles and a teamster/freighter to the early mining camps, so his Los Angeles roots are quite deep. I believe he had family who worked on the aqueduct too, but I need to check my sources on that.  He takes a broader view of acquiring water for the growing Los Angeles, including the Colorado River and other sources as well as the Owens Valley, and he extensively researched the Department of Water and Power files as well as Mr. Mulholland’s personal scrapbook.  The Water Seekers was first published in 1950, and also republished and distributed by Chalfant Press in the 1970’s.  It is a readable and fascinating story, with an understandable bias that is as much a part of the historical record as the court cases.  Don’t pass it up!

imageFor more current histories, if you have not yet read Cadillac Desert, The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner, get it into the To-Be-Read-Right-Away line up.  There is a movie version too.  It covers many water projects in the Western States besides the Owens Valley, and it is conveniently still in print and fast, compelling reading.  Another popular and thorough choice is Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles Water Supply in the Owens Valley  by William Kahrl  (1983) (on my To-Be-Read pile still)  It is my dad’s and many other local historians’ favorite.  Also add  the comprehensive and very scholarly   Western Times and Water Wars: State, Culture, and Rebellion in California  by John Walton (1993) for an amazing analysis of the big picture, and the more forward looking Drowning the Dream: California’s Water Choices at the Millennium (2000) by our local author David Carle.  Carle’s insights include analysis of more recent history at Mono Lake and offers thoughts on the political decisions inevitably coming soon.

I would love to hear about your favorites in regional history and the water wars. I always try to stay stocked up with used copies, but they sell quickly, so let us know what you are looking for. Please leave a comment, call, or shoot us an email.  Don’t forget that Laws Museum, Manzanar, and the Eastern California Museum all have great selections of  local history books, plus great exhibits!

Range & River Books Leprechaun Storytime

10 Must-Reads for Leprechaun Story Time

A stack of wonderful fairy stories ready for story time!
A stack of wonderful fairy stories ready for story time!

Our annual store Leprechaun Party & Storytime really started as a chance for me to read some magical favorites to more children, since mine won’t sit on my lap any longer.   I love reading aloud to eager little listeners!   Every year I haul a large stack of books from my personal shelves to read at story time and never get through even half of them in three hours!  So to improve my own discipline I’m whittling the stack to just 10 (okay 11) must-reads and I thought I would share the list with you too. Obviously the “wee folk” are around throughout the year and there are hundreds of great choices out there.    This selection has an Irish/leprechaun leaning since we are celebrating in March, but the stories are all perfectly appropriate year round, and many celebrate the turning seasons as much as the magic of the little people.

The best, Clever Tom and the Leprechaun.
The best, Clever Tom and the Leprechaun.

1.    Clever Tom and the Leprechaun by Linda Shute (illustrated by Shute also) (Scholastic)

This is my all time favorite since I started trying an Irish brogue on my kids. (okay it is a terrible accent, but they didn’t complain).  Sadly and unexplainably, this Scholastic paperback is out of print and the prices have skyrocketed.  If you have one lying around, treasure it!  It’s a retelling of an old story with the leprechaun fooling the greedy young man who never quite realizes he’s being tricked.  The humor is subtle and truly clever but the kids see it, and the illustrations are the perfect mix of detailed expression, color, and touches of nature.  A truly great read-aloud.

Hurray for competent women! The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies
Hurray for competent women! The Woman who Flummoxed the Fairies

2.    The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies retold by Heather Forest, Illustrated by Susan Gaber (Harcourt Brace& Company)

This winner has recently been reprinted, thank heavens.  A Scottish story retold in which the clever young woman tricks the wee folk this time, while baking wonderful cakes and taking care of her babe.  Yay for smart, competent women characters!  It also has wonderful watercolor illustrations with rainbow winged fairies, a little better for on-the-lap reading because the detail is a little small, but the story does fine for a group.

Fairy magic in the Maine woods - Fairy Houses.
Fairy magic in the Maine woods – Fairy Houses.

3.     Fairy Houses written & illustrated by Tracy Kane

This is a later addition to my pile, and I have come to appreciate it more and more.  For one thing, the fairy sighting is in Maine, so North America is represented in the magical world which is a rare thing in fairy tales!  The lovely watercolor illustrations include both large and small images, so it works for a group or close-up reading.  Although it is almost too long for restless listeners,  it has a sweet, participatory message and plenty of nature appreciation, which tip the scales towards read-aloud winner.  I love the message that a moment of magic may be worth waiting and working for.  My moment of magic

Some more Fairy House magic in photographs
Some more Fairy House magic in photographs

happened when Miss Robin’s mom told me she went home to build fairy houses after hearing the story at story time!  There are other books with photographs of built Fairy Houses to complement this story too.

Who doesn't love a story-loving magical goat?  King Puck
Who doesn’t love a story-loving magical goat? King Puck




4.    King Puck by Michael Garland (HarperCollins)

The fairies are small but powerful in this adorable story! Magic allows the big-eyed goat to speak, and win the grand prize of course, so what does he pick for his prize?  More stories!  Pure fun to read aloud, even with a bad Irish accent!  Kids will enjoy searching out the tiny fairies on each page too.



Artistic and classic from the German tradition, Mother Earth and Her Children

5.    Mother Earth and Her Children, A Quilted Fairy Tale by Sibylle Von Olfers, Illustrations (yes quilted!) by Sieglinde Schoen Smith, and translated by Jack Zipes  (Breckling Press)

A lot of collaboration went into making this lovely book, and I have to quote the book flap to describe it:  “In rhyming verse and vibrant illustrations, Mother Earth and Her Children gently encourages young children to discover the wondrous world of nature just outside”.   Yes indeed.  The original story was published by Sister von Olfers in 1906 as one of six popular books.  100 years later, Smith created the amazing quilt that makes up the illustrations of this edition, translated to rhyming English by Zipes…..whew!  Generations of children are not wrong, this is a great story about the turning seasons, but buy this book for yourself even if you have no children.

A great contemporary read aloud - The Leprechaun's Gold
A great contemporary read aloud – The Leprechaun’s Gold

6.    The Leprechaun’s Gold by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole (HarperTrophy)

Plenty of opportunity for changing voices in this story, a good rhythm, plus a good message, makes this a perfect read-aloud.  Generosity and kindness are rewarded, a merry heart rewards those around us, and magic brings it all together.  Funny, expressive illustrations top off an accessible winner.




Children of the Forest is one of Elsa Beskow's best
Children of the Forest is one of Elsa Beskow’s best

7.    Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow (Floris Books)

I’m cheating a little here, because only practiced listeners will sit through this longish story with unfamiliar vocabulary and slightly old fashioned language.  But this is the kind of story you want children to be practiced listeners for!  Elsa Beskow has created many treasures, and these little mushroom capped forest fairies are some of my favorites.  Here’s a sample:  The days grew shorter and the moon shone bright and cold as a silver coin, cutting little grey shadows in the pine branches and telling all the forest creatures that summer really was at an end.  Mist settled in the hollows like white breath and the children played at leap frog with the rabbits until it was time for bed.”  Start young, people, so your babies can appreciate Elsa Beskow.

Classic fairy poems with fascinating moving illustrations.
Classic fairy poems with fascinating moving illustrations.

8.    If You See a Fairy Ring Illustrated by Susanna Lockheart (Barron’s)

This is a collection of classic fairy poems by the likes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Shakespeare, and Robert Graves.  The clever part is the fold out pages which shift the illustration from one scene to another.  It fascinates children of any age.  A great way to appreciate poetry!



Fiona's Luck, another strong woman character stands up to the Leprechaun King
Fiona’s Luck, another strong woman character stands up to the Leprechaun King

9.    Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman  Illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Charlesbridge)

A celtic art winner with a message about truth and greed, The Ring of Truth

Fiona’s story combines a smart woman with a slightly odd message that we make our own luck if there is magical luck to be had.  It works though, and it is a fun read aloud with leprechauns. This is a good choice if you are looking for a St. Patrick’s day story for older listeners.  Bateman also wrote The Ring of Truth, a leprechaun story  about greed and blarney, with very magical celtic illustrations by Omar Rayyan.  I could hardly decide which one to include here….so snuck them both in.

Practice, practice for your wishes to come true!  Shannon and the World's Tallest Leprechaun
Practice, practice for your wishes to come true! Shannon and the World’s Tallest Leprechaun

10.    Shannon and the World’s Tallest Leprechaun by Sean Callahan Illustrated by Kathleen Kemly (Albert Whitman & Company)

This is an Irish-American story with less magic and more message – hard work and practice pay off and you can’t judge by appearances, how can you resist that double whammy?  All it needs to be a better read aloud is a pronunciation guide for the gaelic counting.  I make it up and someday someone will know better.  It is a fun story with easy to see, colorful illustrations.  It is a happy, optimistic, story, and did I mention that hard work pays off?

A traditional Victorian favorite poem with amazing contemporary illustrations, The Fairies
A traditional Victorian favorite poem with amazing contemporary illustrations, The Fairies

Bonus 11.   The Fairies  A Poem by William Allingham illustrated by Michael Hague (Henry Holt and Company)

This old poem is a wonderful read aloud with qualifications.  If your listeners can handle the more traditional fairy tales where people die and wicked step-mothers are punished,  try this one.  These little men from an 1850 poem are a tad scary. Michael Hague, though, is one of my favorite illustrators, a contemporary successor to Arthur Rackham, and his mischievous imps and gnarled trees are worth sharing.  Read it a few times and your listeners will see the humor too.  They will crave Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Reluctant Dragon, and all the other classics Michael Hague has illustrated!

And now to hear about your favorites!  I’m always looking for new titles, so let me know what to look for in great fairy read-alouds!


Later Beat Poetry Treasure

imagesome / thing

Volume One, Number Two

Winter 1965


Published in 1965 by Hawk’s Well Press, New York, this collection of mostly poetry (although there are some stretches here) has selections by Ted Berrigan, Margaret Randall, Diane Wakoski, George Brecht, and Jerome Rothenberg (who is also one of the editors), among others. For those with an appreciation of the edge that the Beat generation from the fifties walked, this small book will satisfy the reader with an appreciation of the avant-garde sixties and the continuing experimental literature, performance theatre and conceptual art that proliferated well into the next decade. The cover, in black and white, is a photograph of a sculpture by minimalist Robert Morris.

If you remember the sixties, or desire to learn about an era that was before your time, this book will open doors and stimulate an inquiry into several of these artists, many of whom are still living and creating, and where they took this early period of inspiration and freedom.

Thanks to Bookseller Jill Paydon for this review.  Stop in soon to discuss books with Jill!