Summer books

Summertime often beckons for us to read. The vacations (some with long flights) and relaxing down times, as well as a chance to lay in the hammock with a good title, draw many people to engage with good stories and insightful yarns. Not to mention, the stormy days of the Arizona Monsoon often mean staying indoors with a book in hand.

To help grow the reading list, here are some relatively new titles by local or regional authors that have caught our attention or imagination in recent months. It is not all the way comprehensive, but we added some diverse titles in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essay and children’s literature.


“Jabber: The Stellar’s Jay” by Sylvester Allred and illustrated by Diane Iverson (Westwinds Press). For our first book in the lineup, we are going to suggest for the young readers “Jabber,” the story of a Stellar’s jay who hatches and explores her world. As Stellar’s jays are a common and fascinating bird of the Colorado Plateau, it’s a great match.

Sylvester Allred, a retired Northern Arizona University biology professor who has written four other children’s books, traces the first year of life of Jabber as she learns about the animals and environment around her. Illustrations by Diane Iverson are colorful and engaging. It’s a winning title for the 4- to 8-year-old readers.


“Where the Sky Touched the Earth: The Cosmological Landscapes of the Southwest” by Don Lago (University of Nevada Press). With all of the great natural wonders and rugged and romantic landscapes of the region, it might escape some people’s attention how much the sky and the astronomical world are a crucial aspect of the Southwest.

Flagstaff author Don Lago sets out to discover how this area also has deeper connections to the cosmos — with essays that deftly and beautifully blend the lyrical and the scientific.

A highlight of the book includes “Tree Rings,” which tells the story of Lowell Observatory astronomer Andrew E. Douglass and his discovery of tree-ring counting and how it was tied to an astronomical question about the sun’s energy.

He also writes about Edwin Hubble’s visit to the Navajo Reservation, the Apollo moon trainings and, of course, Percival Lowell’s Mars obsessions — among other heavenly stories, histories and concepts.


“Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest” by Melissa L. Sevigny (University of Iowa Press). While Melissa L. Sevigny’s “Mythical River” has been out for quite a few months now, we wanted to shine a light on it as one of the Viola Award nominees this year — and recommend it as a great summer nonfiction read.

Sevigny is well-known for her work at KNAU-Arizona Public Radio, but she also has penned an incredible Southwest book on the myths and dreams of water in the arid country.

She smartly integrates natural history, science and her personal observations to tell the story of Southwest waterways. The title comes from Buenaventura, an imaginary river with origins in the 1800s settlement era.

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“The Blood and the Bone and the Flesh of It All: New & Selective Poems” by Jim Simmerman (edited by James Jay and Miles Waggener, Gorsky Press). Jim Simmerman — a nationally and globally recognized poet — made his home in Flagstaff and served as a professor of English at Northern Arizona University. And he’s needed a sturdy, thoughtful collection to highlight the power of his life’s work.

Thanks to tireless hours from editors James Jay and Miles Waggener, “The Blood and the Bone” is that collection.

The book consists of selected poems from five of Simmerman’s past collections and includes a handful of previously uncollected poems at the end of the book.

In each of the poems, the range and the potency of Flagstaff’s preeminent poet resonate off the page. The best poems have a vulnerability and shaved-bone honesty that highlight the power of Simmerman’s work.


“The Talker” by Mary Sojourner (Torrey House Press). This spring brought the first short story collection by celebrated local author Mary Sojourner in several years, “The Talker.” Its eight stories are Sojourner at her best. They feature honest people, many with hard-luck lives. The stories sparkle with redemption, reconciliation or — above all — truth.

Highlights include “Kashmir,” “Nautiliod” and the closing title story. The emotions are true and the dialogue is bright, jagged and radiant with veracity.

Sojourner writes both people and the landscape in which they roam with keen, well-observed detail that’s equal parts visceral and ethereal. Pick it up and find a writer working at the height of her powers.


“Egg” by Nicole Walker (Bloomsbury Publishing). Northern Arizona University professor Nicole Walker stands at the vanguard of some of the brightest modern imaginers of creative nonfiction.

She’s edited one of the genre’s most probing collections, “Bending Genre,” and her memoir “Quench Your Thirst With Salt” explores the complex relationship between herself, her upbringing and her home in Utah.

This time, Walker brings us “Egg” a book in the Bloomsbury “Objective Lessons” series. The 29 essays in 156 pages explore eggs in all their forms, concepts, incantations and ideas. “Eggs like their fragility,” she writes in the essay “Why we break the things we love most.”

While we missed getting this some fun feature treatment during the month of Easter, “Egg” still becomes the book about the ubiquitous thing that’s always in our refrigerator – or somehow a part of us.

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