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Reading, Riding and Western Flicks

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A few old and a few new, these 4 essential Southwestern books belong on your bookshelf right now

By Laurie Davies

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Take it back a minute to a time when books — as fast as their pages could be turned — formed our composite of an untamed Western frontier. Books inspired free spirits to go West. They sharpened imaginings of isolated homesteads, garish saloons and high-stakes stagecoach escapes. They told the stories that still make our corner of the country come alive.

Here are four Southwestern reads worth sliding onto your bookshelf. And for the overachievers among you, we’ve got extra credit: field trips to the landmarks and locales that fired these authors’ imaginations.

Never Don’t Pay Attention: The Life of Rodeo Photographer Louise L. Serpa (2015)

Written by Jan Cleere, this book chronicles the pioneering life of Louise Larocque Serpa. A New York society woman-turned gutsy rodeo photographer, Serpa shaped the character of rodeo through her action shots. Field Trip: The rodeo is alive and well in the Southwest. Plan ahead to get tickets to these events:

Storm forming in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. The locale inspired Zane Grey's famous "Call of the Canyon."
Storm brewing in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, a locale that formed the backdrop for Zane Grey’s famous “Call of the Canyon.”
Call of the Canyon (1924)

Written by Zane Grey, this love and adventure book — later adapted to film — traces the story a war veteran nursed to health by an Arizona girl. The film version featured scenes from Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon. Field Trip: Drive through Oak Creek Canyon on Arizona 89A from Sedona to Flagstaff. Or visit the Zane Grey Cabin in Payson, Arizona. The replica home (the original was destroyed in a 1990 wildfire) offers an idea of what life was like for this prolific Western writer.

Lonesome Dove (1985)

Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel traces the adventures of a group of retired Texas Rangers on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Horse thievery, inclement weather, romances-gone-awry and breath-taking scenery had all the makings of a television mini-series, which won seven Emmy Awards. Field Trip: Visit Booked Up in Archer City, Texas. Owned and founded by McMurtry, the bookstore specializes in fine, rare and scholarly books.

Chasing Arizona: One Man’s Yearlong Obsession with the Grand Canyon State (2015)

When Author Ken Lamberton set out to visit 52 places in 52 weeks, what emerged was a humorous adventure through the Grand Canyon state. “This is a fantastic book. A must read,” says Winn Bundy, owner of Singing Wind Bookstore near Benson, Arizona. Field Trip: Unless you can hit 52 places in 52 weeks too, we recommend a swing by Bundy’s Singing Wind – the “Headquarters for Books About the Southwest.” From ghost towns to guide books to historical portrayals of ranchers, mining camps, cowboys and Indians, Bundy’s got it all — on shelves she and her husband cut from mesquite trees when they opened the shop in 1974.

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