Being consummate nerds, we read, A LOT. And I mean, really… reading and glamping… can life get better?! So we are adding a new feature to the blog: Glamper Lit. We’ll find books, both fiction and non-fliction, written about an area we’ve explored on our glamping excursions and discuss them and we hope to hear other reading recommendations from you!
Up first, two books written about the Santa Fe area:
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
I must begin by confessing: I will read any thing that has been labeled a “classic.” These are the books I tend to seek out and read over and over. I know, I know, this may not be your thing, in fact we refer to them in this house as “brain spinach” and it may take some actual arm wringing to get TJ to read one. But I can’t help myself, well written books filled with multiple levels of meaning and mental costume dramas are my escape. So, of course I picked up a “classic” about Santa Fe. In my defense, it WAS good!
Willa Cather writes a fictional tale of the first archbishop of New Mexico. Father Latour and his BFF Father Vaillant have been friends since their childhoods in France. They set off for the new world in the 1850’s to become the Bishop of Santa Fe and Vicar, a newly created position in what was then a wild, untamed region. Cather uses her characters to explore the great forces shaping the southwest in the later half of the 19th century: political changes as the area transitioned from Mexican rule to the new leadership in Washington, DC, shifting acceptance of traditional native religious practices and views within the Catholic church, and cultural changes as the Americans begin to deposit themselves into the social fabric of the area. Cather is adept at describing the west and so well describes the high mesas and deep arroyos. I could clearly see each scene unfolding, almost catching whiffs of the sage scented air. Death Comes for the Archbishop is not a long book, and though it contains many complex situations and personalities, it is not a heavy read. Cather writes crisply and with purpose, there is no mucking about, she’s worth picking up again, especially if you had to read My Antonia in high school (ah, high school English classes, where most classics are ruined for you FOREVER).
In reading this book I found myself adding more places to visit on our next sojourn into New Mexico and had I read it before planing our trip, it may have altered our itinerary. This would be a great read for anyone looking to bring a little New Mexico into their imagination.
109 East Palace by Jennet Conant
Hey Glampers… TJ here. I’ll begin with a confession of my own. As much as Laura loves her classical fiction “brain spinach,” I have just as much affection for my beloved non-fiction selections. 109 East Palace describes the ins and outs of a mysterious, top-secret military outpost quietly built from scratch deep in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the mid-1940s. As a World War rages in the Pacific, a dizzying array of eccentric (and brilliant) scientists, starchy military officers, and silent dark-fedora wearing men descend upon what was then the sleepy town of Santa Fe. Hours after visiting 109 East Palace–a reference to the ultra-secret office that served as the Manhattan Project’s “legitimate front” (which can still be found near the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe!!), the strangers would be whisked away in unmarked cars and disappear into a quiet hidden base which would soon become known as Los Alamos National Laboratory–birthplace of the world’s first Atomic Bomb. Throw in their hundreds of bewildered and beleaguered families (also fenced in at the secretive base) and suspicious-but-appreciative locals, and we have an amazing (but true!) story on our hands! Oh yeah… and then there’s the whole learning-to-harness-the-power-of-the-atom part.
Rather than focus on the bomb-making, however, Jennet Conant–herself the granddaughter of a Manhattan Project top scientist–wisely focuses instead upon the dynamic personalities and brilliant minds it took to create the weapon that would change the world. Their struggles, both moral and physical, captivate the reader; particularly as the story centers around their quixotic but surprisingly effective leader: J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Not only does Conant’s 109 East Palace entice us with mystery and intrigue, but its very human stories compel you to share in the vivid, complex, eccentric world of Los Alamos.
As you plan your trip through Santa Fe (or as you explore it), 109 East Palace provides an interesting alternative to the “hippy-granola feeling” (a term Laura uses affectionately) of Santa Fe. Also, pay no attention to that guy in the fedora who’s been following you. He’s… a plumber. Yes. A plumber. In a fedora. Seems legit.
Happy reading, glampers!