Books From the Land of Enchantment
New Mexico has long inspired storytellers. From the early native people who passed down stories to their descendants to tellers of cuentos, Spanish Colonial tales, followed by a steady stream of novelists, poets and nonfiction authors, the region has provided a profound sense of creativity, with majestic mountains, endless views, a unique blend of cultures and remote ruggedness.
Writers have long been drawn to New Mexico, and they’ve extolled the region in novels, poetry, essays, articles, plays, nonfiction and more. From Ben Hur, penned by Governor Lew Wallace, and Willa Cather’s classic novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, which has remained a bestseller in the state since it was published in 1927, to John Nichol’s novel The Milagro Beanfield War, which became an acclaimed film directed by Robert Redford, books about New Mexico have long been bestsellers.
In the first half of last century, writers established flourishing literary colonies in Santa Fe and Taos that brought some of the most famous artists, writers, dancers, musicians and others to visit. In Santa Fe, poets Alice Corbin Henderson and Witter Bynner presided over a prestigious group of writers that included Mary Austin, “Oklahoma” playwright Lynne Riggs and visitor Willa Cather. In Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan reigned over the Taos writers’ colony, and her guests included Thomas Wolfe, Thornton Wilder and D.H. Lawrence, who lived in a ranch outside of Taos that is now a pilgrimage site for his fans.
After the colonies faded during World War II, authors continued to trek to northern New Mexico, including Truman Capote, who spent a summer in a rented house on Canyon Road, and Vladimir Nabokov, who lived in Taos for a summer with his family. Other books were written that became classics, including Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning and a wonderful mystery, Spider in the Cup, long out of print but the copy I have contains a list identifying which real-life people inspired which sordid characters in the book are based on.
Northern New Mexico continues to be a literary center, as dozens of writers live here producing national bestselling books, including George RR Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series; Hampton Sides, author of the acclaimed Blood and Thunder; and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, who wrote All the Pretty Horses.
In an effort to determine which of these books about New Mexico or by New Mexico authors have left the greatest legacy, we asked some of Santa Fe’s bibliophiles to weigh in with a list of their top 10 books about New Mexico and by New Mexico authors.
In the following weeks, we will be running those lists which were contributed by Pat Hoddap, director of the Santa Fe Public Library; Ellen Bradbury, founding director of Recursos de Santa Fe; Jo Chapman of The Lannan Foundation, David Morrell, author of books about Rambo as well as numerous thrillers; and Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico Museum of History.
Based on their selections for the top 10 books about New Mexico or by New Mexico authors, we assembled our own list for the Best Books About New Mexico, which follows below.
SantaFe.com’s Best Books of New Mexico
1. Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder
2. Tony Hillerman’s mysteries
3. Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
4. Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning
5. Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Winter in Taos
6. John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War
7. Peggy Pond Church’s House at Otowi Crossing
8. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima
9. Paul Horgan’s Great River
10. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series