Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading and Mabel Dodge Luhan

Ah, summer! The time to gather with family and friends for outdoor barbecues or picnics, cooling off in lakes, streams or swimming pools, sitting outside enjoying garden offerings…AND picking up good books to enjoy at the beach or while lying in a hammock.

This is the season when summer reading lists appear in droves on the web. Familiar with the New York Times recommendations, I sleuthed out lesser known sources. I found the “Summer's Best Reads” assembled by Gwen Ifill and PBS “Washington Week” panelists--among them "the smartest reporters in Washington, D.C."--especially intriguing. Their recommended reading ranges from fiction to politics, history to biography: selections intended to provide something of interest to a variety of readers.

The diversity of genres echoes a reading list inspired by this year’s Remarkable Women of Taos campaign, compiled by Mya Coursey. In honor of New Mexico’s centennial she chose books written or edited by women between 1912 and 2012. All of the books reference Taos or places in northern New Mexico within an easy day trip (omitting Santa Fe). Mya arranged the titles under seven headings: The Pueblos; The Wild West; Historically Hispanic; Luhan’s Salon; Other Writers; De Poesía (Poetry); The Artists; Fiber Arts Tradition; Day Trips to Taos Neighbors; and Mostly Mysteries. As soon as she had 100 authors (and 150 titles) Mya printed her bibliography titled Storytellers:Women Writing Taos. She also contributed it to the Town of Taos Remarkable Women website.

This past week I reviewed Mya’s list. I offer you a sampling of books featuring Mabel Dodge Luhan. Under the “Luhan’s Salon” category, I noticed that Mya listed books by Mabel as well as biographical treatments of Mabel by Lois Rudnick: Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds and Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counter Culture

Perusing the other titles, I realized anew Mabel’s reach as a subject. Some of these on Mya’s list include Santa Fe and Taos: The Writer’s Era, 1916-1941 by Marta Weigle (highlights writers drawn to Taos by Mabel), Taos: A Memory by Miriam Hapgood DeWitt (coming of age memoir includes the summer the author spent as Mabel’s houseguest and commentary on artists and writers the author met there), and From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s House by Flannery Burke (another view of Mabel’s house and its visitors as well as various perceptions of her patronage).

Other ties to Mabel surfaced in Mya’s “Suggested Survey” (Appendix 1) of ten books. Willa Cather spent weeks of two summers as Mabel’s guest left alone to write. Through Tony Lujan, Mabel’s husband who acted as driver and guide, Cather gleaned stories and discovered the landscape in the Taos environs. The author based her Indian character Eusabio on Tony in her book Death Comes for the Archbishop. Claire Morrill, a legendary bookstore owner in Taos, included Mabel in the chapter “Three Women of Taos” in A Taos Mosaic: Portrait of a New Mexico Village

Thus far I had read or delved into all of the Mabel-related books Mya listed, so it was a surprise to find one totally unknown to me. I had never heard of Frances Crane whose first mystery The Turquoise Shop (1941) was inspired by an actual event in Taos, where the author was then living. One of the characters, Mona Brandon, was loosely based on Mabel. Frances Crane went on to write 25 more volumes featuring protagonists Pat and Jean Abbott, deemed “one of the most popular husband-and-wife sleuthing teams in detective fiction”. One other mystery, The Amethyst Spectacles (1944), was also set in Taos.

Mya Coursey's list has inspired me in many ways. It introduced me to new books and prompted my rediscovery of ones I consider old friends. I've got a fresh pile of books on my nightstand and others entered on my "read next" list.

I encourage you to mine Mya's list for the wealth of writing by women connected to Taos and New Mexico. Oh, and let me know what you're reading this summer. I'm always looking for a "thumping good read."

Adios for now,


Cover image of "Storytellers: Women Writing Taos" courtesy of Mya Coursey; covers of Utopian Vistas and A Taos Mosaic courtesy of the University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.