Southwestern Homelands, by William Kittredge
Having read a book by this author before , I had an idea of what to expect from this author, and I was not disappointed so much as annoyed by it. When the author showed ambivalence about his heritage as an Eastern Oregonian in Owning It All, he did so in speaking about his own past and his own identity, and while it was clear that he was trying to cater to urban liberals, he was at least writing about himself. He has no such defense or excuse this time, and manages instead to sound like the leftist’s favorite commentator on conservative Westerners, and it’s a bad look. If the author at least has some credibility when talking about his own locality and its complex history, he has far less as a leftist apologist who tries to blend in well enough to avoid offending his audience while writing whiny leftist pieces for leftist rags like The Atlantic Monthly. And the fact that the front cover calls the author real is a big indication that this author is not real at all, but is rather a phony, an agent provacateur that helps convince urban elites that they know about rural America when they do not have a clue at all.
This book is a bit more than 150 pages long and it is divided into seven chapters. The preface is a short one that shows the author expressing his sympathies with those seeking for mineral wealth in a mountaineering expedition. After that the author reminisces about his first trip to the American Southwest and also speculates on its history and geology (1). This leads to a discussion of mutual enterprise and his less than sanguine look at those who are well off but not particularly wealthy and who have a strong distaste for socialism and leftism in general (2). After that there is a discussion of the place as a homeland, but mainly for first peoples about whom the author rhapsodizes (3). After that the author speaks rather harshly about Spanish conquerors, Christian missionaries, and Americans who settled the West (4). Then there is the usual sort of negative picture of Los Vegas (5) as well as a discussion of the Sante Fe triangle (6) to show the author feeling like the fraud he is. After that the author speaks ambivalently about the use of public lands and its complexity based on accepted patterns of grazing and the politics of environmentalist (7) before closing the book with some “mudhead dreaming.”
What would have made this book better? Perhaps this book would have been better with honesty. Instead of the author pretending to be like the people whose views he lambasts and criticizes, given his obvious lefty bias, the author could have been an open leftist rather than someone trying to be blandly polite and demonstrated to his reading audience the real feelings of rural and conservative Westerners for people of his ilk. Would honesty on the part of the author made this book a pleasant read? Probably not, but it would have been less deceptive and thus an improvement. It would, of course, have been even more of an improvement if the author had more sympathy with Christians and conservatives than he did with heathens and his own ideas of noble savages in the pre-Colombian West, but that would be assuming that the author was a reasonable human being instead of a leftist ideologue. Sadly, that assumption does not hold, and so this book is immensely political, whining about green lawns and periodic wet and dry climate cycles and the threat of overpopulation in the West, as well as the political mentality of the majority of its voting population. Spare me the leftist whining.