The latest book from the 2013 reading list is another regional anthology. Eccentricities of Geography is a compilation of literary fiction, essays, and poetry edited by Teresa Milbrodt a talented “fictioneer,” as she calls herself, and published by Western Press.
The previous anthology I reviewed, Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology, was focused on one small area in North Carolina, Ashe County, fondly referred to as “the lost province” because of its checkered history and relative isolation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The pieces there, as I mentioned in that review ran a wide gamut from memoir to poetry to rhapsodic paean to the beauty of the oldest mountains in the world.
This anthology aims at a much larger view – the entire American West. And it sets itself a sterner task – focusing readers on a theme (the above mentioned effects of the varied and variable geographies – both external and internal – of the West and its inhabitants) and organizes its works by genre -which makes reading in some ways easier, in some ways perhaps less pleasurable because one reads all works in each of the above mentioned genres as a group rather than in the more scattered – and charming – array of Mountain Memoirs. But perhaps I am too harsh – my “delight in disorder,” like Herrick’s, is probably idiosyncratic.
Eccentricities has its own charms, however, so let us get to those.
There is poetry that looks at big game hunting (Neal Lewing), the whiskey soaked charms of cowboys (Shirley J. Brewer), and the dangers of trail running in a region where mountain lions like to hunt (Thea Gavin). There are poems about altitude sickness (Brad Johnson), bad marriages in the Western style (Kristin Abraham), ranching (David Lavar Coy), and capitalist barons who followed Greeley’s advice and went west where they made fortunes (Caroline Sposto). And, as with any great geography, there is mythology and folklore (Sam Smith, Jen Edwards, Scott T. Starbuck,) and social commentary on what is, what could be, and what never was ( Genevieve Betts, Francis Raven, Laura L. Snyder).
The fiction, too, plays to great Western themes: the outlaw life (Robert Garner McBrearty), the need for space and room to breathe (Heather Sappenfield), and, the Modern West’s equivalent to El Dorado, the UFO conspiracy (John Haggerty).
The essays are all personal, all memoir (certainly the dernier cri of the 21st century), and all – entertaining. They cover bear encounters as proof of masculinity (Greg Robillard), bad camping decisions as memorable birthday events (Elizabeth C. Creely), and girls using language only the above noted cowboy types would be expected to proffer (Margaret Özemet).
Eccentricities of Geography is the West as you would (and should) expect the West to be: sometimes wicked, sometimes hilarious, sometimes cruel, sometimes generous, always engrossing, always wild.
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