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By Stephen Ausherman, Julie Birnbaum, Isak Howell, Valerie Yarberry

MAY 11, 1998: 

The Battle of Glorieta Pass

by Thomas S. Edrington and John Taylor (UNM Press, cloth, $29.95)

You think Texans would learn by now. They're generally disliked and ill-received when they come crashing into New Mexico, a tradition that began as early as 1841 with the Texan-Santa Fe Expedition. But Texans have a poor sense of history, unsure if they're a state or a nation, and they keep coming back for more abuse. The Battle of Glorieta Pass argues that the thrashing Confederate Texans suffered in north central New Mexico was perhaps the most futile in Civil War history, "a hollow and bloody addendum to a campaign whose outcome had already been decided." It probably would have been the most forgettable battle as well, had novelists not dubbed it the Gettysburg in the West (an analogy the authors find "far from perfect" but useful enough for their subtitle). While it may seem odd to devote nearly 200 pages to a doomed and trivial Texan campaign, the maps, photos, documents and first-hand inspections provide insightful perspectives and enjoyable narratives of New Mexico history. And maybe it will help Texans remember something besides the Alamo. (SA)

So Forth

by Joseph Brodsky (Noonday, paper, $12)

In a collection of poetry completed shortly before his death in Brooklyn in 1996, Joseph Brodsky shines with the wisdom, grace and confidence that earned him the Nobel Prize and the post of Poet Laureate. After becoming one of Russia's most recognized 20th-century poets, Brodsky emigrated 25 years ago to the U.S. and began writing in English, developing into an accomplished poet in his new country as well. The works in So Forth reflect the issues of assimilation into a culture and into a language, often returning to the themes of travel and the intricate power of grammar. "I've mastered the art of merging with the landscape," he writes in "Vertumnus." Combining myth, experience and philosophy, Brodsky's style ranges from prosy, dryly witty observation to rhythmic, pensive yet controlled emotion. His final works convey an importance and beauty both to those who have never read his poetry and to those who are familiar with his life's achievements. (JB)

Canyon Solitude

by Patricia McCairen (Seal Press, paper, $14.95)

Noncommittal friends leave Patricia "Patch" McCairen with a cherished permit to raft the Grand Canyon, but without any companions who are able or willing to do so. So she decided to make the 280-mile, 25-day trip absolutely alone. This means little or no chance of rescue should mishap overtake her on the swift, cold whitewater of the Colorado. McCairen's tale intersperses her days on the river with stories of her struggle to craft a lifestyle unfettered by others' expectations. We find that McCairen, following her soul, was lured away from her stable career to the male-dominated world of professional river guides. This massive shift in lifestyle has seriously compromised her financial security and relations with her mother, but she has a hard time apologizing for a decision that feels so right. McCairen is not a born writer, and sometimes her life-as-a-canyon metaphors seem a bit strained, but she succeeds in engrossing the reader as she confronts fear both on the water and in her heart. (IH)

A Patchwork Planet

by Anne Tyler (Knopf, cloth, $24)

With its simple diction and subtle undercurrents, A Patchwork Planet will quickly absorb its audience. Anne Tyler guides readers through a year in the life of handyman Barnaby Gaitlin, a loser who is trying to reorganize his priorities. He begins by repaying his parents for the debt he amassed as a juvenile burglar. The strange thing about his adolescent deviance is what he sought: Unlike his friends who looted for cash and jewelry, Barnaby rummaged through his victims' personal items, like diaries, photo albums and love letters.

Now 30 years old, Barnaby believes it is time to find his purpose, or his "angel," and have fun in the process. He dares to date Sophia, a matronly bank employee, and reunites himself with his daughter, Opal. Throughout his relationships with these women, Barnaby discovers the rewards of unremitting love, the complexity of being virtuous and the challenge of remaining faithful to himself. Although Barnaby's story may seem as anti-climactic and monotonous as our own lives often can, his lessons are worth learning. (VY)

--Stephen Ausherman, Julie Birnbaum, Isak Howell and Valerie Yarberry

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