Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

JUNE 7, 1999: 

Windows on the Past: Historic Lodgings of New Mexico by Sandra D. Lynn, Univ. of New Mexico Press, $24.95 paper

In the acknowledgments to Windows on the Past, author Sandra D. Lynn says she interviewed dozens of people "over a period of years" in order to compile the histories of the many hotels and lodges she covers in this detailed but engaging book. It would have taken at least a period of years to track down as much information as is present here. Consequently, Windows on the Past may be most valuable to vacationers who have previously visited hotels like La Fonda in Santa Fe or lodges like Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton, or to vacationers about to embark for one of the 14 locales Lynn has singled out. But her history is worth reading for its revealing secrets that speak to the often uneasy meeting between the old West and its early, genteel tourists. Witness this gem of a fact: "In 1928 workers digging the basement for the expanded La Fonda unearthed an 1886 loaded revolver, many very old bottles of whiskey, a four-inch cannon ball, and a human skull." --Clay Smith

Texas Whitewater by Steve Daniel, Texas A&M Univ. Press, $14.95 paper

The state's most adventurous paddlers finally have a guide worthy of their ambitions in Steve Daniel's vade mecum to the hairiest ledges, holes, pourovers, and hydraulics in Texas. Not a book for the timid or tube-bound, Texas Whitewater covers everything from the popular canyons of the Rio Grande to unlikely play spot Hidalgo Falls on the lower Brazos, stopping in between to discuss the paddling prospects on scenic river runs, barely navigable spillways, and raging creeks that masquerade for much of the year as advertisements for xeriscaping. Daniel, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, also includes notes on put-in and take-out spots, the flow levels at which his routes are best navigated, and a truly wonderful appendix of Internet sites listing water level and low rate information. Bonus: a thorough analysis of paddlers' rights in Texas by assistant attorney general Joe Riddell, who delves into common law, statute, and attorney general opinion to limn the rights of all Texans to use of the state's navigable waterways. --Bruce McCandless

1999 Inside New York: The Ultimate Guidebook by Matthew Matlack, et al., Inside New York, $16.95 paper

This guidebook's strength is its dual focus on visiting and living in the city. Its first two chapters, "City Living" and "Neighborhoods," are a far reach from the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Subjects like finding a job and renting an apartment are covered in depth. So why would a visitor care about all of this? The normal, tourist-trap seeker won't. But for those who want to see the city for what it really is, for what its inhabitants love about it, this might be the right road. This guidebook doesn't neglect the basics, like nightlife, shopping, and the arts, and at different points, the history of New York City is also provided for context's sake. So for someone who'd like to become a New Yorker but can only afford a few days in the city, Inside New York will take you there. --Rod Machen

Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the U.S. by Cindy S. Aron, Oxford University Press, $35 hard

Before the days of grab the kids and hop in the car, extended vacations were undertakings for the very rich only. As rail traffic and eventually automobiles developed, more of the middle class sought vacations, ostensibly to improve their bodies, minds, and souls. Of course, many vacationers made time to flirt, play sports, model new bathing suits, and generally indulge in activities restricted during the rest of the year. Aron extensively documents the evolving ideologies of leisure for middle- and upper-class travelers, but ignores the economic desperation that many other Americans faced. Little effort is made to explore the struggles of poor people to procure time off and to create their own leisure activities. Although Aron documents how vacationing became more widespread from 1900-1940 (when the book ends), she implies that then and now it is the experience of the white middle class which defines America as a whole. --Angela Miller

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