Category Archives: Books

Two More Little Free Libraries in Phoenix, AZ

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It was November 2017. Nolagirl and I were on an excursion through Phoenix, AZ. We had set out to see Little Free Libraries, and by golly, we were seeing Little Free Libraries.

If you don’t know by now what a Little Free Library (LFL) is, it’s a good time to learn. According to the Little Free Library organization’s FAQs,

anyone may contribute or take books [from a Little Free Library]…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside..

The first LFL we visited was Helen’s Little Free Lending Library on 28th Street. The second one we visited was on Cheery Lynn Street. This second visit was really special because we got to meet the Little Free Library steward. She was the first LFL steward I ever met, and out of all the Little Free Libraries I’ve visited in three states and six cities (Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff, Mesa, and Phoenix, AZ) she is the only LFL steward I’ve ever met!

When we pulled up in front of the Little Free Library on Cheer Lynn Street, there was a car in the driveway, and a young-mom type of woman was taking groceries out of the trunk. She totally saw us pull up, so Nolagirl and I decided we should get out of the car and say hi. We explained to the lady that we were on a Little Free Library tour and asked her if she was the steward of this one. She said yes, we said it was really cute, and she went into her house. It was a totally pleasant, brief exchange.  (It would be surprising and horrible if a Little Free Library steward were a grouchy, mean person who hated talking to strangers.)

This LFL was constructed of wood that had been stained so the natural grain showed clearly. I think the upkeep on this one is probably pretty easy because no paint touchups are required. The sign on the bottom of the door says that this is a registered LFL with a charter number (65262), but it doesn’t have an official name like Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

Only children’s books were available at the Little Free Library on Cheery Lynn Street.

This LFL held only children’s books, so I didn’t take any. I didn’t leave any either, since I didn’t have any children’s books to donate. I felt ok about my role in both situations. I didn’t need any books, and the LFL was plenty full even if I didn’t leave anything.

Sometime after our visit to Cheery Lynn Street, we went to 11th Avenue, where we found another registered, wooden Little Free Library (charter #10682). This time we did not have the pleasure of meeting the steward. There weren’t many books in this LFL, and I felt sorry I didn’t have a stack to stock it with. What a fun endeavor it would be to drive around with stacks of good books, going from one Little Free Library to another, making sure each one was well stocked with reading material for the people.

Self-portrait in Little Free Library on 11th Avenue. There weren’t very many books in this one.

Friendly by Nature Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

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The Friendly by Nature Little Free Library. The top and side are mosaics.

My favorite Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited during our Phoenix Little Free Library excursion was the second one we went to. This one has the name “Friendly by Nature,” and the charter number is 5974. This registered LFL is decorated with beautiful, colorful mosaics and sits at the front of a yard decorated with more mosaics.

If you don’t yet know about the gift economy of the Little Free Library movement, here are a few things you should know. According to the Little Free Library organization’s FAQs

Little Free Library is a registered nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

The left side of the Friendly by Nature Little Free Library shows a saguaro cactus and a hot hot sun.

As soon as Nolagirl parked in front of the house this LFL belongs to, I was attracted to the library’s bright colors. I was really excited when I got out of the vehicle and moved closer to the library and discovered the brightly colored scenes were composed from irregular tiles. WOW! I also greatly appreciated the desert scenes featured on this LFL. Pictured on the LFL are a saguaro cactus, the hot midday sun, and the starry night visible when one leaves the city behind. Beneath the moonlight, there is a row of books, much like those found in the actual Little Free Library.

The other side of the Friendly by Nature Little Free Library shows the desert night and a row of books ready for reading.

The outside of the Little Free Library was not the only thing on the property sporting bright mosaics. Several round poles just beyond the LFL were also decorated with colorful tiles. I didn’t want to infringe upon the privacy of the steward of the little library, but I did snap a few photos of other pieces of mosaic art.

I was so impressed with the artistic work that I wrote out a quick note expressing my appreciation. I left the note tucked in the LFL. I think it’s really important to tell people when we like their work. I know from experience that artists often don’t get enough positive feedback, so I like to rectify that situation when I can.

This mosaic is visible without going too far onto the property of the Little Free Library’s steward. I love that the lady’s nose is made from what appears to be a cup handle.

I left my email address on the note, and several days later I was pleased to find a message from the artist in my inbox. She wrote,

Thank you for the postcard regarding my Little Free Library and my other mosaics. I retired from Intel about three years ago and started making mosaics.  I have done many commissions.

My adobe house, courtyard and casita are my inspiration!

The artist then invited me to come over and see more of her mosaics! Wow! I was so flattered. Unfortunately, I already had plans for all of my days in Phoenix and I was unable to visit the artist and see more of her work. So disappointing! I’ve dropped the ball during my subsequent visits to Phoenix and never made plans to go over to this gracious woman’s house. My bad. Maybe someday I can still pay her a visit. I sure hope so because I want to see more of these splendid mosaics!

The sun shines above it all.

Little Free Library in Mesa, AZ

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Sometimes I go looking for Little Free Libraries, and sometimes they surprise me. The Little Free Library Nolagirl and I found one Sunday afternoon in Mesa, AZ was a complete surprise.

We were in town for the Spark! event at the Mesa Arts Center. We weren’t surprised to find all the parking spots close to the Arts Center taken, so we had to venture farther to find a place to put the car. Nolagirl settled on the free lot behind the Milano Music Center.

This piano was on the Main Street edge of the pocket park last time I was there.

We can walk through the park with the blocks, she said as we gathered our things and locked the car doors.

I didn’t know what she was talking about until we walked up to the pocket park in the narrow area between two buildings.

Oh, I’ve been here! I said. There was a Play Me, I’m Yours piano the last time I was here.

The piano was gone (all of the Play Me, I’m Yours pianos seem to be gone from Mesa), but the artificial turf and the large, colorful blocks were still there.

Is this grass fake? I asked. Nolagirl said it was, and we both laughed. Why put down fake grass in a pocket park in an alley? Oh, the mysteries of Mesa.

Little Free Library in a pocket park off Main Street in downtown Mesa

I don’t remember who spotted the Little Free Library first, but we were both happy to see it. We’ve gone Little Free Library hunting together; we both think the gift economy of books they facilitate is great.

This Little Free Library in Taos, NM is made from an old newspaper vending machine.

Nolagirl was especially pleased to see this Little Free Library was repurposed from a container that once housed free reading material one often finds in cities. She and her husband are both in the newspaper business, and she said they’ve discussed repurposing discarded metal newspaper boxes into Little Free Libraries. I told her about the Little Free Libraries I’d seen in Taos, NM made from old metal newspaper boxes. Her idea is being implemented!

The Little Free Library in the Mesa pocket park was a renegade. It didn’t have an an official charter sign or charter number. Someone had come up with the the old dispenser and painted “Little Free Library” and “Take a Book or Leave a Book” on it, but hadn’t registered with the Little Free Library organization or paid for a charter sign. I do appreciate the Little Free Library organization, but I also love grassroots efforts done on the cheap, so I love renegadae Little Free Libraries too. It’s not necessary to be registered to get books to the people!

There were several magazines and a few books in this Little Free Library.

(However, registrations does bring benefits, including the option to add the library to the Little Free Library world map which makes it easier for patrons to find and visit the library.)

There were a few book in the library, as well as some back issues of Sports Illustrated. (What a great way to pass on magazines after reading them!) I didn’t need any of the reading material, so I didn’t take anything. I wished I had some books to donate to the library, but all of the books I was ready to part with were in my van. This time my only contribution would be documentation.

I hope the Little Free Library stays in that pocket park for a good long time. I hope folks who find it continue to take books and leave books too.

I took all the photos in this post.

The Grapes of Wrath

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I grew up in the Deep South, a member of a conservative Catholic family.

My family wasn’t ultra conservative, but conservative enough. My dad let it be known he voted Republican. My mother didn’t talk much about her voting habits, but I always assumed she was voting like my dad was. My dad probably assumed the same thing. I’m sure his belief that my mother agreed with him increased family harmony.

I remember my dad talking shit on unions. He explained unions to me by saying if a company was unionized, the owner of the company couldn’t hire the people he (of course the owner of any company must be a man) wanted to hire. Let me be clear. My father never owned a company, never came close to being a member of the owning class. Why he cared about a company owner’s freedom to hire nonunion workers, I have no idea. Like so many working-class Republicans, he was living with some intense cognitive dissonance.

My dad was a hardworking white man who fed his family and paid the bills with no more than a high school diploma. It never occurred to him that other people might not be able to get by with an equal amount of hard work.

My dad backed Gerald Ford in the 1976 election, so my five-year-old self supported Ford too. My kindergarten class got to vote for president. One of the teachers took a refrigerator box and hung photos of Ford and Jimmy Carter inside. We kids went into the box one at a time and put a mark next to the photo of our candidate of choice. I made my mark for Ford, because that’s what my dad would have done. Read the rest of this entry

Little Free Library (Family Practice Associates of Taos)

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Like the Little Free Libray at the Youth & Family Center and the one on the Mesa, the third Little Free Library I discovered inTaos County was a complete surprise.

I needed to use an ATM, and there was only one in Taos that partnered with my credit union. I could use that particular ATM and not pay a fee, so that’s the one I headed to. Unfortunatly, there was a problem with my withdrawal, so I had to pull into a parking space to call my credit union. While I was dialing the number, I noticed what appeared to be a Little Free Library across the way, in front of the building housing Family Practice Associates of Taos. When I finished my call, I walked over to investigate. Yep, it was a Little Free Library.

Unlike the other two Little Free Libraries I found in Taos, this one was not made from a a re-purposed newspaper vending machine. This Little Free Library was built from wood and had a door that opened and a glass window in the door. While I really appreciate the fact that the other Little Free Libraries are making use of something that was probably otherwise headed to the landfill, I also appreciate the beauty of the library near Family Practice Associates of Taos. I think the color scheme of the library is lovely, as are the two decorative birds above the door. If there were a contest going on, this library would win my vote for prettiest in Taos.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what a Little Free Library looks like. What matters is that people can get free reading material out of a Little Free Library. What matters is that a Little Free Library is a gift economy. What mattters is Little Free Libraries build communities. Of course, being pretty doesn’t hurt.

I didn’t leave any books in this Little Free Library, and I didn’t take any either. I had plenty of books to read and my van was full to bursting with all my stuff and The Man’s too. I simply took a few photos and left the Little Free Library as I found it.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Little Free Library on the Mesa

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After I saw the first Little Free Library in Taos County, two more popped up.

The second Little Free Library I visited in Taos County was on the Mesa. This Little Free Library is also housed in a re-purposed newspaper dispenser and is located at the West Rim Mutual Domestic Water Users Association fill station at the intersection Highway 64 and the West Rim Road.

The Man was driving as we left the Mesa. When I saw the Little Free Library, I pointed and said, I want to go over there. Pull in there. The Man kindly complied.

I had a few books to drop off. (I can’t remember their titles.) We were in a hurry, so once I added my donation to the shelves, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the books available. (I was impressed with the number of books that had been shoved into the library!) I gave them a quick glance, decided I didn’t need any of them, and climbed back in the van.

I love that Little Free Libraries make books available for the people. I especially love this one because it’s out there for people who are geographically isolated. If folks can’t or don’t want to drive the ten miles into town to get a book, they can look for reading material in this Little Free Library.

I took the photos in this post.

Elf

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It was the end of a long hot day of trying to sell hemp jewelry and shiny rocks on the side of the highway. (Total sales for the day: $36.) I was eating dinner and reading a copy of the David Sedaris collection Holidays on Ice I’d picked out of a free pile behind a thrift store.

Holidays on Ice
The first story in the collection is “SantaLand Diaries,” a memoir of the pre-Christmas season Sedaris worked as an elf in NYC’s Macy’s store. Early in the essay, Sedaris recalls how he imagined his life in the Big Apple. Of course, his life didn’t go the way of his imagination, and he writes,

But instead I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.

Ouch. That hurt.

I had applied for a job as an elf some years ago. Like David Sedaris, I applied to be a Macy’s elf. Unlike Sedaris, I did not apply for elfhood in NYC.  I was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d recently moved to live with my boyfriend in an apartment his parents had paid a deposit and a month of rent on. The boyfriend didn’t seem to be concerned about finding work (I suppose he’d had a long history of mooching off his parents), but I was scrambling to find a job, any job.

First I called Manpower, the temp service I’d worked through for three years in the medium sized Midwestern town from whence I’d come. The Manpower employment specialist (or whatever they call themselves) who took my call seemed absolutely bored. I asked him if I should go into the office to meet with someone. No need for that, he assured me. There weren’t really any jobs anyway. (No jobs? I wondered. In a major U.S. city? No temp work at all?) He said I could email my resume if I wanted to. They’d keep it on file, but there were currently no jobs.

I dutifully emailed my resume to Manpower. I never heard another word from the Manpower office.

I dutifully spent hours looking at the online employment ads. I dutifully sent off my resume any time I found a position I was even marginally qualified for.

I discovered the bowling alley near my apartment was hiring but didn’t want anyone with visible tattoos. Since when was a bowling alley so concerned about the image of its employees? I could cover my tattoos (so I dutifully sent off my resume), but it seemed like every second person in the city had visible tattoos. Maybe I’d get hired by virtue of my undecorated skin. But no. No one from the bowling alley ever contacted me for an interview.

I discovered the regional chain of convenience stores was hiring, but planned to do a credit check on all applicants. I’d never heard of a potential employer doing a credit check on a job applicant. How could a person with poor credit pay the bills if s/he couldn’t get a job because of poor credit? The no visible tattoos bowling alley tipped me off that the job market was tight, but the credit check for folks applying to work not for a bank or an accounting firm or the freaking CIA  but for a convenience store really convinced me the job market was in the employer’s favor.

I continued to read the want ads, complete online applications, send out my resume, but my phone didn’t ring and my inbox was empty. I started to grow panicky.

Then I saw it: Macy’s was hiring elves. I’d read “SantaLand Diaries,” and thought, If David Sedaris can do it, I can do it to! In fact, I was qualified for the job.

Qualification #1 I am short. I’m under 5’5”. Sedaris recognized the importance of (lack of) height to a career as an elf. Despite being pretty sure he failed his drug test,

still they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short.

If Macy’s was looking for short, they were looking for me!

Qualification #2 I’ve worked with kids. I spent my first two summers out of high school working at a camp for kids with disabilities. Sure, that had been 20 years ago, but I’d done some babysitting since then. I didn’t think kids could have changed too much, even in 20 years.

Qualification #3 I knew a thing or two about taking photos. I’d worked as the assistant to the photographer my first summer at the camp for kids with disabilities. The second summer I’d been promoted to head photographer. I was sure I could handle whatever camera system Macy’s used to take souvenir photos of kids with Santa.

Qualification #4 I’d worked in high volume, high stress retail situations before. I’d been the cashier on multiple occasions during Mardi Gras and Jazz fest at a t-shirt shop on Bourbon Street. I doubted screaming, shrieking, bawling, pissing children and their bossy, rich parents could be any worse than drunk tourists.

I dutifully answered the questions on Macy’s online elf application. I took the application very seriously. I attached my resume. I did my best. It was only a seasonal job, but it could get me through until the next employment opportunity came along.

Macy’s never contacted me, not a phone call, not an email. Nothing. Of course, not hiring me was a good move on Macy’s part because during the first week of December, my boyfriend convinced me we should ditch the apartment and travel the world on foot and via Greyhound.

Still, I was devastated. I didn’t even make the first cut for a temp job as an elf, a job I was actually qualified for.

I’d felt like a failure then, and here was David Sedaris, eight years later confirming that indeed, I’d been right.

Little Free Library (Taos Youth & Family Center)

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My first Little Free Library was in Los Gatos, CA. Later, I discovered one at a dog park in Santa Fe. I wondered why there wasn’t a little Little Free Library in Taos, but it turns out I simply wasn’t looking in the right place.

The first Little Free Library I found in Taos was at the Youth & Family Center. The Man and I went there to shower. Tea had told me all about it. The center had a swimming pool and in the locker rooms, there were showers. For only $2, anyone could shower at the center.

I was really excited to take a shower the first time we went to the Youth & Family Center. It had probably been a week since we cleaned up, and I was looking forward to hot water and soap.

I got an added bonus surprise as I walked up to the front entrance of the center: a Little Free Library! This Little Free Library was a re-purposed newspaper vending machine. So clever! The machine had been painted white and labeled “Little Free Library” so no one could doubt its purpose.

I looked at the books on the shelf of the Little Free Library, as I always do. I can’t remember if I found anything I wanted to read that morning or if I dropped off any books I had finished. I did file away the library’s location in my memory so I could drop off books in the future.

It wasn’t long before I had a pile of books to donate to this library.

The best thrift store in Taos is the one run by the CAV (Community Against Violence). They price the fancy clothes a little high for my budget, but they always have plenty of clothes for just a dollar. Also, I believe in the work the CAV folks are doing, so I feel good about giving them my money.

CAV’s mission is to foster and support a community free from all forms of domestic and sexual violence.

CAV offers a 24-Hour Crisis Hotline (575.758.9888) for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We provide legal and medical advocacy services, counseling and support groups, children’s programs, community prevention and outreach programs, and are able to provide information and resources for those in need.

CAV also has an on-site emergency shelter for adults and children, and offers short and long-term transitional housing programs.

All Services are FREE & Confidential

However, as much as I like shopping inside the store, I always take a look at the dumpster before I leave the parking lot.

Not long after I discovered the Little Free Library at the Youth & Family Center, I found a half dozen boxes of books by the dumpster behind the CAV thrift store. What? I don’t know if people had wanted to donate the books on a day when the store wasn’t accepting donations so instead hauled everything to the dumpster or if the thrift store volunteers didn’t think the books would sell and dumped them all for trash pickup. In any case, there were a lot of free books out there.

I went through all the boxes and found books I wanted to read, as well as a stack of books for Tea and some to give away through BookMooch. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t think of the Little Free Library when I found the book windfall.

All the free books stayed on my mind. What if it rained? They would get wet and be wasted. If only there were a place they could go where they would stay dry, where people who wanted to read could be sure to find them…Sometime in the night, I had my a-ha! moment. I could transport books to the Little Free Library.

The next day, I went back to the CAV dumpster. Many of the free books were gone, but there were still plenty for me to transport to the Little Free Library. I snagged all of the books for kids and young adults because I thought young people would be the main patrons of that particular Little Free Library. I also grabbed a few books I thought adults might like. I drove the books the mile to the Youth & Family Center and placed each one in the Little Free Library. I felt good knowing I’d done my part to get the books out of the trash and and into the hands of the people.

I took all the photos in this post.

Greyhound Story #3 (Whatcha Reading?)

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I thought I wanted to move to Austin, TX. I’d never been there, but it sounded like a cool place. I decided before actually moving there, I should visit so I could make an informed decision.

A friend of a friend had a room in a co-op house in Austin. Since he was more or less living with his girlfriend, he said I could stay in his room while I visited the town.

I took the Greyhound to Austin. I don’t remember anything about the trip. I don’t remember arriving at the bus station to depart the land of my birth or how I got from the station in Austin to the co-op. I must have taken a city bus, because I’m not the type to take a taxi, or maybe the friend of the friend and his girlfriend picked me up in her SUV.

I remember the room I stayed in.  It had cinderblock walls and was very dark. It was tiny and made me think of a jail cell or a room in a mental hospital, although at that time in my life I’d never been in either. The friend of a friend had left it messy, and I didn’t find it very welcoming.

I don’t remember much about what I did in Austin. I know I walked The Strip, the stretch of Guadalupe Street passing next to the University of Texas campus. The co-op where I stayed was close to the University, so I could walk to The Strip easily. One night the friend of a friend and his girlfriend had me over to her apartment for spaghetti. I didn’t go out to listen to live music. I didn’t go out drinking in bars. I didn’t join the residents of the co-op viewing Star Wars after I was invited in the kitchen.

Sapphistry : The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
I did go to Half Price Books near the community health food store. I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed walking among the thousands of inexpensive books on the closely spaced shelves. I found one to buy for myself as a souvenir of my trip Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califia.

I’d recently discovered Pat Califia when my housemate introduced to the book Public Sex, a collection of essays about sexuality in late 20th century America. From there, I discovered Califia’s collections of BDSM themed short stories, Macho Sluts and No Mercy and her dystopian novel Doc and Fluff.  I enjoyed Califia’s writing style, and the sex scenes were hot, although I realized eventually that I wasn’t into BDSM in real life.

Public Sex by Pat Califia (1-May-2001) Paperback

I’d never seen Sapphistry, so when I ran across it for a few bucks at Half Price Books, I scooped it up.

Compared to Califia’s other works, Sapphistry was more of a how-to book for lesbians. There were no BDSM stories, no hot sex scenes. I was a little disappointed with the content, but as a budding bisexual with precious little experience with women, I thought perhaps I could gain some knowledge from the book.

Other than Half Price Books, I didn’t like much about Austin. I barely gave it a chance, I realize now, but in less than a week, I decided I hated the place and didn’t want to live there.

I got back on the Greyhound and headed home.

I’m not a gregarious, outgoing person. I mostly keep to myself when I can, especially in public, especially on the ‘Hound, so when the loudly talking man boarded, I hunkered down in my seat. I thought if I stayed low, kept my nose in my copy of Sapphistry, and didn’t make eye contact, he’d ignore me.

Wrong!

He chose to sit in the seat behind me. He leaned over into my space and demanded, Whatcha reading?

A book, I replied coldly, thinking I could give him a social cue that I didn’t want to talk.

He didn’t have a clue about my cue.

I know it’s a book! he exclaimed impatiently.  What’s the topic?

There are moments in our lives when we must make split second decisions between telling lies and telling truths. I was living such a moment. If I told the man I was reading a book about lesbianism, would he think I was a full-fledged lesbian and therefore off limits or would I open myself up to homophobic abuse? There was no way to know what telling the truth might bring.

I’ve never been a very good liar. Instead of trying to make up something about the book in my lap, I just blurted out one word: Lesbians!

The man sputtered and stammered and sank into his seat.

I thought he might come at me later with some negativity, so I prepared myself by putting on my headphones and listening to Tool for the next couple of hours. The angry hate music prepared me for battle, but the man must have considered me off limits because he didn’t try to talk to me again.

The Water Knife (A Book Review)

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The Water Knife
I first heard of the novel The Water Knife (set in the American Southwest, primarily in Phoenix, AZ from a blurb in Sunset magazine (http://www.sunset.com/). The description intrigued me, and I wanted to read the book. Thanks to a kind BookMooch (http://bookmooch.com/) member, I had my chance.

In author Paolo Bacigalupi’s Phoenix, water is precious and scarce, and society is divided according to who has it and who doesn’t. The rich have water, of course, The rich live in lavish “arcologies” where all waste water is sceientifically filtered clean and reused. The rich have plenty of water to drink, can bathe whenever they want, have their clothes cleaned regularly, and even use flush toilets. The poor have limited water resources. The poor live in squats built from salvaged materials or abandoned houses; neither type of housing has running water. The poor buy their water one gallon at a time from pumps with fluctuating prices. The poor are dusty dirty because they can rarely shower or wash their clothes. Needless to say, there are no flush toilets for the Phoenix poor.

Not every place in this distopia Southwest has the water problems Phoenix does. Things are much worse in Texas, and refugees have poured into Arizona via New Mexico. The good people of New Mexico wanted nothing to do with Texas regugees and sent them on their way, sometimes violently. Life isn’t so hard in California and Nevada, and those states want to keep it that way by limiting who crosses their borders to use their limited resources. In this world, coyotes still guide people across borders, but the borders crossed are into states with water.

The most important thing in this world are water rights, and the water knife of the title makes sure his boss gets the water rights she needs to stay wealthy and priviliged.

There’s a lot of dark action in this book: shooting, torture, murder, death. Young women (called “bangbang girls,” usually Texans) sell their bodies for money and, hopefully, the chance to wash their panties in the sink while the rich man sleeps. A man who controls a neighborhood and demands a percentage of the money the area residents earn uses hyenas as part of his enforcement plan. Dams are blown up and precious water is diverted. People are tortured for answers. This book is so dark, in fact, that I put it aside for four months after reading the first nine chapters. The book was good, but it had me on edge, knowing all the characters were facing terrible fates. When I picked it up the second time, I must have been in a better state of mind, because I was able to enjoy the story without letting the violence get to me.

The action of the novel just keeps coming. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what would happen next or who would doublecross whom. I did, however, figure out the story’s key mystery long before the characters did. (Of course, I had a big picture view the characters were lacking.)

I also enjoyed the characters. I was pleased to see two of the three main characters through whose eyes the story is told are women. The women aren’t damsels-in-distress women either, but strong, ass-kicking, gonna do what has to be done women. Even though the book is primarily an action/adventure/mystery story, there is also character development, which I appreciated.

The social problems the book examines are not easy to look at. What happenes when modern life as we know it breaks down? What happens when one of humankind’s most basic, most necessary resources becomes so scare people are willing to kill for it? What happens when the environment changes to the point people may no longer be able to survive on the surface of the earth? The Water Knife raises these questions and offers only bleak answers.

Still, I’m glad I read this novel. It was difficult to get through some parts of it, but those hard parts really made the story ring true. It’s a good book, but maybe not for readers who can’t handle the dark side of humanity.