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Book notes

Sonnets, secret trails and war stories in the Arkansas book world.

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Parkhurst Brothers, the new publishing venture by Ted Parkhurst, has a new title in bookstores now. Roger Armbrust's “The Aesthetic Astronaut” ($14.95, paperback) is a collection of 122 sonnets. Here's a sample of titles: “My Long Love Affair with Ketchup,” “My Government-Censored Sonnet,” “Tantric Sex?” “The Armchair Assassin,” “John Gould Fletcher” and “The U.S. Supreme Court and I.”

Armburst, who also serves as the editor of Parkhurst Brothers, had previously published one book of poetry and a chapbook. He'll be signing copies of “The Aesthetic Astronaut” at Wordsworth at 3 p.m. March 21.

 

Coming next month, in time for the Arkansas Literary Festival, Parkhurst Bros. will release “Little Rock Trails” ($12, paperback). Written by Johnnie Chamberlin, who works as assistant director of conservation for Audubon Arkansas, the book will include information on 40 walking, hiking, biking and kayaking trails in and around Little Rock, many of which are little known, according to publisher Parkhurst.

 

Speaking of the Literary Festival, organizers have released a list of featured authors. The biggest names appear to be memoirist and former New York Times reporter (and over-user of stringers) Rick Bragg, novelist Dorothy Allison and novelist and longtime Arkansan Ellen Gilchrist. Also of note: Kevin Brockmeier returns. Buzzy short story writer Wells Tower, too. The festival happens April 16-19 in the River Market.   

 

Butler Center Books, the new publishing arm of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, has a new book out in late March. “Ready, Booted and Spurred: Arkansas in the U.S.-Mexican War” ($19.95 in paperback, $39.95 in hardback), edited by William Frazier and Mark Christ, explores the climate leading up to the conflict, the war itself and the aftermath — all with special focus on Arkansas.

Five contributors — the two editors, Donald Frazier, Pedro Santoni, Elliot West and C. Fred Williams — lend essays to the collection.

Some 1,500 men from Arkansas fought in the two-year war. A small number, the book reports, “joined the cause after Captain Albert Pike hoisted his company flag in front of the Anthony Hotel to lure prospects.”

The book also features another name familiar to Arkansas history buffs, Archibald Yell. The former governor, and at the time of the war Arkansas's only congressman, initially volunteered as a private, but was quickly elevated to colonel. By all accounts, he didn't prepare his troops well. One officer complained that Yell's men were “wholly without instruction and Colonel Yell is determined to leave them in that condition.”

“Ready, Booted and Spurred” follows the Arkansas troops into battles against Santa Anna, through trials of starvation and claims of desertion. It also briefly details a massacre of between 18 and 30 Mexican civilians by Arkansas troops that saw, likely, between 18 and 30 killed.

Much to its editors' credit, it also features an essay on Mexico's historical perspectives of the war. Perhaps not surprisingly, the war, overshadowed by the Civil War and nearly forgotten in American history, resonated through Mexico's history and remains culturally relevant there today.

 

Coming in April from Butler Center Books: “Surprised by Death,” a historical novel by George Lankford, based on a true story of an unsolved murder in Batesville in the 1840s.

 

Meanwhile, the University of Arkansas Press has two titles forthcoming in April that look promising. Roy Reed's “Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette” ($34.95) is an oral history of the paper, featuring interviews from more than 100 former staffers. And Sondra Gordy's “Finding the Lost Year” ($29.95) delves into the “Lost Year,” 1958-1959, when Little Rock schools were closed during the desegregation crisis. Gordy previously explored the topic in a documentary film, “The Lost Year.”

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