Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

100 Must-Read Books about The Southwest

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Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

I thought The Southwest was much bigger than it actually is, until Wikipedia told me otherwise. Turns out, The Southwest region consists of Arizona and its surrounding areas, but no other complete states: the southeasternmost part of California’s Inland Empire up into the bottom of Nevada; the lower areas of Colorado and Utah in the Four Corners region; the Western half of New Mexico, and a tiny corner of West Texas.

But there is still a huge literary tradition in the Southwest region of the United States, and here are the books you should read either about or taking place there.

Note: There is, amazingly, no crossover with this list of books about the American West.

Literary and Contemporary Fiction

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The King and Queen of Comezon by Denise Chávez

The Old Man’s Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya

Sunland by Don Waters

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge

The Guardians by Ana Castillo

Changing Light by Nora Gallagher

Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Walks Away Woman by Ki Longfellow

In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde

Sizzle by Lee McClain

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson

Historical Fiction

dawn comes early

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Crossing Purgatory by Gary Schanbacher

Dawn Comes Early by Margaret Brownley

Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Meet Josefina by Valerie Tripp

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Once in a Promised Land by Laila Halaby

Where they Bury You by Steven W. Kohlhagen

Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West by Judith Nies

At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O’odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880-1934 by Andrae Marak and Laura Tuennerman

Dragoons in Apacheland by William S. Kiser

Grandma’s Santo on its Head by Nasario Garcia

In the Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and the Lincoln County War by Kathleen P. Chamberlain 

Miera y Pacheco: A Renaissance Spaniard in Eighteenth Century New Mexico by John L. Kessell

Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker by Samuel Holiday and Robert McPherson

House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest by Craig Childs

Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keefe by Laurie Lisle

Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides

The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher

The Grand Canyon and the Southwest by Ansel Adams

American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus


jaguar's children - john vaillant

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The Quiet Streets of Winslow by Judy Troy

Bad Country by C. B. McKenzie

Zia Summer by Rudolfo Anaya

The Carrion Birds by Urban Waite

Blackening Song by Aimée and David Thurlo

Rage against the Dying by Becky Masterman

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman

Tainted Mountain by Shannon Baker

The Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Desert Heat by J. A. Jance

Desert Dark by Sonja Stone

Cool in Tucson by Elizabeth Gunn

Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman


all the wild that remains

All The Wild That Remains by David Gessner

Chasing Arizona: One Man’s Yearlong Obsession with the Grand Canyon State State by Ken Lamberton 

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble

An Anthropologist’s Arrival by Ruth M. Underhill

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Rondstat

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Tortilla Chronicles: Growing Up in Santa Fe by Marie Romero Cash

Speculative Fiction


The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi 

Demigods on Speedway by Aurelie Sheehan

Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

Under Dark Sky Law by Tamara Boyens

Taming Shadows by Fiona Skye

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols and Rini Templeton

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Return of the Bones by Belinda Vasquez Garcia

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis


pieces of sky

Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner

She Who Remembers by Linda Lay Shuler

The Way Home by Megan Chance

What Price Paradise by Katherine Allred

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson (A classic, 19th century Western romance)

Wake Up Maggie by Beth Yarnall

One True Theory of Love by Laura Fitzgerald

Short Stories and Poetry

night at the fiestas

Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Sonoran Strange by Logan Phillips

The Tijuana Book of the Dead by Luis Alberto Urrea

Words Like Love by Tanaya Winder

Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland by Spencer R. Herrera et al

Three-Ten To Yuma and other Stories by Elmore Leonard

Picture Books

good rainbow road

The Good Rainbow Road by Simon J. Ortiz and Michael Lapaca

Camille Carries the Mail by Lisa Hodgkins and Carlos Lemos

Legend of Ponciano Gutierrez and the Mountain Thieves by A. Gabriel Meléndez and Amy Córdova

My Tata’s Remedies/Los Remedios de mi Tata by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and Antonio Castro L. 

Hip, Hip Hooray! It’s Monsoon Day! by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford and Richard Johnsen

What are your favorite Southwest reads?