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Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton April 1, 2007

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.

Going Back to Bisbee is the reading selection for the 2007 OneBook Arizimage of book coverona initiative.

The author, Richard Shelton, moved to Bisbee in 1958 and his book explores the rich and often turbulent history of the town and of southern Arizona generally. He describes the relationships between Mexico, Arizona,  and the Apaches and other native american tribes and groups that define the area. He also discusses the incredible natural life of southern Arizona, and what impact environmental degration has had on the native wildlife and flora.  Going Back to Bisbee won the 1992 Western States Creative Nonfiction Book Award.

Question to consider for discussion:

1. Shelton describes in great detail his observations of and relationships with some wild animals including coyotes, a snake and squirrels. He is quite friendly with the snake but squirrels become his despised enemies. How do Shelton’s relationships with animals reflect his sense of place?

2. Shelton explores ghost towns and ruins from mining and stamp mills left by nineteenth century Arizonans. His stories illustrate the changing marks that people left on the land, and lead one to wonder how will future generations view us? What kinds of enduring marks are we leaving on the land?

3. Shelton states that Arizonans have not gotten to know or love rivers very much. Do you agree with this statement? Why does he consider it miraculous that the San Pedro River still flows?

4.  Shelton describes the Apaches as treacherous throughout the book. Does he ever describe events from the Apache point of view? What do you think of his viewpoint in relation to this tribe?

5. What is your overall assessment of this book? What book would you choose for a community-wide reading initiative like OneBook AZ. Do you think it has to be a book written by an Arizona author, or set in Arizona?



1. Dixie - April 2, 2007

What a great book for OneBook AZ! Richard Shelton brings such rich knowledge to his meandering travels through southern Arizona. I can never again look at a Greasewood bush and not realize that carbon 14 tests have revealed that their root stock is over 900 years old and I now have a name “the big blondes” for the coyotes I see while hiking in the desert behind my house. When I see the Yucca plants with their beautiful white bell blossoms, I am reminded that Shelton once used one as a Christmas tree in his house.

I have spent a long weekend at a Bird and Breakfast beside the San Predro River, toured Tombstone and stayed at the Copper Queen in Bisbee. So all these memories awaken as Shelton reminisces his many experiences while making his home in southern Arizona.

Shelton’s humorous narrative style comes to life as he weaves his story. I am looking forward to hearing the author do a public reading for “Going Back to Bisbee” this month at Glendale Public Library.

2. Greg Pratt - April 4, 2007

As part of the OneBookAz program, Mesa Community College will participate by hosting a reading by the author and a discussion of the book has been organized by the library staff at MCC. I have been asked to moderate the book discussion. What qualifies me to moderate such a discussion? Very little, I suspect. I was very fortunate to live in Bisbee, like Richard Shelton, one of my children was born in Cochise Co. I have summered in Bisbee for the past 10 years and have grown to love the area.

Richard Shelton follows in the rich tradition of American travel literature his 1989 journey from Tucson to Bisbee Arizona. Shelton, the self conscious narrator, using the skills of the poet, evokes ambiance of southeastern Arizona. He echoes Steinbeck’s “Again it might have been the American tendency in travel. One goes, not to much to see but to tell afterward.” (Travels With Charley)

Clearly Shelton is concerned with voice and he exercises that voice to paint a wonderful view of his quest, but make no mistake, his purpose, like that of his predecessors, goes beyond the travelogue. Like Steinbeck Shelton names his van, coloring the audience view of this trip. Steinbeck had a quixotic atmosphere and Blue Boy evokes, for this reading, both the famous painting and a line from a long forgotten ELO lyric.

Shelton’s travel persona, like that of his predecessors; Twain, Stevenson, Kerouac and Steinbeck is not in control, that is the trip is the controlling metaphor for the narrative and “We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this, a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.” (Charley)

For more of my random thoughts, feel free to go to my Blog and view my extending ramblings about Going Back to Bisbee

3. Stan Gray - September 26, 2007

I learn to love south east Arizona by spending a week or two each year there chasing rare birds that you can’t see anywhere in the country. After 25 years not every trip produces a new bird sighting, yet I still return when every I can. When I can’t seem to find it possible, I often find myself re-reading Going back to Bisbee because it is the next best thing. In just a couple of hours you can experience what it takes years to learn about this wonderful desert and it’s history. S.K.Gray

4. Randall Esterline - August 4, 2009


I has been a number a years since i had have contact with you. But i I’m greatful for the gift you shared with me in prison at the tucson complex. It has follow me for these years. You taught me to express all of the my life experiences. I am on your website as i try to teach a young man to enjoy the gifts of writing and reading books. I have suggested to him that he use you as a subject of an essay for one of his classes. I want to explore with him the joy of “Going Back To Bisbee” as a book and you as a gifted writer. We will let you know the outcome.
Randall Esterline
The Lighthouse
ADOC, 2002

5. dofus hack - July 15, 2013

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