Arizona Calling

THE EDITORIAL arm of the University of Arizona Press is housed in a one-story brick building in Tucson. Its director is Stephen F. Cox, a bearded and bespectacled gentleman in a tweed jacket who glows with enthusiasm when he talks books. In his mid-forties, Cox has a lot of experience in the university press field, with stints at the University of Oklahoma Press, the University of Tennessee Press and the University of Nebraska Press (where he was chief editor) before coming to Tucson almost three years ago. A good person to ask about the state of university presses in general.

"Everyone feels optimistic about things at the moment," Cox said. "Perhaps the most important development of the last 10 or 15 year is that university presses have gotten more businesslike in their operatparticularly in targeting the audience for a book. There was a time when you'd feel embarrassed to print less than 2,500 copies of a book. Now a first run of a thousand is perfectly acceptable. Currently, about a dozen university presses have announced plans to increase the number of books they publish, which is an indication of the climate. That includes us by the way. We're going from 25 books a year to about 40."

The University of Arizona began in 1959 and has published almost 600 titles, with about 400 still in print. It tends to specialize in areas in which the University of Arizona and neighboring institutions are strong, such as the anthropology and languages of American Indians, and in astronomy. The press has developed a wide market among Arizona residents for solidly researched books on local trees, shrubs and animals. "We sell to actual people through actual bookstores," says Cox, with a touch of amazement. "Some university press never get that chance."

In addition to these specialized books, Cox says the press will continue to publish books that don't fit the mold, such as its all-time best seller, English Words From Latin and Greek Elements by Donald M. Ayers, originally published in 1965. It has sold about 15,000 to 20,000 copies a year since then and the press is issuing a second edition in May, revised by Thomas D. Worthen, a classicist on the Arizona faculty. The book aims at building a larger vocabulary for students by focusing on the occurrence of Latin and Greek roots in everyday English. The book has been adopted by high schools in Memphis and Atlanta and is widely used in junior colleges. The press also publishes a workbook and an instructor's manual to accompany the Ayers volume.

The lead book in the fall 1985 catalogue of the press is Gathering the Desert by Gary Paul Nabhan, a kind of low-rainfall Euell Gibbons who is a research associate in the university's Office of Arid Lands Studies. The book concerns the use of plants for food and medicine by native cultures of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico. The lead book in the spring catalogue is Plaintext, feminist eassys by Nancy Mairs, a Tucson writer and mother of two. The press is also publishing Judy Dater: Twenty Years, a collection of the California photographer's work from 1964 to 1985, with an introduction by James L. Enyeart of the university's prestigious Center for Creative Photography. A Writing Couple

JONATHAN and Lucy Penner, a pair of writers from the East, have made their home in Tucson for the last seven years. Jonathan is associate professor of English at the University of Arizona, teaching courses in writing. His novel Going Blind was published in 1977 by Simon and Schuster. The University of Pittsburgh Press in 1983 did a volume of his short stories, Private Parties, which won the Drue Heinz Literary Prize. In the same year the Galileo Press of Maryland published Penner's parody of travel writing, The Intelligent Traveler's Guide to Chiribosco.

Although he is once again working on a novel, Penner remains fascinated with short fiction. "Most people use the short story as a kind of apprenticeship for novel-writing, but I think I prefer it," he said. "Novels tend to go all over the place -- I love the control you can exercise in a short story."

Who is his favorite writer of short stories? "I tend to like individual stories rather than the full output of writers. I think the best collection by one person is Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates, who was a teacher of mine at the University of Iowa. I also admire some of the work of John Updike and Bernard Malamud." And whom doesn't he like? "I do a lot of reviewing of short fiction and I've been tough on Donald Barthelme. He practices metafiction -- puncturing the pretensions of fiction, showing that it is not real life. But that's not news. Pummeling this big soft helpless thing, fiction. What kind of victory is that? I have to say, though, that Barthelme sometimes gets off very funny lines."

Lucille Recht Penner's third book, The Thanksgiving Book, on the history and lore of the November holiday, with recipes, will be published this fall by Hastings House, the same firm that did her two previous volumes, The Colonial Cookbook (1976) and The Honey Book (1980). She specializes in putting food subjects in a historical context, and there is a charming story connected with the book on honey.

"Jonathan had a Fulbright in Edinburgh in 1977-78," she said, "and I found that there was a special library on beekeeping, with a great old collection. Hardly anyone ever used it and the librarian was thrilled when I started to do research. I found a wonderful print that showed an army slinging beehives at its enemies with a catapult, and that led me to include a section on honey in warfare. The barbarians, for example, used to leave poisoned honey for Roman soldiers as a booby trap."

Lucy's enthusiasm for her subjects infected Jonathan and he found himself reading through a lot of the books she had collected. The result: the novel he is now working on deals with "beekeeping and reincarnation." And its title, reflecting his wife's latest researches: Thanksgiving. Now that's togetherness. Western Americana

AT BOOK AUCTIONS many of the dealers are interested only in items they can dispose of quickly to collectors. What makes them sit up and pay attention is anything to do with the American West, but particularly books dealing with outlaws or gunfighters.

"That's the hottest thing in western Americana," says Robert R. Anderson of Truepenny Books, a very serious store in Tucson. "There are hundreds and hundreds of collectors out there and every collector thinks he's the only one interested in outlaws and gunfighters. The competition is fierce, even when the book is not all that good. Take Wyatt Earp, written by Stuart Lake in 1931. The scholars have jumped all over it, but it was the first book about Earp, and Lake did know Earp's second wife. It's the basis of the Hollywood myth about Earp. Every collector wants it. It's not a particular rarity -- a book with dust jacket goes for about $35. But we sell it pretty quickly when we get one."

Older and more serious books fetch higher prices. Anderson cities a work like the two- volume Commerce of the Prairies by Josiah Gregg, written in 1844. "You could get the set for a hundred dollars in the 1940s," he says. "Now it's a thousand to $1,200. Not spectacular price growth, but steady.

"What's moving faster in price are books about western art. One of the reasons is that decorators or other people buy them and break them up into individual prints, which they frame. We call these people "breakers." Most book dealers refuse to do this on ethical grounds -- we don't want to see a book destroyed. There is a volume that was an official report of the Bureau of American Ethnology around the turn of the century that has 63 chromolithographs of Indian kachina dolls. You can flog a framed print from it for $25. The book sells for about $300, but I'm afraid most of them are being broken up."

George E. Chamberlain, who looks like a slim Santa Claus and runs The Antiquarian Shop in Scottsdale, Arizona, thinks western books are still a bargain compared to western art. "You see the most godawful prints going for $7,000," says Chamberlain, "but some important piece of early western history costs a lot less. There's a 13-volume set of railroad surveys issued by the War Department under Jefferson Davis in 1855. The military sent out engineers and scientists and artists and what passed for meteorologists in those days and these surveys became of momentous importance in the development of the railroads. A good set goes for $3,500. True, they were maybe $500 or $700 five years ago, but at least there is real value there."

Chamberlain looked like the kind of fellow who would field any question, and he got one. What is the most bizarre recent development in western Americana? The answer came without hesitation. "There are collectors who now want things by D.H. Lawrence. He lived in New Mexico, you see, so they've baptized him. For them, he's like Wyatt Earp." In the Margin

JOHN P. MARQUAND's Mr. Moto books evoke the worries, ideals and snobberies of the 1930s like few others, and are intriguing mysteries as well. Last July, Little Brown released two Mr. Moto books as trade paperbacks and has just released two more -- Think Fast, Mr. Moto and Mr. Moto Is So Sorry. For many readers, Mr. Moto will always look like the young Peter Lorre, who played him so well in the 1930s B movies. . . Last thought from Arizona. The University of Arizona's bookstore stocks sweatshirts -- what else are college bookstores for? -- and features this particularly nice one. "The University of Arizona," it proclaimed, "knowledge, truth, and a wonderful tan."