Category: Adventure (Page 1 of 3)

Tales from the Tropics: 3 Nonfiction Recommendations for the Coming Summer

The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising, and thoughts turn to balmy beach vacation getaways. I have three nonfiction books recommendations that will be perfect for yourvacation, but despite their tropical setting, these books stray further and further away from the good life where the living is easy. The books are arranged from north to south in latitude, from the present to the past in setting (and publication date), and further and further into the ambitions of men.

Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White

good life all the wayJimmy Buffett is at the center of my musical taste, from way back when I was but a tiny child riding in the back seat of my mom’s Camaro. He’s known for his “deathless novelty songs” that were designed to fuel every tequila-filled Baby Boomer bacchanal since 1975, or perhaps for prefiguring Jay Z’s famous boast, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” But he’s also been a fabulous songwriter and artist with songs on the level of his more respected contemporaries (and friends) Jerry Jeff WalkerSteve Goodman, and John Prine. I’ve been way deep into the Buffett mythos, from Buffet’s own travelogue A Pirate Looks at Fifty to William McKeen’s keen Key West history Mile Marker Zero, and I can say Ryan White’s new biography is the best book on Buffett I’ve read so far that balances the relationship between the songs, the legend, the man, and the ubiquitous Margaritaville brand. The characters that float in and out can be a bit confusing, but for the true Parrot Head believer, this book is a treasure.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen

This book is B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

This book is BANANAS!

The Fish That Ate the Whale tells the story of Samuel Zemurray, a.ka. Sam the Banana Man, a Russian immigrant who became one of the most powerful men in both the banana industry and Central American history. His journey from Selma to Mobile to New Orleans to Honduras and Guatemala is breath-taking in scope. Zemurray is depicted as highly intelligent, opinionated, and disdainful of ignorance and inefficiency. Cohen also thoughtfully explores the Jewish identity of a 20th century tycoon always on the margins of high society. This book pulses with vivacity and sweat, taking you through a tour of an undeniably great and sometimes terrible man. You will never look a banana in quite the same way again.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lost city of zI’ve seen this book lurking around the store since I arrived here two years ago, but only felt compelled to pick it up due to the impending arrival of David Grann, who was here last week to promote his new book, Killers of the Flower Moon. Boy, am I glad I finally discovered The Lost City of Z…well, discovered the book anyway. It tells the captivating tale of Col. Percy Fawcett, a British explorer from the Royal Geographic Society who first comes to South America in search of adventure, and later becomes obsessed with finding a mythical city, representing for Percy the soul of the Amazon itself. This is the most captivating mystery in the jungle I’ve heard about since the television show Lost went off the air. Grann’s book is about obsession, history, geography, and the limits of what humans can ever empirically know. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Call of the Wild: ‘The Stranger in the Woods’ by Michael Finkel

Do you ever think about getting away from the world? Ever contemplate taking a break and relaxing out in the woods by yourself for while? Well, one guy decided to do just that…for 27 years.

stanger in the woodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel is the true story of the hermit Christopher Knight. In 1986, 20-year-old Knight decided to completely leave society and disappear into the woods of Maine. For the next three decades, Knight lived completely by himself, surviving by pilfering off the summer cabins that surrounded the nearby lake. To the locals, he became known as the North Pond Hermit. It wasn’t until 2013 that a determined resident finally caught him stealing food from the lake’s summer camp, and the hermit and his hideout were revealed.

Okay, so this story, which seems almost too bizarre to be true, is extremely fascinating. Journalist Finkel, after hearing about Knight’s arrest and his strange claim to have been by himself for that many years, began sending letters and eventually visited Knight in jail. By gaining Knight’s trust, Finkel was able to delve further into the mind of the hermit.

Finkel expertly tells this nonfiction tale. He spends each chapter focused on a particular element of Knight’s experience: how he survived, what his camp was like, his stealing escapades, and even the differing opinions of the locals. Woven throughout is Finkel’s personal interactions with Knight. It was interesting to read about Knight trying to adapt and re-enter a society that had changed so much.

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What I found most fascinating about this story was how Finkel used outside sources to create a rich discussion of the various types of hermits and why people choose a life of solitude. What’s interesting is how Knight doesn’t feel he quite fits into any particular kind of hermit. Was he trying to make a political statement? Was he on a spiritual or creative quest? No, Knight says, he just felt like doing it.

Finkel also brings in expert opinions to try and identify Knight’s mental state and why he had such a low need for human interaction. Apart from a brief encounter with a hiker in the mid-90s, in which he said a simple “hi,” Knight never talked to a single person for almost 30 years.

hate people

It may be hard to believe that Knight was able to be on his own for so long, that he committed over a thousand burglaries before getting caught, that he never had any serious injuries, or that he was able to survive the brutal winters of Maine without ever lighting a fire. Despite his abnormal tendencies, Knight is actually an intelligent man. He’s definitely someone who questions social norms and is quite open about his beliefs. Though I think Finkel kind of romanticizes Knight a little too much, there is still a lot the reader can learn from his solitary experience. Clearing out the noise and taking in the sounds of nature actually added significantly to Knight’s mind and health. He spent time reading books and simply being.

He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer, in exchange for money, was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed. Observing the trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising. What did Knight do for a living? He lived for a living.

Overall, this book is one I couldn’t put down. If you enjoy true stories or documentaries of strange people, then this is the book for you. Maybe after you read it, you’ll want to go out and live in the woods by yourself for a while, too. But, please, don’t start breaking into people’s homes and stealing their food.

Alligator Roadtrips: “Carrying Albert Home” by Homer Hickam

JacketWell folks, I just finished my favorite literary adventure of 2015 with Homer Hickam, Jr.’s new novel, Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator. Hickam is the New York Times bestselling author of Rocket Boys which was made into the film “October Sky”. I read Rocket Boys when I was attending community college in Western Kentucky and thoroughly enjoyed it; so when I realized that the new novel with the cute alligator on the cover was by the same author, I knew it was for me. Part old school Clark Gable-esque romance and part Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy’s frolicking adventure, it is everything I love (that doesn’t actually exist in reality). (My mother recently referred to me as her hopeless “romanticist,” and she knows me well.)

Carrying Albert Home is written as a prequel to Rocket Boys. Hickam tells of the grim living conditions for his parents, Elsie and Homer Hickam, Sr. in a coalfield town of West Virginia where his father was content and his mother was not; because as the story goes, she’d been to Florida. (As a born and raised Floridian, I understand her discontentment completely). Upon Homer and Elsie’s marriage, Elsie is given an alligator named Albert as a wedding present from an old celebrity fling in Florida, whom she doesn’t seem to exactly be over. The alligator is an object of tension until one day Albert disposes of Homer’s pants while he is doing his business in the bathroom. Elsie is given an ultimatum: Albert, or….her husband. So begins the adventure of carrying Albert Home to Florida.

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The adventures of Homer, Elsie, Albert, and a rooster (of unknown origin and significance) encompass a run-in with communist radicals, (who might actually only be Democrat Progressive Socialists) meeting John Steinbeck, and Elsie riding the “Thunder Road” as an illegal booze transporter. In addition, Homer becomes a professional baseball player and Elsie a nurse, and Homer and Albert become sailors in need of rescue by smugglers and then forced under duress to join the Coast Guard… The tales go on and on, including a visit to Key West where they meet Ernest Hemingway, but the stories signify so much more, which I leave for you to discover in your own reading of this incredibly enjoyable adventure book.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

invention of natureAndrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature tells the forgotten story of Alexander von Humboldt of Prussia (1769-1859). Some of our counties, cities, rivers, lakes and mountains are even named after Humboldt.

Alexander von Humboldt was an energetic learner, a bold adventurer of the natural world and the most famous scientist of his age. Through study and courageous expeditions through the Americas and Russia, Humboldt discovered the relationship between vegetation zones and climate zones by examining the similarities between plants on different continents.

Through his travels, Humboldt also became the first to predict and discuss climate change. Many North American settlers argued that every virgin tree that was cut down improved the air quality and increased the winds that blew across the continent. Other outspoken settlers believed that the wilderness was actually “deformed” as a cesspool of decaying leaf matter, parasites, and venomous insects. Humboldt was the first to see the larger picture of nature, to see how all of the parts worked together.

Humboldt reported how deforestation through mining and farming in America and Europe caused springs to dry up entirely or rivers to rage out of control causing erosion. He saw another upset in the balance of natural environment when Spanish monks harvested turtles eggs without leaving hardly any for the next generation. It’s no wonder Humboldt is regarded by many as the father of environmentalism.

Wulf’s story of Alexander von Humboldt is a page-turning read. She brings Humboldt to life through his relationships with familiar figures like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Simón Bolívar. Through her sensitive and passionate eye for detail and her gift of story, Wulf makes Humboldt’s scientific contributions vibrant and appealing to a broad range of readers.

Devotion by Adam Makos

Adam Makos will be here TONIGHT at 5:00! We love this book so much that we’ve chosen it as our December pick for First Editions Club.

Let me start this blog off by saying this….

I don’t read non-fiction. Pretty much….never. Not at all. I can not sit down and read fact after fact about a topic; it just can’t hold my attention the way a fictional story can. I don’t like this, because I want to be able to learn about different things and I obviously have books at my fingertips to do so by working at Lemuria; but, non-fiction is just not my “go to”.

With all that being said…..Let me tell you about this non-fiction book that changed everything.

WFES804176583-2I’ve always been interested in World War I and World War II and the time period around those years. To be honest, I’ve just always been interested in the history of different wars (obviously more interested in those in which the U.S. were involved). I like watching movies based around war and there are times when I will watch documentaries as well. But, reading a history book wasn’t something I enjoyed.

However, I really feel as if Devotion has changed my outlook on reading about history. Devotion is an incredible story from military journalist, Adam Makos. As it’s stated on the cover, it’s “An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice” between two Navy carrier pilots during the Korean war. One of which is a white New-Englander who comes from a country club background (Tom Hudner), while the other pilot is a share-cropper’s son from Mississippi (Jesse Brown) who became the first African-American Naval pilot. Basically, Jesse was fighting for a country that sometimes wouldn’t even serve him in a restaurant. However, he found much more than just a job in the Navy; he found men that stood by his side no matter what.

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Lieutenant Tom Hudner

Makos goes way beyond just slapping down facts on a piece of paper, he takes you into the intense lives of both Lieutenant Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown during their time in the Korean War by offering you a novel-like feel. He interviewed so many military veterans and used all of that information to make the stories flow together as one- so much so that it feels like you’re reading a novel rather than sectioned off facts about the war.

From what I understand, the Korean War is the Forgotten War, but Makos takes you right into the battlefield; from the Marines on the ground in trenches to Jesse and Tom overhead in their planes. I was definitely taken into the harsh conditions (temperatures as low as -35 degrees) when the Marines were near Chosin Resevoir; and there were moments when I felt like I was in the plane with Jesse or Tom trying to make split-second decisions. Makos included maps to help show the locations of each event, letters, and photos taken during this time as well as before (photos of marines and pilots with their wives, parents, siblings, etc). Having photos and being able to put faces on to the people being described made me become so involved in the story, that there were a few times while I was reading that I became slightly emotional.

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, first African-American Naval Aviator

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, first African-American Naval Aviator

Makos made me look at non-fiction in a whole new way. I was given facts and I was given true stories …and it was beautiful. This book was such a great way to take a look at history and to teach myself more about sacrifice, war, and one’s devotion to friendship. I feel like I’m going to have to keep sticking my nose in our history section from now on to see if I can learn a few more things.

Sit down. It’s time to talk about consciousness.

My husband is falling asleep across the table from me, in full view of the bar.

In his defense, we have just left a giant party that we attended in order to raise money for The Jackson Free Clinic, an incredible organization for which he regularly busts his ass. He is tired. He took a test today to end a rotation, and “only made a B” [insert my eye rolling here]. Tomorrow he starts a new rotation at the hospital and he is already dreading the all-night shifts, and here am, at this loud bar, making him drink whiskey and eat fish tacos because I just had to find out why there were so many movie trailers outside, and the only way to be cool about it is to pretend we were already planning on coming here anyway, and “oh, what are these trailers doing here? Filming a movie? How inconvenient!” (It’s a horror movie, by the way, and I am very disappointed that I am not now fast friends with at least one of the Affleck brothers.)

JacketTo top all of this off, I will not shut up about octopuses. You heard me right, I cannot shut my pie hole about the spineless cephalopods crawling around on the ocean floor, and my poor, exhausted husband is trying so hard to pay attention. In his defense, he really does care because he is, after all, a man of science. Circumstances are simply preventing him from giving me his full attention. Why do I have such a wealth of knowledge about the ageless octopus, you ask? It is because I am still coming down from the book high that came from finishing Sy Montgomery’s new masterpiece The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (which was just longlisted for the National Book Award in the nonfiction category).

Montgomery, author of several acclaimed books like The Good Good Pig, brings such a personal element to this book about ancient cephalopods that it is impossible to not be swept away on the journey with her. Early on in the book, Montgomery explains the history in the scientific community of ascribing consciousness to animals. Until recently, scientists have been wary to put too much stock behind attributing specific and complex personalities to animals due to the fear that we would simply project our own human ideas of what consciousness is, and completely misunderstand the science behind why animals do what they do. If an animal like the octopus shows extreme intelligence, it is so tempting to assume that they have the same complex feelings that humans do, and that is a big no no.

So how is it possible to go on an incredibly personal journey when your writing is prefaced with this giant warning about not getting too emotional? Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly at all), setting aside our ideas of human consciousness and making room to understand a completely new and alien kind of intelligence is transformative. Montgomery was able to learn to love the octopuses that she came into contact with in a fresh way, a way that made room for an unfathomable, yet nevertheless emotional, bond.

Although it is impossible to completely detach and not project at least some human feelings onto the octopus, several things were made clear to me throughout reading this book. Octopuses are each unique; shy, adventures, solitary, grumpy, or playful. They get itchy. They get bored. Octopuses remember. They seem to take comfort in the presence of an old friend, relaxing and asking to be petted when visited by someone that they like. They forget things in their old age. Their arms contain roughly two thirds of their neurons, meaning that each of the eight arms kind of does have a mind of its own. They taste with their skin, which is how they recognize the humans that they fear/enjoy, and how they hunt the waters around them.

Sy Montgomery fell in love, specifically with two or three of the giant Pacific octopuses housed at the New England Aquarium in Boston. The aquarium is a sprawling, magical complex with exhibits ranging from feisty penguins to grumpy eels, and a webcam fixed in their Giant Ocean Tank, which you can watch here (I have had trouble doing anything else today, especially when Myrtle, the ancient sea turtle who lives in the tank, swims up the camera and rolls around flirtatiously in the water). Montgomery also forged friendships with the volunteers, regular members, and staff that surrounded her, and tenderly peeked into each of their lives, making the book both rich and sad at times. These people bonded over their love of the mysterious octopuses that brought them together, and they left each day mystified and changed.

This nonfiction book about octopuses and the cosmic questions that surround consciousness made me cry. CRY. And I laughed, too, totally in love with how little I know, and at the intoxicating thirst for knowledge that this book gave to me.

It’s hard to explain this strange combination of new facts and the overwhelming feeling of smallness that this book gave to me over drinks while my husband is falling asleep. But don’t worry, I’ve already bookmarked about 100 articles and videos on the miracle that is the octopus, and we’ll be exploring them very soon. To my husband: hope you weren’t planning on reading the Sunday Times this weekend, because I’ve got other plans for us. Time to talk cephalopods.

Three books for your bedside table

I normally write my blogs on one book at a time. BUT! Today I thought I would share three books that I’ve recently read and really enjoyed.

One book has been made into a movie, one is currently being made into a movie, and the other…well, this author has several books, and two of his books have……yep, been made into a movie!

So, if you’re planning on seeing any of these films, I thought I would introduce you to the authors’ books first.

One.

Ron Rash’s Above The Waterfall.

Jacket (3)Although this particular book has not yet been made into a film, two of Rash’s other novels, Serena and The World Made Straight, have. Yep, you’re remembering the one with Jennifer Lawrence (yeeeeeees) and Bradley Cooper. I watched “Serena” a few weeks ago (on the lovely Netflix) and it really made me want to check out some of Rash’s other books. I’m really in love with the fact that his books are set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina; this sets everything up for a beautiful story. In Above The Waterfall Les, a sheriff just on the edge of retirement, must deal with the ugliness of crystal meth cooks throughout his mountain town, while also dealing with an elderly local that is being accused of poisoning a trout stream. Becky, a forest ranger who seems to have a dark past, weaves in and out of the story in a rather beautiful way. Rash cuts back and forth from Les’ dealings with the law, to Becky’s love with the nature and mountains around her. Both Les and Becky seem to have difficult pasts, but both are being brought together, not only with defending the elderly local, but also for their love of the natural world they live in.

If you’re looking for a quiet, yet entertaining read…give this one a go!

P.S. Ron Rash will be here tonight at 5:00 for a signing and reading!

Two.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

Jacket (1)This book came out as a film in 2014, and if you haven’t seen it…..read the book first! (Although, the movie is good, too).

My husband and I recently took a trip to Washington and spent a few days hiking around Mt. Rainier. Within those few days, we quickly decided we wanted to do this again…and soon. We’re already trying to gather up backpacking gear and looking up trails to get ourselves started. Our goal is to hike the 93 miles of the Wonderland trail (around the base of Mt. Rainier) one day. Which….will definitely take some training. I figured, why not read about Cheryl’s time on the PCT trail with little, to no training? This book is definitely going to identify more with individuals that are interested in either hiking or backpacking. But, Cheryl was also an advice columnist before becoming an author and this book is filled with metaphors, quotes, and stories that will inspire one to pull themselves back up if they are down. The main reason that Cheryl started her journey on the trail was based on grief, she was grieving her mothers death and her divorce. My favorite part of Cheryl’s writing/journey is how she ties in the nature around her to her healing process. For example,

“Crater Lake was a mountain with a heart torn out, that eventually healed— like myself”

If you’re interested in maybe picking up hiking, or you possibly already backpack and hike, you should definitely pick this book up. If you’re wanting a good story with a ton of brilliant metaphors throughout, take a chance on this one, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Three.

Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Jacket (2)Room is being made into a film and will be out nationwide on November 6th, 2015. Please, please read the book first! Because, I’m not completely sure how well this book can be made into a movie and still have its full effect.

In Donoghue’s Room, Jack and his Ma live in an 11×11 foot room morning, day and night. This room has been their prison since Ma was 19 and all of Jack’s life (because he was born in that very room). Ma and Jack eat, sleep, sing, play, read, cook and bathe in this room, since “Old Nick” kidnapped Ma six years before. What makes this story so interesting (and why I think it may be difficult to adapt into a film) is that it is told from the perspective of five-year old Jack, who has never been outside of Room. Just pick this book up and read the first paragraph…here’s a taste of what Jack is like:

“Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.”

The only things that Jack has ever known is Ma, Room and all of the things that are located in Room. To Jack, there are a million things to do in Room (read, water Plant, play Track, sleep, color), but for Ma, she is continuously thinking of the Outside and her life before being put in Room. There are two different perspectives on life coming from Ma and Jack throughout this book and it’s an awesome read. I couldn’t get over how incredibly content Donoghue made Jack’s reality feel to him, I wanted to scream “There’s a whole world out there, Jack!”. But, he wouldn’t have understood that. His Ma has to slowly introduce Jack to things throughout the book before finally getting him to understand that she had not always been in Room.

Please pick this book up and read it before the movie comes out….I really think reading this is going to make the movie so much better for you!

So, there ya go. Three new books to add to your pile! Please find me in the store and let me know how you like one, two or all three!

THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS, by Mordecai Gerstein

I was sitting in my little cubby behind the fiction desk at the beginning of the month when it hit me. Yet another anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. How can yet another year have flown by distancing us from the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil? The emotions, man. AND IT’S BEEN 14 YEARS. How can so many years have passed already, when I can remember September 11 of 2001 so clearly? In that moment of realization I just sat and let the painful memories wash over me. Each year I seemingly transport seamlessly back to my 10 year old self, where the magnitude of the atrocity is new and fresh. I fully expected to continue in this mindset as we approached and then passed this anniversary, in similar manner to the previous 13 I have experienced. Something happened though that reshaped my mindset of the historic twin towers that I couldn’t have imagined; my miracle appeared in book form.

JacketI received my daily stack of customer special orders that needed their owners’ notification of their arrival. As I generally do, I skimmed each title as I progressed through the stack. I may occasionally read an inside cover as well if I find it particularly interesting (this is how my own reading list becomes so spectacularly lengthy.) There was one book on this day that stopped my progress in its tracks. The title of the book was The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, a Caldecott Medal award winning children’s picture book by Mordecai Gerstein. I didn’t fully know what I was looking at; just a children’s book on the twin towers. Immediately my curiosity was piqued. I halted my work; I knew this was a book I needed to read at that moment.

As I discovered, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers recounts the French aerialist Philipe Petit’s acrobatics in the early morning hours of an August day in 1974. Petit, with assistance from cohorts, stretched a wire between the towers in an attempt to cross between the two as the sun rose. I became enthralled with the story as I was pulled into that hour that Petit entertained passers by a quarter of a mile up in the sky as depicted with the captivating illustrations within.

Something happened as I read this story. I was no longer only filled with pain and sadness when I thought of the twin towers, I was now also filled with the wonder, amusement, and even joy of this story. I was hit with a realization that filled me with a surpassing hope in this painful anniversary. Terrorists may have taken almost 3,000 lives on that September day, but they could not take everything. They can never take away the joyful moments that took place in and on the twin towers; I’m sure this incredible story is just one of many that could be told. This is the one that I know though, and I want to share it with you all. This is a book for all ages, but I think it can be especially important for children. It is important for them to know and remember the atrocities of 9/11, but also to know that there is always more that can never be taken away by evil.

A sincere thank you each and ever year to the first responders of 9/11. And my deepest sympathies to the family members of the victims. #neverforget

*On September 30th, a movie on this story will be released titled ‘The Walk.’

 

Environmental Creative Nonfiction: a fascinating niche of literature despite its horrendous umbrella term

First off, introductions: Hello all, there’s a new Maggie of Lemuria in town!

Well, not really. You might recognize my face. I’ve been in and out of the Lemuria rotating staff since the summer of 2013 before my senior year of high school. After a summer internship in Oz, I worked part-time as a senior, learned enough to provide an extra hand to wrap or work Oz during the holidays, and here we are. I just keep coming back, even after my freshman year at Ole Miss. I’m working on an English degree my parents still disapprove of.

Okay, glad we got that out of the way.

Recently, I’ve become acquainted with the genre of “environmental creative nonfiction”. Bear with me- it’s a fascinating niche of literature despite its horrendous umbrella term.

When I say environmental creative nonfiction, I’m talking about adventure pieces by John Krakauer, Cheryl Strayed’s wilderness memoir Wild, and Rick Bass’s diary-style Winter: Notes from Montana. What these pieces have in common are their personal narratives of growth and experience as influenced by their environment. The environment becomes a character within the work because it plays such a crucial role in where the piece goes.


unnamedOne of my favorite pieces within this highly specific genre is David George Haskell’s
The Forest Unseen. I was first introduced to this work in Nature Writing, an English course I was lucky enough to weasel my way into during my second semester. I was mostly in it for the chance to get some real writing critique and a trip to Costa Rica (lemme tell you friends, it was awesome), but I was lucky enough to also be exposed to some really phenomenal works of nonfiction.

David George Haskell is a professor of biology at Sewanee, and The Forest Unseen follows what he refers to as “A Year’s Watch in Nature”. Haskell observes a one-square-meter patch of old-growth forest, referred to as the mandala, for an entire year. The work is divided into chapters concerning specific anecdotes and aspects of life in the mandala, from fungi to insects to plant and animal interaction, touching on how all are linked together in a complex web. Everything is intensely researched and backed up with scientific fact. There are detailed descriptions of life cycles, bizarre adaptations, histories of scientific discovery. But what makes The Forest Unseen such a phenomenal book is Haskell’s skilled weaving of the scientific and the spiritual.

It begins with Haskell’s use of the term “mandala”. Mandalas are small circular sand drawings that are representative of the entirety of the universe and are in the tradition of Tibetan monks. From this one concept, Haskell brings into his book a complex layer of spirituality. He alludes to many different branches of faith and their relationship to the environment, discusses the nature of souls within the concept of the natural world, and draws parallels between his observations and religious concepts. By discussing spirituality in relation to science within the concept of the mandala, Haskell connects humanity to the environment, something we so often tend to view as some inconceivable other.

I want to put this book into everyone’s hands. I look for any excuse to recommend it to someone, but it is such a hard book to quickly summarize. It is about so much. It is about humanity and the environment and religion and science and the relationship between it all. It is about the past and the future. It has the power to speak to you if you let it.

In short, Haskell transforms a potentially dry, textbook subject into an ethereal reading experience (okay, maybe it’s a bit dry at the beginning but you can’t have everything). He creates intoxicating yet informative prose that reads like a poetry collection and a textbook. He brings the environment he observes to life, lets it breathe on the page and gives it a voice. Haskell has me head-over-heels in love with environmental creative nonfiction, and I have a feeling this is going to be a rather drawn-out love affair.

The Desolation of Blog

NOTE: This blog contains spoilers to the film.  Avert your eyes and go see the film before continuing.

maxresdefaultThe final chapter of the Hobbit came out in theaters and I liked this one the best out of the 3 films.  I liked it the most because it was most true to the book, but only in the sense that 90% of the film was briefly recounted to Bilbo after the battle by Gandalf.  Bilbo was knocked unconscious and slept through the entire battle in the book.  The sloppy way they added the elves to the film and a few lazy love interests (no the least of which was Bilbo and Thorin’s bedroom eyes they kept giving each other) made the Tolkien-nerd inside me angry.  The last thing I was disappointed about what the lack of Tolkien’s  songs that made it to the film.  The Dwarves singing in Bilbo’s house are the only songs in the trilogy.  I felt like cutting all of the songs from the films was a bad move especially because it made sense with the tone of the films and kids movies should always have songs in them in my opinion.

 
Smaug+the+adorable_fb20ef_5007628On to what I liked about the film: the battle with the Necromancer is great.  Watching Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel kick Sauron’s ass is great- if a little short.  I would have loved to give them some more camera time.  Finally, the death of Smaug is epic!  The way he wrecks Lake Town is beautifully done and Smaug looks exactly how I imagined him in my head.  I felt they really captured how massive and terrifying he was.  The battle of the 5 armies is well done and the Scottish dwarves riding their war pigs was awesome.   Even though they dragged this book into a trilogy I can forgive them because they brought my favorite book of my childhood to the big screen and did a good job of it.  Thank you Peter Jackson, now put the franchise down and walk away.

 

 

Written by Daniel 

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