Desk-bound Nature Lover

My Blog: Occasional postings about the joys of birding, hiking, camping, and sightseeing.

My life: I spend most of my days in offices, looking at a computer screen, and waiting for those few weekends when I can get out and enjoy some remnant of our precious natural heritage. But, boy, do I live on those weekends!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Other books I’ve enjoyed recently

I haven’t read many books in the last year or so that I haven’t loved. It isn’t that I’ve become easier to please. Rather, I have become more selective about what I read. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of nature writing. Since leaving California for Illinois, I have been largely cut off from the things which make life endurable: quiet, solitude, and natural beauty; available in Illinois only in a greatly diminished form. Hence, I have to experience these things vicariously. So the next few books I will describe fall into this category.

Kingbird Highway, by Kenn Kaufman. Among the many books that I have loved recently, this one particularly stands out. Kenn Kaufman has made a lifelong passion out of birding, which for me has only been an occasionally serious hobby. In the 1970s, at the age of sixteen, he dropped out of high school and dedicated his life to the search for birds. Three years latter, he attempted to set the record for a “Big Year”. That is, most species of birds seen in the United States and Canada by a single person in one year. (He would have set the record except that another birder tallied up a count higher than his that year. That record, in turn, was broken a few years later by Scott Robinson, for whom I worked as a teaching assistant during the 1980s at the University of Illinois.) Years after the fact, Kaufman wrote this fine book, which beautifully evokes the exhilaration of this fine sport, and gives a glimpse of the kind of nonconformist personalities who are attracted to it. This book is one of my all time favorites.

The Outermost House, by Henry Beston. Here is another book which is full of birds and other wildlife. The Outermost House may be the most beautifully written book I have ever read. It describes a year the author spent in the 1920s in a tiny cottage on the beach in Cape Cod. I had never heard of this book, until this year when it was picked for a book club that I recently joined. For that, the organizer of the club has my eternal gratitude. More than in any other book I have ever read, I felt that my point of view and the author’s were one in the same.

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. Here is another book that I absolutely loved, although not quite as much as the last two. During three separate years in the 1950’s Ed Abbey worked as a seasonal park ranger manning a lonely outpost at Arches National Monument in Utah. On his days off he worked as a cowboy in the nearby ranches. Out of those experiences comes a truly awesome book. It is full of Abbey’s love of wilderness and his anguish and anger at seeing it diminished. I don’t agree with all the opinions Abbey expressed, but generally I have found a kindred spirit in this author.

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. In this book, the mountain climber and journalist Jon Krakauer tells the true story of Chris McCandless. In 1990, Chris, a gifted, athletic, and sensitive young man, broke off all contact with his family, gave away his money, and for two years lived the life of a vagabond. In 1992, he went to Alaska to experience the wilderness. Because of a few innocent mistakes, his wilderness adventure cost him his life. In this book, Krakauer explores difficult relationships between fathers and sons, and the pull that wilderness and adventure have for certain young men. This is a slender book, but there is a lot to think about in it.

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. I read this book last spring, actually, and I haven’t had a fast food hamburger since. I put this book on my reading list because I had heard the author on public radio, and I am glad I did. This book is a well-reasoned accounting of all of the negative effects which the fast food industry has had on American society. It is not just that we are eating more unhealthy junk food, but as a result of the rise of the fast food industry our society has become more economically divided between rich and poor, our agriculture has become more environmentally damaging, small towns and rural families have suffered economically, and corporations have more power over our lives. Everything in this book rings true.

Conifers of California, by Ronald M. Lanner. Here is a book about the evergreen trees of my favorite state. Each species of conifer native to California is discussed. The book is beautifully illustrated and the text is quite well written.


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