Author’s Discussion Of A World On The Wing

When a respected naturalist mentions eBird, or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our family’s attention is rapt. I now realize that Scott Weidensaul first appeared in our pages in 2012, and then twice  since then before today. This time is different because he is interviewed by Dave Davies, one of the great conversationalists of our time, and they are discussing Mr. Weidensaul’s new book (click the book image above to order it from a non-Amazon source). The discussion does not shy away from the challenges related to bird populations, but has plenty to smile at too:

Naturalist Traces The ‘Astounding’ Flyways Of Migratory Birds

Scott Weidensaul has spent decades studying bird migration. “There is a tremendous solace in watching these natural rhythms play out again and again,” he says. His new book is A World On the Wing. Continue reading

Beloved Beasts, Author Interview

Art from Beloved Beasts by Michelle Nijhuis. Illustration: Courtesy of Norton

My interest in the history of conservation started with the discovery of an archive full of hotel guide books from earlier centuries, which led to another archive full of data about one of the earliest publicly-funded conservation projects, which in turn led to my doctoral dissertation. My particular interest is in the history of both conservation and tourism and their co-evolution over the past century. And this interest seems to run in the family, which might explain where our family’s various entrepreneurial activities have emerged from. All along the way, science writers have been a favorite source of nourishment.  I can better understand Michelle Nijhuis‘s two-year hiatus from our pages  thanks to Rachel Fritts, Editorial Intern at Audubon magazine, in this author interview:

Capturing the Whole History of Conservationism—for Better and Worse

In her new book ‘Beloved Beasts,’ author Michelle Nijhuis chronicles a movement dedicated to the ‘preservation of possibility.’

The author, Michelle Nijhuis. Photo: Seed Photography

Veteran science journalist Michelle Nijhuis has been writing about conservation for more than two decades. Her work on topics ranging from climate change to humans’ relationships with other species regularly appears in publications such as the New Yorker and The Atlantic. In her hotly anticipated new book, released March 9, Nijhuis sets out to tell the definitive history of the effort she dedicated her career to chronicling.

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction turns an exacting eye on the history of conservationism, emphasizing the movement’s interconnectedness and complexity. Nijhuis takes the reader on a journey through time, from the plains bisons’ brush with extinction in the 1800s, to the community conservancies preserving wildlife in modern-day Namibia. Continue reading

Bookshop Versus Goliath, aka Amazon

Amazon can afford to take a loss on books. Small independent bookstores cannot. Illustration by Owen D. Pomery; Source photograph by Danny Caine

We have respect for any merchant who takes the time, and has strong logic on their side, to explain why their prices are not as low as Amazon’s. Any time the opportunity arises to read Casey Cep on the subject of bookshops, take it; especially when she is writing about a bookshop’s pricing relative to Amazon’s. Be sure to read far enough to where she touches on the impact of bookshop.org on the marketplace for books, which on its own makes reading this essay worth the time:

A Kansas Bookshop’s Fight with Amazon Is About More Than the Price of Books

The owner of the Raven bookstore, in Lawrence, wants to tell you about all the ways that the e-commerce giant is hurting American downtowns.

If you know anything about the Raven bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, then you know that it charges more for books than Amazon. Advertising higher prices is an unlikely strategy for any business, but Danny Caine, the Raven’s owner, has an M.F.A., not an M.B.A., and he talks openly with customers about why his books cost as much as they do. Continue reading

Food Giants Exploiting Addictions

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, by Michael Moss. Random House

I have made progress, but not enough, changing my diet. Reducing meat consumption by more than half was challenging, but with more vegetarian restaurants and more vegetarian recipes being shared, tasty meatless is easier. I have succeeded more at eliminating processed foods than I have in becoming vegetarian, with maybe 80% processed foods eliminated. But on occasion I have slipped, put something crunchy in my mouth, and end up feeling like an addict on a binge. Barbara J. King, last seen in our pages nearly seven years ago, graces National Public Radio (USA) with another review, There Are So Many Flavors Of Potato Chips; ‘Hooked’ Looks At Why, that helps me understand the challenge I am up against:

Around the corner from where I live in small-town Virginia is a Kroger’s grocery store. According to its website, the store sells 20 flavors of Lay’s potato chips: classic, wavy, wavy ranch, baked, barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, cheddar and sour cream, limon-flavored, honey barbecue, sweet southern heat, dill pickle, flamin’ hot, flamin’ hot and dill pickle, cheddar jalapeno, jalapeno ranch, lime and jalapeno, kettle-cooked, and kettle-cooked mesquite barbecue. Continue reading

Above The Northern Ice

Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Quince Mountain

One year ago, when I first encountered Blair Braverman, I did not follow through to find out more. It is easy to remember why because it was the last stretch of pre-pandemia, and it was the last time I travelled, and that last portion of February, 2020, remains vividly clear in my memory.

As it happens this morning, exactly one year later, we are getting on an airplane and traveling from Costa Rica to Ithaca, New York where we will spend a few days taking care of some paperwork that is a legal requirement for operating our businesses in Costa Rica. I would not get on an airplane right now if it was not a legal requirement, and while we are taking all possible precautions it would be impossible not to have the obvious concerns. In that context, hearing Blair Braverman talk about her work in an odd way has a calming effect. And given that yesterday I was reading about life under the southern ice, it is fitting today to share some perspective on life above the northern ice. Click the image above or the title below to go to the podcast for a half hour of pure escape.

Lessons on Resilience From Dogs and Dog Sledders

The adventurer Blair Braverman has led a team of sled dogs over a 900-mile race in Alaska, seen her skin dissolve in the desert and overcome Covid-19. What makes it all less terrifying? Accepting the unknown. Continue reading

Remembering Books Not In Libraries

A few years ago, during a work visit in Athens, Amie and I made a last-minute decision to book a flight to Istanbul. We had both long wanted to visit, the flight was inexpensive, and we had a few days to spare. A primary impetus for the visit was to experience this museum. My memory of Istanbul is mainly my memory of the museum. And it is one of my strongest travel memories in a life full of travel. Reading about this “club” I realized there are more shrines for bibliophiles than I had imagined:

The Grolier Club: Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489 or 90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

The story of America can be told through the story of its periodicals. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

And the only reason it came to my attention was thanks to Nathan Heller, whose subject likens magazines over earlier centuries to the social media of today in his cultural comment essay What Are Magazines Good For? Tickets to New York are inexpensive, which makes a visit tempting for this one reason, but it will have to wait:

…“The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” Steven Lomazow, a seventy-three-year-old New Jersey neurologist who created the exhibition from his personal collection of more than eighty-three thousand magazine issues, said the other day. Continue reading

McKibben Reviews Gates

I am sure that the New York Times has made available, but I cannot find it, an explanation for when they link out to Amazon (e.g. on a podcast interview with an author promoting a recently published book) and when they do not (e.g. in a traditional book review). Our thanks to Bill McKibben for taking the time to review this book:

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER
The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
By Bill Gates

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. Continue reading

Alternatives To Amazon For Buying Books

Every time I listen to or read an interview with an author who has recently published a book, and want to get a closer look at the book itself, I click the link provided. Nearly 100% of the time the link goes to Amazon. Not good. When I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert on a podcast I respect, that is what happened. Frustrated by that link, I looked for alternatives to Amazon for buying this book, and found plenty.  For example, thanks to Powell’s Books for making the discussion about this book available in the online event above.

One option is Bookshop.org, which came to my attention while trying to find an interview with Kolbert about her new book that did not link to Amazon.  It took some effort, after finding the Powell’s links, but thankfully I found an interview given a couple days ago to Audubon for their review of Kolbert’s book. None of our many earlier links to Kolbert stories have featured an image of the author, so I will share here the one that accompanies the Audubon piece. In the middle of the interview there is this exchange:

Elizabeth Kolbert at the ​American Museum of Natural His​tory in New York. Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/Th​e New York Times/ReduxI have seen plenty of images of her, but this may be the only one in which she is smiling.

A: We’re, of course, doing this interview for Audubon, which focuses a lot on species conservation. Much of the work that people do to save various species—and there are so many examples of this in your book—involves altering previous ways that we’ve altered the natural world. How do you suggest that people who care about species protection think about efforts like these?

K: Well, that’s a really profound question, and to be honest that is the question at the center of the book. One of the points is, what do we think of as conservation, right? Continue reading

The Little Book of Investing in Nature

A pdf version of The Little Book of Investing in Nature is available and the case for why this might be of value to you is in the book’s forward section:

How does this book help? As the impacts of human activity on the natural world have become increasingly clear in recent years, alongside human dependences on a healthy environment, the conversation has shifted from “Should we save nature?” to “How do we pay for it?”. Few in government or business today doubt the inherent value of nature or the importance of managing it sustainably. The interest in halting the loss of biodiversity is enormous and is coming from unexpected quarters. Continue reading

There Once Was A Puffin

Our thanks to a reader who brought this book to our attention after seeing this photo. If you a puffin aficionado, you might also find these earlier posts worth a visit (there are plenty of others, which you can find by searching our site with the word puffin). The book’s publisher describes it this way:

A seaside story to read with baby! Oh, there once was a Puffin, Just the shape of a muffin, And he lived on an island In the bright blue sea! The dear little Puffin is lonely on his island for he has no one to play with. In this beloved nonsense poem, children will rejoice when the muffin-shaped Puffin, who has a hat for almost every occasion, comes up with a simple—and simply delicious—solution to his problem.

The Ministry For The Future, Reviewed In Yale Climate Connections

Yale Climate Connections is a nonpartisan, multimedia service providing daily broadcast radio programming and original web-based reporting, commentary, and analysis on the issue of climate change, one of the greatest challenges and stories confronting modern society.

Today, within the time I have enjoyed my first cup of coffee, I have made two discoveries: a new (to me) source for stories to share here (click the banner above to go to Yale Climate Connections) and a book review that gets me wondering whether science fiction is a genre I have time for after all (I thought not, but click the image below to go to the review for yourself).

(Kim Stanley Robinson inset photo: Gage Skidmore)

In The Ministry for the Future, his twentieth novel, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson creates something truly remarkable: a credible, very-near future in which humans effectively solve the problem of climate change.

Climate lukewarmers may be tempted to interpret this upbeat summary as support for their technological optimism. That would be a mistake. Though it ends well, the story Robinson tells is harrowing.

I first heard about the book yesterday in a conversation with the author:

The most important book I’ve read this year

How climate change will force humanity to rethink capitalism, borders, terrorism, and currency.

That conversation was also a kind of review, but it was not until I looked for more information about the book this morning, and found that review by Michael Svoboda, that I got thinking about the genre of science fiction, and the sub-genre of climate fiction.

What It’s Like To Be A Bird–Book, Author Interview & Master Class

We missed this book when it was published earlier this year, until now–an interview with its author about best birding practices caught our attention. The publisher has this to say about the book:

The bird book for birders and nonbirders alike that will excite and inspire by providing a new and deeper understanding of what common, mostly backyard, birds are doing–and why

“Can birds smell?” “Is this the same cardinal that was at my feeder last year?” “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” In What It’s Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often…

David Allen Sibley is also offering this online course in conjunction with 92Y:

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a bird? Can birds smell? Is that the same cardinal that was at your feeder last year? What are backyard birds doing and why? Continue reading

Olfactory & Gustatory Experiences, Better Understood

Butyric acid gives some cheeses their distinctively strong scent. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

I had been putting off listening to this interview until I had the proper attention span. During the last two years I have worked to improve my understanding of the relationship between tastes and aromas (aka smells) of coffees, mirroring the work I did to better understand wines back in the day.  My patience was rewarded with a clear conversation that neither dumbed down nor over-complicated the relationship between olfactory and gustatory experiences. It made me think the book will be worth more than the purchase price:

…On why grass-fed beef tastes different than grain-fed beef

It’s absolutely true that the foods that animals eat in order to grow affect the way they taste when we, in turn, eat them as food. And in the case of grass and grain-fed animals, the difference is in the kinds of fat that they take in. So it’s not that we’re actually tasting grass or tasting grain when we detect the difference between the two. It’s actually the fact that the fats — the oils in grass — are very irregular molecules, and they tend to be broken down in the animal into particular fragments that are very characteristic of those original fats and oils. Continue reading

Common Language For Wine Pairing

Big Macs & Burgundy Wine Pairings for the Real WorldThanks to an episode of the podcast All Of It, this book  came to our attention. We swore off Big Macs and Cheetos and other over-processed foods decades ago, so the title was off-putting. But if you listen to Vanessa Price explain it the purpose of the book is clear: commonsense language, for a topic that normally is full of fancy language, is a good thing. Abrams books says this:

Essential wine pairings for everything from popcorn to veggie burgers to General Tso’s Chicken, based on the wildly popular Grub Street column Continue reading

Understanding The Life Of Our Groceries

We apparently do not look as closely as we should when we go to the supermarket. One paragraph from this book review should be enough to know whether you want a closer look:

…Author Benjamin Lorr spent five years looking into that as he studied all aspects of American supermarkets — from the suppliers, the distributors, and supply routes, to the workers in the retail outlets themselves. In the reporting for his new book The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, Lorr met with farmers and field workers and spent 120-hours-straight driving the highways with a trucker as she made her multistate rounds. He worked the fish counter at a Whole Foods market for a few months, and went to trade shows to learn about entrepreneurs who were trying to break into the industry. He also traveled to Asia to learn about commodity fishing – finding human rights violations along his journey…

Antitrust considerations might be of interest if you plan to purchase The Secret Life of Groceries.

The Language We Use To Know About Plants

Like Magnolia, Begonia, Iris and a few others, the genus name Camellia has been assimilated into English, rather than having a common name assigned to it. “A handful of iconic garden plants have names that are easy to pronounce and spell, and are so widely used that they’re devoid of dread,” said Ross Bayton, the author of “The Gardener’s Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names.” Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

Thanks to Margaret Roach for this review, whose subtitle–Latin might seem like an obscure, inscrutable language for naming plants. But it can open up the botanical world in ways you can’t imagine–is its central recommendation. Things I can’t imagine, maybe especially when I need to make a Plan B for planting, are a welcome resource these days. As always, if you decide to acquire this book and can do so from an independent bookseller you will be doing the world a favor:

Simply knowing a plant’s genus, such as Hydrangea, doesn’t tell you the whole story. The second word in the botanical Latin binomial — the species name or specific epithet modifying the genus — offers further clues, perhaps describing the plant’s place of origin or its appearance. In the case of Hydrangea macrophylla, it means big leaf. Drawing from “The Gardener’s Botanical.”

The plants are trying to tell us something — if only we’d learn their official language, botanical Latin.

“I am the Allium with just one leaf,” says Allium unifolium. (Get it?)

“I am the juniper that carpets the ground,” says Juniperus horizontalis (whose alternate name, Juniperus prostrata, nails its appearance, too).

And Aster alpinus chimes in: “My ancestors hailed from above the timber line — you know, like, the Alps. I won’t appreciate some sodden, clayey spot in your garden.”

Not all plant names offer such easy clues about traits like appearance, preferred conditions or place of origin. Continue reading

If You Can, Consider Buying Your Books From An Independent Bookstore

Shoppers waited to enter the Strand on Sunday after the bookstore said its business “had become unsustainable.” Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Books and the love of books have been a constant theme since early posts on this platform. Likewise, libraries are in these pages frequently due to their important and sometimes essential role to communities; and of course librarians can change lives. Bookstores, cultural institutions in their own right, show up plenty in our pages. The Strand has not, even though it has multigenerational resonance in our family. Today it is newsworthy for complex reasons. The title almost says it all. Book lovers respond, for reasons that all our other posts about books and book places hint at. For me the subheading has the word that caught my attention. While book lovers and bookstore lovers respond to this shop’s call for help, some of the shop’s resources were invested awkwardly (I have hinted at such awkwardness plenty of times). When an independent bookseller is an option, consider the value they represent. Meanwhile, thanks to Sean Piccoli and Elizabeth A. Harris for this:

The Strand Calls for Help, and Book Lovers Answer

“It’s awkward because the track record for the ownership here is not great,” one customer said. “But it’s also an institution. My parents shopped here.”

For months, the Strand bookstore in downtown Manhattan, from its fiction stacks to its cookbook section to its rare books, has been nearly deserted. But on Sunday, half an hour before the store was scheduled to open, about a dozen people lined up in the cool fall breeze, waiting to get inside. Continue reading

Trees, Maira Kalman & Vote

8+ years since the first link, and nearly 6 years since the last link to Maira Kalman‘s work, we are happy to see that a new book is en route. If you want to contribute to a novel get-out-the-vote mechanism, this may be for you:

trees

60.00

by Maira Kalman

Signed, second printing.
Each booklet comes with a piece of bark from a cloven tree.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations working to bring out the vote, including the ACLU.
4.25” x 5.5” / 40 pages / Color / Stitched binding
Booklets will ship via USPS in October. We will ship as quickly as we can.

Every tree you encounter will lift your spirits.

(limit 10 booklets per order.)

Thanks to the New Yorker for bringing this to our attention with the following:

Looking at a Tree

By

Henry Hudson Park. The Bronx, New York.

There are two trees that have changed my life. The first was in Riverdale, the Bronx. It was in Henry Hudson Park, which was behind our building. My mother took me to the public library. Big windows, light pouring in. I was able to take books out to the park. I am eight years old or so, sitting in the tree in the park and reading “Pippi Longstocking.” In my memory, I was alone. The book was about a girl bursting with self-confidence and force. No parents in sight. A fantasy with madcap humor and a touching sense of kindness. This was me. And in those decisive, enchanted moments, I decided that I would write stories.

Ayot St. Lawrence, England.

When I was nineteen, I spent the summer in England, travelling with a friend and knocking about. We found ourselves in Ayot St. Lawrence, a little village outside of London. We were walking somewhere and passed a field with an immense tree in it. Maybe it was not far from a church or cemetery. Maybe I had just finished eating scones with clotted cream. At any rate, it took my breath away.

No tree since has made me feel that way. I have met many trees that I adore and admire. But that particular tree, on that particular day, has become one of the images in my life-is-good column…

The Little Things Librarians Do That Can Have Big Impact

See the source imageReading this op-ed reminded me of a book that I read in my mid-teens. I remember reading it cover to cover in one sitting and it sparked a kind of book-reading that had not been part of my life previously.  I was a plot-driven reader and April Morning got me more interested in character. So my belated thanks to one of the librarians, circa 1978, at the amazing library down the street from our home, who recommended this book to me. When I came back to see what other books by the same author were available, I saw that he had a very long list of titles in the card catalog.

So I asked for help from another librarian, and soon I was reading this other historical novel. Reading The Hessian may account for my becoming an English major in college a few years later. I did not like this book nearly as much. And this led to a conversation with the librarian who had recommended it to me. Literary criticism it was not, but having something to say about the difference between the two books, and hearing someone else’s opinion on the same, was interesting. Belated thanks to that librarian for that conversation, and for the next gift.

She told me that Howard Fast would be giving a lecture in the library’s auditorium the following week. That too would be a first. I had never attended an author’s lecture before. He was talking about a book, The Immigrants, that had just been published. I do not remember much about the lecture, but at the end of it I went to the front of the auditorium and handed the author an envelope. In it was a short letter thanking him for writing the two books I had read, and sharing a few thoughts I had exchanged with the librarian. Days later I received a letter in the mail. It was from the author, replying to the letter this kid had handed him in the auditorium. Thank you, Howard Fast.  And thank you, librarians.

Reviving A Garden Can Revive More Than A Garden

Among the reasons we have stayed  committed once we embarked on restoration of a parcel of a coffee farm buried two decades ago, it is a welcome distraction. Also, it is good exercise. Those side benefits add motivation to continue uncovering and then reviving a buried agricultural treasure. If you are not in a place where you can do such a thing, but are in need of a breath-slowing, jaw-unclenching respite, other options exist. Do gardens and/or stories of agricultural revival get you there? The video above, or the classic to the right might be options to consider. Thanks to Helen Rosner for bringing them to our attention in this essay:

The Soothing Pleasures of “The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a Vintage BBC Docuseries

“The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a thirteen-part series on the particularities of Victorian horticulture, is a serene display of domestic competence.Photograph by Anne Gilbert / Alamy

Some time this past spring, I had my annual realization that if I wanted to plant a garden this year I should have got started weeks, maybe months, earlier. Then I set about my annual task of Googling how to make a garden happen. A few days later, clearing out my hundreds of open browser tabs of horticultural-advice forums, I paused over an open Web page that I hadn’t noticed: a grainy upload on the mysterious and vaguely European video-hosting Web site Dailymotion. “The Victorian Kitchen Garden – S01 – E01 – The Beginning,” it said. Curious, I pressed play, and a gentle wave of clarinet arpeggios sounded from my laptop speakers, and a mist-veiled greenhouse appeared on the screen. My breathing slowed, my jaw unclenched. Continue reading