Sunday, March 16, 2008

Audubon Arrivals

A wealth of literary treats arrived with my March-April issue of Audubon yesterday. There are book reviews for every patience level, such as a few-score words on Bruce Barcott’s The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird and an extended essay on Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas. Still more tempting, to me at least, are brief excerpts of some new books, notably Kenn Kaufmann’s forthcoming Flights Against the Sunset: Stories That Reunited a Mother and Son. How delicious to get to taste books themselves, rather than rely on someone else’s opinions (no, I'm not criticizing book reviews--I like both options).

Audubon’s editors deepen the content of the printed articles with online suggestions for further reading, including several about the wolves, woods, and waters of Isle Royale National Park. But the most literary pages of all are Jonathan Rosen’s “Life of the Skies.” Rosen caught my attention by quoting Whitman, Emerson, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence, Henry James and E.O. Wilson in a 7-column article (and still had room to reflect on Sherlock Holmes’ detective methodologies and young Darwin’s penchant for beetle collecting). By bringing poetry, philosophy, and history into his observations of birds, Rosen enriches his understanding of their place in his life and culture. A late-comer to the hobby, Rosen writes:

Gradually the strange contradictory elements of birding seeped into me and deepened its rich appeal. Birdwatching, like all great human activities, is full of paradox. You need to be out in nature to do it, but you are dependent on technology—binoculars—and also on the guidebook in your back pocket, which tells you what you’re seeing. The challenge of birding has to do with keeping the bird and the book in balance.
The book you bring with you draws the birds you see into the library world—a system of names dating from the 18th century, when scientists ordered the plant and animal world and labeled them so that anyone in any country would know he was referring to the same bird. But at the same time that you are casting yoru scientific net over the wild world, the birds are luring you deeper into the woods or the meadow or the swamp. The library world and the wild, nonverbal world meet in the middle when you are birdwatching. We need both sides of this experience to feel whole, being half wild ourselves. Birdwatching is all about balance.

Rosen’s article, also a book excerpt, has sold at least one copy of his just-released The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. I hope that sales are most encouraging, both to Rosen and to Audubon so the magazine will continue to promote fine nature books in its own pages.


Dave Coulter said...

So many books, so little time.It's moments like this I wish I had a clone that I could assign to full-time reading duty! Isle Royale is one of those places I want to visit before I die...

Hannah said...

It is a great issue. But the birds nest photos are the most beautiful part. Check it out!

Mike said...

I just read Life of the Skies and was blown away by how well-written and cerebral this book is. I'm working on a review right now but can at least confirm you made the right decision in buying it!

Minnesota Birdnerd said...

I've been checking out youe great blog for a while now and want to invite you to play the Six Word Memoir Meme game. You can check out the details at:

Have Fun!

Grant McCreary said...

The Life of the Skies is fantastic! I was very glad to see the excerpt in Audubon - the book deserves the attention.
I've recently posted a review of it on my website.

Rick Borchelt said...

Rosen's Life of the Skies was a real find for me, too -- I had just picked up the only copy at the local Borders, which had ordered just the one in expectation of slow sales despite the excellent review a few weeks ago in the NYTimes Book Review.

For me, though, the theme that animates the entire book is previewed in the opening pages, as Rosen talks about the "second creation" -- Adam (and Eve) as namers and classifiers of the orginal created world. This second creation is the world of field guides, museums, ornithology -- the lense through which we view nature (and in Rosen's case especially, birds).

Rosen -- who counts "poet" among the many hats he wears as a writer, and the writing in Life of the Skies is painterly and poetic -- asks his readers to ponder the effect of this second creation: How does nature writing, for example, "re-create" the natural world? Is our understanding of nature tainted, improved, or simply informed by nature writing? At a more fundamental level, is science necessary to the understanding of nature, or is appreciation sufficient knowledge?

In many ways, Rosen reinforces themes in Pattiann Rogers' insightful "The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation." Rogers and Rosen together should be required reading for every nature writer.

Anonymous said...

See here or here

pinenut said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks so much for the great comments! I appreciate being tagged for Birdnerd's meme and will be following up on that soon. Thanks, Rick, for suggesting Dream of the Marsh Wren, which I haven't even heard of but have added to my short list. I truly can't wait to read Life of the Skies, especially after reading Grant's review and Mike's promised review at, where he calls it "fantastic from the very first page.

I appreciate everyone's enthusiasm for good books --especially when you share you're reading. I wish, like Dave, I could clone myself (a few times!) and read 'em all. If we all read fast enough, we could even get Borders to order more copies of our favorites.

nina said...

I just read your comment to my pool monitoring journal.
A site I've used and liked this one.

Good luck--I hope you share your pics!

Nina at Nature Remains