How I Read: A Confession

 

When I was a kid I looked forward to visits to the local library where I would feast along the shelves to carry home as many books as the library allowed me to check out. Sometimes we had school trips to the town library, a little file of eight-year-olds marching a quarter mile from Towpath Elementary to the little brick Cape-style house that was our public library. And we each came home with our little stacked harvest. These foraging adventures are among my happiest memories. Summers brought the added joy of a special issue of My Weekly Reader from which a child could order a list of books for summer reading. I picture the items listed in a column each with a box to its left where I could make a penciled X and then await the bounty.

Given time to follow my inclinations, I remain a greedy and promiscuous reader. Even when I am researching a specific topic, I find it hard to contain myself to the main scent of the trail and find myself skirting around the central issue to pursue what catches my attention. I’m rarely a flip reader. I like books with substance, a mind on the page, gorgeous sentencing, cultural texture. So here is a list of recommended reads from my summer excursions this year.

MusicophiliaMusicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Impossible not to mention this great soul of compassion and thoughtfulness who has just left the world. His curiosity about the human condition required him to be an avid student of both art and science. So many of his books are memorable, but this 2007 book merits attention from those interested in the confluence of art and science. Combining his work as neurologist with his love of music, Sacks, as his title suggests, reveals how the human love of music is embedded in our brains.

 

The Memory of WhitenessThe Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson

Speaking of music, here is vintage sci-fi from one of the masters. 3229 A.D. Human civilization has spread among planets and moon and asteroids. Music and physics are the highest and most beautifully complex expressions of human aspiration. Adventure, intrigue, music, music, music. Heady, arty, and science smart, this book is a thrill.

 

The Silver DarlingsThe Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn

This 1941 novel by a Scottish author is a riveting story of the herring fishers of Scotland’s highland coast. A beautiful and poetic read that evokes the shaping of a culture around its fishery, and the many perils and beauties of such interdependence.

 

The RunThe Run by John Hay

Certainly one of the great American nature writers, John Hay’s book on the alewives of Cape Cod is a classic of field observation and ruminative curiosity. His book on arctic terns The Bird of Light is equally compelling. Founder of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Hay was a passionate advocate for the future of nature. He seems to be dropping off lists of great nature writers since his death in 2011. He should be read and remembered.

 

The Oysters of LocmariaquerThe Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark

Another nearly lost treasure.  The 1965 book won the National Book Award. It’s a nonfiction exploration of the unique culture developed around the, well, culture of Belon oysters on the northwest coast of France. Full of field observation, natural history, myth, story—an earlier expression of what we’d now call a braided essay.

More than incidently, she was married to Robert Penn Warren. She writes, “Obviously, if you don’t love life, you can’t enjoy an oyster.”

 

 

Finally two small press books for Glooscap, “god-man, warrior and leader,” the grandest figure of Native legend and about the Bay of Fundy where I make my summer home:

Glooscap LegendsGlooscap Legends by Stanley T. Spicer

Red EarthRed Earth: Tales of the Mi’kmaq by Marion Robertson

The islands of the Bay of Fundy were stepping stones that Glooscap placed to aid him on his frequent trips across the bay. The Wolves, a group of small rocky islands north of Grand Manan, mark the place where Glooscap left the region and turned his dogs to stone to guard the bay for his return. Read on.

 

 

 

Alison Hawthorne Deming, Professor of Creative Writing and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona, is author of four poetry books, including Rope (Penguin 2009), and four books of nonfiction, including Writing the Sacred Into the Real and Zoologies (Milkweed 2014). She’s received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bayer Award in Science Writing and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her poems and prose have been widely anthologized, including in The Norton Book of Nature Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing.

Read poetry, an essay (“The Cheetah Run”), a guest editorial (“Ruin and Renewal”), and an interview with Alison Hawthorne Deming appearing in Terrain.org.

Photo of the Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, by Josef Hanuf, courtesy Shutterstock.

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