SONGBIRDS, TRUFFLES, AND WOLVES

AN AMERICAN NATURALIST IN ITALY

A journey from Florence to Assisi in the steps of St. Francis proves as much a spiritual quest as an eclectic scientific inquiry for enthnobotanist Nabhan (Enduring Seeds, 1989). While recovering from a painful divorce, Nabhan, who's part Lebanese, decided to walk the two hundred miles between Florence and Assisi ``in part to ponder my Mediterranean roots, and in part to learn of the land of my saint, San Francisco.'' Before he set off, he made a brief visit to Genoa, home of Christopher Columbus, where, in a local market, he found prickly pears, native to the Americas but now at home in the Old World: This sort of cross- fertilization of plants and seeds—as well as of cultures—is one of the author's subtexts here. Another is the need for ``rough country land where we can be truant and not have to pay to get in or be inspected on the way out.'' Nabhan discovered that little of such wilderness is left in Italy: The wolves have gone; the forests where chestnuts or truffles grow are planned; and even the ancient oaks at St. Francis's shrine, protected as artifacts rather than as living organisms, are dying from benign attention. Civilization is always close by, providing a mix of old and new: rock music and the waltz at an Umbrian corn festival (leading Nabhan to a brief history of corn in Italy, where it once caused pellagra among the peasants); farmers cultivating ancient native crops alongside New World imports like tomatoes and sunflowers; the tasting of the season's first truffles, dug up by dogs rather than by the traditional pigs. Throughout, Nabhan relates his experiences with a beguiling candor that's spoiled by only a few obvious thoughts and insights about human relationships. An enjoyable mix of information and opinion from a writer whose delight in nature is always wise and thoughtful, never sentimental or smug.

Pub Date: July 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41585-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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