Turner’s writing is muscular, never swaggering, and almost lyrical, summoning a Teton Range in its rightful, sublime...

TEEWINOT

A YEAR IN THE GRAND TETONS

Mountaineer Turner’s (The Abstract Wild, 1996) portrait of a Teton guiding season is a measured luxuriance in the landscape, a love song to the natural history of a place, and a tad self-conscious and defensive tale.

It might be May when Turner’s story begins, but it is snowing and two feet of the stuff lies on either side of the road to his cabin away in the Teton backcountry. Turner has worked as a guide here for the fabled Exum Service for over two decades. He has distilled those years into this memoir, “a collusion of memory and desire” in which he escorts readers through the months, pointing out the wildlife, introducing his guiding companions, detailing climbs, roaming and roaming until he hits on something that strikes his fancy (dippers or sandhill cranes, native dyestuffs or old mineshafts) and allows him to hold forth for a time. While there can be a childlike joy in his voice when calling attention to something worth marveling at, there is also a sense that Turner is as relaxed as a jumped rhino, and wrapped “in a version of the heroic myth. Everyone at Exum has at some time in their lives lived out this myth, although it is increasingly difficult to do so when the myths are buried under layers of cynicism and irony.” He works hard at a hardboiled sensitivity (he won’t paint the sheetrock of his cabin, for example, but he’ll tack up a Wolf Kahn landscape ripped from a calendar) and wears his Zen on his sleeve: “Thus Po Chu-i could say, with subtle allusion, ‘Clear cries, several voices—cranes under the pines.’ ” Sometimes the trail is rough, but ultimately the views are spectacular.

Turner’s writing is muscular, never swaggering, and almost lyrical, summoning a Teton Range in its rightful, sublime austerity. His own sensibilities, though, are a bit overdone at times. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 8, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-25197-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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