A FULL LIFE IN A SMALL PLACE

AND OTHER ESSAYS FROM A DESERT GARDEN

A naturalist and gardener explores Arizona desert life. Bowers (The Mountains Next Door, 1991, etc.—not reviewed), although a botanist for more than a decade, never wanted a garden: She studied wild plants and distrusted New Agers' talk of tomatoes that love carrots. Then, nearing 40, she conceived a passion to garden; here, 16 essays record her beginning green- thumb years. Bowers decided to garden organically, and she cogently demystifies some of the organic farmer's seemingly irrational methods. Her new conviction, though, occasionally veers into sanctimony: ``Professional agronomists...[are] often little more than shills for the pesticide industry'' while organic gardeners are ``large-hearted'' and ``reverent.'' An essay on composting finds the author musing on death and on mortals' return to the soil as her compost pile arouses oceanic feelings ``of being part of the endless nutrient cycles that keep our planet alive''—a familiar theme of ego-loss in nature writing that goes back to Thoreau's description of hoeing beans. Elsewhere, beginning with the statement that ``gardening imparts a sense of place and time that little else can,'' Bowers expounds beautifully on how Native Americans plant by natural events rather than by the calendar. When oaks bloomed and catbirds began to call in Massachusetts, Algonquins knew the soil had warmed enough to plant corn; in the author's own Sonoran desert, the stirring of harvester ants and the mesquite's new leaves signal that the danger of frost is past. Despite adroit detailing and many highlights, these essays as a whole feel inert, unleavened by action, progress, or other people; still, reflective and informed nature writing.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8165-1345-7

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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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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