Savage, serious, hilarious, passionate, loving, and lyrical.

READ REVIEW

ILL NATURE

RANTS AND REFLECTIONS ON HUMANITY AND OTHER ANIMALS

With wicked irony and wacky humor, essayist and novelist Williams (The Quick and the Dead, 2000, etc.) assails hunters, land developers, and scientists who experiment on animals.

These 19 pieces (modified from previous incarnations) display Williams’s mastery of a vast arsenal of literary weapons. Most potent of all is her wit. The opening essay, a tour de force written in the second person, skewers ordinary Americans who drift along with scarcely a thought about the consequences of their waste and their cruelty to other animals: “You don’t want to think about it! It’s all so uncool.” In another piece about Africa’s rapidly declining animal populations, she comments, “They’re still out there, in Africa, offering people the experience of their existence. Isn’t that nice?” Included here too are a controversial anti-hunting piece, whose original publication in Esquire occasioned many angry replies, and a funny rant about the humorless determination of American women, especially infertile women, to have babies—the author’s sly digression about Cabbage Patch dolls is worth the purchase price all by itself. Williams employs stealth weapons as well as heavy artillery. The account of her attempt to keep one acre of Florida in a natural state is as wistful as it is belligerent, and in a mere page and a half she deftly fillets John James Audubon, who killed for amusement far more birds than he ever painted. Perhaps the most gripping piece of all, “Hawk” begins with a lovely meditation about Glenn Gould, then segues seamlessly into a narrative about her loyal and loving German shepherd, which one day attacked without warning and nearly killed her. Williams, who has effectively arranged the volume with longer pieces separated by very short ones, concludes with “Why I Write,” an exquisite essay of illuminating paradoxes—e.g., “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.”

Savage, serious, hilarious, passionate, loving, and lyrical.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58574-187-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more