A detailed observation of what it means to make a detailed observation.



A contemplation of an outdoor art instillation sparks meditations on time, distance, infinity, memory, and the interrelationship between the work and the viewer.

Queens Museum executive director Raicovich’s previous book, A Diary of Mysterious Difficulties (2013), interwove Dickens with erectile-dysfunction spam, and this one is just as difficult to pigeonhole. She explains in the acknowledgements that it took her “over a decade to complete,” though the text runs little more than 80 pages of observations, often typographically resembling free verse rather than prose, in what might be an attempt to slow readers down, to focus attention on detail as the author has. “These writings are dedicated to the recall of highly specific, vivid experiences of a work of art,” she writes. The work is The Lightning Field by Walter De Maria, comprising 400 stainless steel poles of varying heights in a desolate stretch of central New Mexico. One generally stays overnight to view the expanse of the artwork at various times, in various light and weather conditions, as the author did on four visits between 2003 and 2008. She quotes another critic on De Maria’s work, before Lightning, that “the burden of response is based not on the sculpture but on the spectator. The degree and quality of spectator engagement becomes crucial.” Though Raicovich writes very specifically about her experience in viewing the work, the book is less about the work itself than about the nature of perception, the malleability of memory—presumably, some or much of this was written well after the visit—and the elasticity of time. She frequently invokes Nabokov (Speak, Memory, in particular) and occasionally calculus. She also quotes De Maria: “The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work….Isolation is the essence of land art.” On one occasion, she saw the poles as levitating.

A detailed observation of what it means to make a detailed observation.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-466-1

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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

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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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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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