“Landspeak” by Robert Macfarlane

Here is another that I cannot improve upon by commenting. Words and places, beautifully composed? I am sold. I’ve heard a lot about Robert Macfarlane but this short piece is all of his writing that I’ve actually read. Clearly I’ll need to find more.

Please enjoy

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

A hit-and-run fatality overshadows the life of a family and a community in the bush of British Columbia.


Sarah Leipciger’s debut novel, The Mountain Can Wait, centers on a family’s shared and separate struggles in the wilds of British Columbia. Tom’s wife left him when the kids were small. He hopes he can put in one last good year at work, sell his forest restoration company and provide for his children in his retirement. His son, Curtis, lives a few towns over, a young man on his own. Daughter Erin has begun to pull into herself, in typical teenage fashion. Around this nucleus are colorful characters like Tom’s mother-in-law, angry and estranged, living off the land in a tiny island village; Tom’s new girlfriend, a poet with an independent streak; and the tree planters and other employees of his company. Between hunting and foraging, idle drug use and countless cigarettes, this motley crew sharply evokes their environment in Leipciger’s spare but feeling prose.

The biggest crisis of all is out of sight for much of the story, but bookends everything else that transpires: a hit-and-run that kills a teenaged girl and haunts the driver, who is slow to seek redemption. “She was an instant, the sulfuric flare of a match…. And there was a dull slap.” This overarching tragedy shadows the rest of the action, as characters go on making their plans, unaware of how it will affect their lives.

In language that highlights natural beauty and the challenges of living in the bush, Leipciger explores what a sense of responsibility really entails, the finer points of family dynamics and the strong hold a place can have on a person, from Whistler to the tiny isles around Vancouver Island. Curtis struggles with the family tradition of hunting for their meat; he has trouble killing, even collecting tadpoles. But he will wreak havoc in just trying to survive, let alone impress his father. Tom is still troubled by the sordid details of his wife’s demise, some years after she left. He loves his children, but despairs at knowing them at all.

The Mountain Can Wait concentrates on the difficulties of properly caring for loved ones, and the meaning of community. Set within British Columbia’s stunning and intimidating back country, a mountain goat killed in one shot and a bear only wounded come to the forefront, too. As the title reflects, even the calamities Tom and his clan experience fade against such a backdrop.

This review originally ran in the May 14, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 cherries.

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson

A celebration of biology and the joy of discovery–and a reminder to tread lightly.

Dave Goulson follows A Sting in the Tale, about his years studying bumblebees, with A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm. In 2003, Goulson purchased a 33-acre property with a decaying farmhouse and barn, and turned it into a private nature reserve; here he describes the multitude of wildlife he shares those acres with. His goal is to celebrate the wonder of the natural world–especially insects, which make up roughly two-thirds of known life on Earth.

Goulson charmingly depicts the mating practices of dance flies and the many butterfly species he sees on his daily run, and elucidates the habits of the famously cannibalistic female mantis with added knowledge gained through his own studies. A Buzz in the Meadow is both a descriptive work and a call to arms, a reminder that all species are precious and necessary, even the tiny ones. Goulson repeatedly states that conservationists should look beyond large and charismatic creatures like whales and tigers; he perhaps overstates that “the extinction of the giant panda… would not have any knock-on consequences. There would perhaps be a tiny bit more bamboo in a forest in China,” but his point is well taken–that insects make up the majority of life and play an outsized role in the interconnectivity of biological systems worldwide. Goulson’s tone is personal, even humorously self-effacing, but clearly expert. A Buzz in the Meadow accessibly presents natural science and gracefully offers an earnest wake-up call to conservation.

This review originally ran in the April 28, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 dormice.

Martin Marten by Brian Doyle

A lyrical ode to all the inhabitants of the world, fun-loving and deathly serious as nature.


Fourteen-year-old Dave is one of the protagonists of Brian Doyle’s Martin Marten. He lives with his delightful, precocious six-year-old sister Maria and his wise, funny parents in a cabin on an Oregon mountain. Dave prefers to call the mountain Wy’east, which is the name given it by the people who lived there for thousands of years, rather than Hood, “which is what some guy from another country called it.”

Also in his adolescence on Wy’east in the same season that Dave enters high school and tries out for the cross-country team is Martin, who likewise is exploring his world, venturing farther from home and contemplating separation from his mother, and who will discover the females of his species around the same time that Dave does. A marten is a small, brownish mustelid with a diverse diet and a large territory, and Martin is as individual an example of his species as Dave is of his.

Doyle (Mink River) follows the coming-of-age of these two young males, and to varying degrees examines the lives and struggles of other inhabitants of Wy’east. These include the woman who runs the general store, Dave’s family and his best friend Moon, a schoolteacher and the dog who adopts him, a massive elk, an elderly bear and a retired horse, and each of their stories is deep and rich with humor and wisdom. The result is a lushly textured, loving, sensitive and whimsical symposium of trees, insects, birds and beasts.

This review originally ran in the April 14, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 10 tomatoes.

Teaser Tuesdays: A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.


My teaser today from A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm is actually a footnote, outside the main text; but I felt it was too profound not to share.

Sadly, funding for taxonomic work such as describing new species has shrivelled in recent decades, so such specialists are now hard to find. Soon there may be no experts left in many fields, so there will be no one to go to for help if you suspect you have discovered a species new to science.

It’s a sad world.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: Martin Marten by Brian Doyle

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

This is one of those I fear to even say much about, because I might ruin its perfection. Best book of 2015 so far, for sure.


I have one sentence for you today:

You could, as Dave many times had, just sit there in the sun with your back against a tree and watch and listen to the river sprint and thurble and trip and thumble; you had to invent words for the ways it raced and boiled and dashed and crashed, and indeed Dave had once spent an afternoon trying to write one long word that would catch something of the river’s song and story when it was full of itself like this, not yet the shy trickle it would be in summer and fall, before the Rains came on All Souls’ Day, and then the dim chamber of winter, when snow fell slowly all day every day for weeks at a time, and the woods were filled with soft slumps and sighs as trees shed their loads.

I love so much about this sentence: how it acknowledges what words cannot do, and then uses words to do so much; how its length mirrors the length of the failed word of the river’s song and story; how it encompasses four seasons; the lovely sounds of it. Are you convinced?

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

You’re Not Lost if You Can Still See the Truck: The Further Adventures of America’s Everyman Outdoorsman by Bill Heavey

Brief doses of amusing, thoughtful and compassionate reflections on outdoorsmanship.

not lost

In his third volume of collected works, You’re Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck, Bill Heavey (It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It) mainly draws from his work in Field & Stream, where he serves as editor at large. Spanning 26 years, these pieces focus largely on fishing, hunting and general outdoor antics, but occasionally touch on more personal subjects, such as fatherhood, divorce, grief, health and family. Self-deprecating humor is clearly Heavey’s greatest strength (especially refreshing, given the hyper-masculine hobbies under consideration), and the bulk of this collection is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but he demonstrates a distinct ability for gravity when called for, which adds a welcome note of complexity. For example, “Can I Tell You Something?” soberly explores the reasons some hunters and fishermen cease to enjoy certain aspects of their sports.

Heavey provides tongue-in-cheek critiques of the outdoor enthusiast’s retail market, tells charmingly and sometimes embarrassingly funny stories of his escapades and generally exhorts the reader (presumably an everyman or -woman like the author) not to take himself too seriously. His satisfyingly personal tone renders him a fully developed figure–a friend, even. The collection is more than the sum of its parts, tracing the arc of an amateur becoming a seasoned outdoorsman (though not an expert, as Heavey would be quick to point out), with examples of his persistent incompetence. Enjoyment of the entertaining result does not require a love of hunting or fishing.

This review originally ran in the December 30, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 packs of Rage Titanium two-blade expandables. (No, I don’t know what that is, either.)

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 457 other followers

%d bloggers like this: