Among the books I've read in the past few weeks, one was a gift from my mother, a terrific book by the esteemed Douglas Brinkley, a book about Katrina. So many people sent me Katrina-related books after the storm, and I haven't had the stomach to finish any of them until now, 8 years after the storm. Laid up, I finally finished David Eggers' Zeitoun, a sort of biography of the man who painted my two story Marigny walkup a few years before the storm. I stopped reading it three years ago because he wrote about all of the abandoned dogs whom he heard howling every night. The book offers redemption and a good insight into how frustrating it must have been to return home in late 2005. But Douglas Brinkley's book, The Great Deluge, is a well-researched (which translates into very frustrating) book about the bureaucratic failures that led to over 1,000 deaths in the city and irreversible changes that have kept me in Missouri for 8 years. Next up, maybe in another year or so, I'll break into Chris Rose's One Dead in the Attic. A Reed graduate and long time columnist for the Times-Picayune, Rose stuck around after the storm and had to live through the horrors that I fled. A compassionate writer, he tells stories of citizens and of his own travails of trying to manage life in New Orleans after the storm.
I pulled a couple of Annie Dillard books from the shelf last week, both gifts in 1995 from my housemate in Brooklyn, an NYU film major who thought I was "curious" because I was passionate about natural history but majoring in the Classics. He also thought I was "strange" because I was reared as an Episcopalian in a largely Catholic state. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) is a terrific read about the natural world around Roanoke, Virginia and An American Childhood resonates with me as an adult view of growing up around natural systems and how a small family fit into it. Dillard is a very skilled writer who is reminiscent of Caroline Dorman, my childhood hero, the author of the first illustrated Wildflowers of Louisiana. Dillard has a rawness about her writing which is, at the same time, honed to a craft that celebrates the fluidity of nature while recognizing the human element that comes with observation. I haven't read her books since the summer before graduate school, so these books were fun departures in my backyard chair.
A must read for anyone interested even vaguely in the natural world we live in today, Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg is a truly fabulously depressing book about natural history in the age of wildlife agencies who work arduously to remove top predators from the landscape. Oh, he writes of early studies in aquatic systems--remove the sea otter and you have a sea full of anemones and no other life, and then moves to my arch-enemy, the white tailed deer. He references that wonderful work conducted in Wisconsin over the course of 50 years wherein botanists tracked species decline due to white-tailed deer infestation and the continued adamance of wildlife agencies to remove predators to favor the deer tags that bring them revenue. This book can easily be placed in the context of Missouri, with wildlife agency folks "discouraging" the reproduction of mountain lions and even bears. We have a serious problem with deer herbivory in Missouri, but no one (besides me, my boss, maybe a few others, maybe some farmers who apply for depredation tags) really seems to give a damn about the impacts of deer overpopulation on biodiversity. Mr. Stolzenburg does, so I love this book.
The book I'm reading now came from Doug's mother who is a fine MFA writer and poet from Oregon. She not only sent me a darling Eileen West nightgown for my hospital stay, but a few days later this travelogue with a potentially marketable but not accurate title: Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost. Carolyn was wise to explain in a post-it note that the title didn't reflect the book's character; she's never steered me wrong in recommendations, so I delved headlong into it. In the book, Troost set out with his girlfriend to live in a very impoverished island in the South Seas. No, not a Fiji sort of place with haute cuisine, but a horrific place of poverty, on an atoll, where not even the beaches are fun to visit because of all of the defecating that goes on there. It's been a fun read, and it's been a travelogue, and considering that I can't even walk up a hill to a restaurant in Columbia at this moment in my life, it's nice to transport even to a place where the only music available is a continuous mix loop of La Macarena.