Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Underland by Robert Macfarlane: A review

Robert Macfarlane is an acclaimed English Nature writer, winner of numerous awards for his intelligent and readable books on many subjects related to Nature. His latest book, Underland, certainly continues that string. In it, he takes us on various expeditions deep under the surface of our planet.

I found the descriptions of many of those explorations extremely hard to read. That's no criticism of the writing. In fact, it may be a compliment to the writing. It was so evocative of the dark and tight places that he was visiting that I found it very claustrophobic and oppressive. I have to admit I skimmed quickly through some of those sections.

The author visits a great variety of such underground features from sinkholes in Slovenia to a nuclear-waste containment site in Finland and sea caves in Norway. His explorations in Greenland document the effects of global warming, including the fact that some of the things that are being brought to the surface by melting ice are detrimental to the environment and to human life on the planet. 

One of the most depressing facts encountered by Macfarlane is that everywhere he goes he finds garbage about which he expresses his disgust.
"Among the relics of the Anthropocene, therefore, will be the fallout of our atomic age, the crushed foundations of our cities, the spines of millions of intensively farmed ungulates, and the faint outlines of some of the billions of plastic bottles we produce each year – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals. Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain."
Occasionally, Macfarlane's prose is a bit over the top, not to say purple, but for the most part, it is exceptional. He is extremely talented in describing scenes, events, and scientific concepts in ways that are easily understandable for laypeople.

My favorite part of the book was the discussion of the underland communication system of trees and other plants. It has long been known that plants do communicate but mostly it has been observed as an above-ground phenomenon. It turns out that there are a lot more complicated communications going on under the surface. Roots of trees, for example, communicate to each other specific information about the state of the tree's health and about the environment. They even are able to provide sustenance to a fellow tree through the root system. And all of this is facilitated with the help of fungi called mycorrhizae. 
“The term ‘mycorrhiza’ is made from the Greek words for ‘fungus’ and ‘root’. It is itself a collaboration or entanglement; and as such a reminder of how language has its own sunken system of roots and hyphae, through which meaning is shared and traded. The relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and the plants they connect is ancient – around 450 million years old – and largely one of mutualism. In the case of the tree–fungi mutualism, the fungi siphon off carbon that has been produced in the form of glucose by the trees during photosynthesis, by means of chlorophyll that the fungi do not possess. In turn, the trees obtain nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that the fungi have acquired from the soil through which they grow, by means of enzymes that the trees lack.”
Fascinating! Macfarlane should write a book just about this subject. I'd certainly read it. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, December 30, 2019

My favorite reads of 2019

I have had a fabulous year of reading. Most of the books that I've read this year have been recent publications and, honestly, I find the quality and diversity of fiction being produced currently to be quite amazing. I do primarily read fiction, although I also manage to work in a few nonfiction books throughout the year.

Trying to come up with a list of my favorite reads of the year was a bit daunting because most of what I have read has been quite good. There have been no real stinkers in the mix. I've had a couple of two-star reads, no one-stars, but most have been three-stars or more.

I had thirty-seven five-star reads this year and I limited my selection process to those, even though I was strongly tempted by some of the four-stars. From that five-star group, I tried picking my favorite book from each month. In the end, I was able to identify a baker's dozen of books that were my absolute favorites of the year and here they are in the order that I read them with links to my reviews of them.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Inland by Tea Obreht

The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarozuk

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Wow! I have only just realized after listing them that twelve of my thirteen favorite reads of the year were written by women. I did have other five-star reads written by men besides Ocean Vuong, but I have to admit my list was heavily tilted toward female writers. Maybe I'll find more male writers to like in 2020! 


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Poetry Sunday: To the New Year by W.S. Merwin

In just a few days we will welcome a shiny, new, unsullied New Year. What will that year bring? As of today, we can still hope for the best because...
    ...this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

All things are still possible. 

To the New Year

by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Friday, December 27, 2019

This week in birds - #383

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

I haven't actually seen a Cedar Waxwing in my neighborhood yet this season. This picture is from a previous year. No doubt they are in the area even though I haven't seen them. They normally arrive around Christmastime or a little earlier some years. I expect to encounter them any day now.  


The New York City Council has implemented a landmark decision requiring high rise buildings in the city to employ bird-friendly construction using glass that will deter the birds from flying into it. The city joins cities like San Francisco and Oakland that already have such regulations in effect. It is hoped that others will follow suit.


There were at least 540 oil spills in Louisiana related to damage from Hurricane Katrina and so far the oil companies responsible have largely evaded accountability for the damage and cleanup.


A new poll by the Environmental Voter Project found that the climate and environment are the top priorities of 14% of registered voters. This represents a more than doubling of rating these concerns as number one. In the 2016 presidential election, these were the top priorities of 2% to 6% of voters. 


The endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow population has received a big boost with the release of 100 captive-reared sparrows into their natural environment.


A search in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian hit has found that at least some of the endangered Bahama Parrots survived. The searchers also so found Bahama Mockingbirds, Smooth-billed Anis, Bahama Woodstars, and shorebirds, including Piping Plovers, among other expected species.


As coyotes continue to expand their range, they are expected to move into South America.


Can Island Scrub-Jays in California help to replant forests after recent fires? A research project there is studying the feasibility of such an undertaking.


Microplastic pollution is raining down on city dwellers. The health impacts of breathing or consuming the tiny plastic particles are unknown, and experts say urgent study is needed to assess the risks. Research has revealed that London has the highest levels yet recorded. 
Despite all efforts to protect them, a record number of manatees, a total of 129, were killed by boaters in Florida in 2019. This was four more than the previous record set in 2018.
Efforts to restore wetland habitats in Uganda are succeeding and that is good news for the country's national bird, the Gray-crowned Crane (also known as the Crested Crane). Moreover, local communities are being involved in efforts to protect and encourage the crane population with the result that the numbers which had fallen sharply now seem to have stabilized.
The brutal heat wave that has Australia in its grip is having a devastating effect on the wildlife there and also on domestic livestock.
The Chinese Crested Tern was long thought to be extinct, but in fact, it does still exist in the wild. However, it is critically endangered and little is known about its migratory habits. Researchers are tracking the birds by satellite in order to try to learn more about them and be able to better protect them. 
The delta smelt is a tiny fish that hovers on the brink of extinction. Now the loosening of regulations that protect it, as proposed by the current administration in Washington, may finally push it over that brink.
Western Ground Parrot
A wildfire in Western Australia threatened the last refuge of the critically endangered Western Ground Parrot but the prevailing weather has helped to spare it so far.
Finally, it is easy to become depressed by all the bad news about the state of the environment, but let us never forget the dedicated scientists, conservationists, and ordinary citizens who work tirelessly to stem the tide of destruction and extinction. And they have their successes! Here are ten success stories that are worth celebrating as we bid this year farewell.
One of those success stories is the beautiful little Kirtland's Warbler that was one of the first species to be added to the Endangered Species List. This year scientists deemed its population sufficiently recovered to be removed from the list. It is no longer endangered!

Friday, December 20, 2019





Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: A review

Trust Exercise has won the National Book Award for fiction for the year, and, in my opinion, it is a well-deserved recognition of a remarkable work. It is a book that engages both emotions and intellect and I found it easy to lose myself in it.

The story is set in a sprawling southern city that is never named but sounds an awful lot like Houston to me. Moreover, the narrative tells the stories of a group of students attending an acclaimed high school for the performing arts unlike any other in the region and that would be Houston's High School for the Performing Arts.

Choi's students attend high school in the '80s and her description of the social environment of the period seems spot-on. These are theater students who are continually evolving and learning who they are in relationship to others. 

Part of their learning process takes place in the class of their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley, during "trust exercises" in which two students sit knee to knee facing each other and repeat sentences while staring deeply into each other's eyes. At such times they can begin to feel as if they are the only two people in the world. But the trust exercise extends and expands into their lives.

The main focus of this part of the narrative is two students, Sarah and David, who become totally smitten and obsessed with each other. But in the way of teenage romances, this one unravels and completely upends Sarah's life. She loses not only her boyfriend but her best girlfriend and becomes something of an outcast in the unforgiving society of high school, making her vulnerable to be preyed upon by the unscrupulous. 

And that is what happens when a troupe of young British actors comes to town to put on a production of Candide. She becomes an easy sexual target for one of the creepy older members of the group.

The narrative builds slowly, piece by piece, experience by experience, in exquisite detail, and, although I was well past high school by the '80s, I was right there with Sarah and the other students as they transitioned through the period.

But that's only the first half of the book. 

Choi then upends her story entirely, moving it forward by a dozen or so years. We meet some of the students again as fully formed adults and find that maybe we totally misunderstood what was happening in that first half. Although it is a bit disorienting at first, we soon settle in with our enhanced understanding of the events of high school and of how they have influenced these characters' later lives.

I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say that the author finds a way to address what has gone before, including the sexism and male privilege of certain adults and the duplicity of certain "friends". Revenge may be best served cold, but it can be very sweet indeed.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars      

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2019/Poetry Sunday: When the Winter Chrysanthemums Go by Matsuo Basho

When the Winter Chrysanthemums Go 

by Matsuo Basho (Translated by Robert Hass)

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about
but radishes.


My winter chrysanthemums have gone and I have no radishes. But there are a few other things I can write about.

The Meyer lemons, for example. They are ripe and ready to be picked, along with the last of the Mandarin oranges.  

The bounteous flowers of the loquat tree are mostly spent now, but they promise a plentiful crop of the delicious fruits next year.

We had a couple of nights of freezing temperatures in November and I would have thought that would be the end of my cape honeysuckle for the year, but it surprised me by surviving that and continuing to bloom.

Likewise, I thought the jatropha would be gone but it, too, has thrived and continues to bloom.

The flowers of the blue plumbago are sparser now but some are still there.

And the purple oxalis loves the cooler weather of fall and winter.

The loropetalum, first cousin to witch hazel, has been in full bloom for a while and its blooms are beginning to fade.

Several of the plants that I bought for winter blooms are resting at the moment but the pansies are still going strong.

 And, in the pot by the front entry, so are the cyclamen.

The pink Knockout rose is beginning to offer up some winter blossoms.

And the Carolina jessamine that will be in its glory in late January and February gives us just a taste of what is to come with a few flowers.

I have not bought any holiday bloomers this year except for some waxed amaryllis bulbs. Have you tried them? Allegedly, they are completely carefree because the waxed bulbs contain all the nourishment and fluid that the bulb needs to bloom. Well, so far mine are a disappointment, but perhaps they will still perform for me in the new year.

I hope everything in your garden is performing well, even if that only means it is resting for winter. Happy gardening and happy holidays to you. May your next year be your best one yet!

Thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

This week in birds - #382

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Anhinga photographed at Brazos Bend State Park. These birds look prehistoric to me. It's very easy for me to see birds' relationship to the dinosaurs when I look at them. 


The Arctic is melting and that is very bad news for all of us. It is the source of several serious problems to the atmosphere including an increase in carbon dioxide.


Also, the heating is causing the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, which has accelerated so fast since the 1990s that it is now shedding more than seven times as much ice each year sending global sea levels higher and higher.


Another problem for the atmosphere and worsening global warming is the immense amount of methane that is escaping from oil and gas sites nationwide. Meanwhile, the current administration is weakening restrictions on offenders. 


It seems that orcas are like humans in that the lives of young orcas are enhanced by relationships with their grandmothers. A study found that grandmother orcas improve their grandcalves' chances for survival. 


A group of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the Carolina Parakeet and has come to the conclusion that the only parrot native to the continental United States was driven to extinction by human activities.


The 120th Christmas Bird Count begins today and runs through January 5, a chance for you to join in the world's longest-running wildlife census. Also, two other citizen science projects deserve your attention and participation: Project FeederWatch is a winter-long project that begins in November and runs through early April and the Great Backyard Bird Count takes place over a four day weekend in February, February 14 through 17 in 2020. You can sign up for both now. 


To help combat climate change, it is important to not just plant trees but to restore habitats of forests


Twenty-four individual states have pledged themselves to keep America's commitments to combating climate change even though the federal government has broken them. They have mixed results but they are having an impact. 


The Guam Rail's status has been changed from extinct in the wild to critically endangered after nine captive-raised birds were released on an island that had been certified clear of the brown tree snake.


You know about the very famous cave art found in France but now archaeologists have learned that there is even older cave art by early humans, dating from 44,000 years ago, to be found in the caves of the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.


Should we be feeding the birds? Does it actually benefit them? That is a debate that has gone on for many years. It does have ecological implications but there are some best practices to keep in mind.


The argali sheep is an endangered animal endemic to Mongolia and is considered a national treasure there. And so Donald Trump Jr went and killed one last summer. Apparently, the Mongolian government issued him a permit for the kill after the fact and after a meeting with the country's president.


Laughing Gull nesting pairs in Virginia dropped from 55,000 in 1993 to under 20,000 in 2018. These birds are very vulnerable to sea rise since they nest in the seaside salt marshes. 


Bushfires in Australia have released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


The European Commission has set forth plans for a Green New Deal which would change the European economy in ways to combat climate change.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Something to think about

I just realized that I completely forgot to mark the tenth anniversary of this blog which actually occurred exactly one week ago on December 5. But in honor of that, here's one of my past posts from 2015. It still has some relevance I think.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Something to think about

With age comes wisdom - or so I've heard. But my own experience in life often makes me question that. Still, we'd like to believe that we do learn from our experiences and maybe even become just a wee bit wiser as we get older.

A friend sent me this email of "Lessons that we learn as we age." See if any of them ring a bell with you.


Age 5:

I've learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing "Silent Night."

Age 7:

I've learned that our dog doesn't want to eat my broccoli either.

Age 9:

I've learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back.

Age 12:

I've learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again.

Age 14:

I've learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up.

Age 15:

I've learned that although it's hard to admit it, I'm secretly glad my parents are strict with me.

Age 24:

I've learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice.

Age 26:

I've learned that brushing my child's hair is one of life's great pleasures.

Age 29:

I've learned that wherever I go, the world's worst drivers have followed me there.

Age 30:

I've learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it.

Age 42:

I've learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don't know how to show it.

Age 44:

I've learned that you can make someone's day by simply sending them a little note.

Age 46:

I've learned that the greater a person's sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others.

Age 47:

I've learned that children and grandparents are natural allies.

Age 48:

I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow.

Age 49:

I've learned that singing "Amazing Grace" can lift my spirits for hours.

Age 50:

I've learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone.

Age 51:

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Age 52:

I've learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills.

Age 53:

I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die.

Age 58:

I've learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.

Age 61:

I've learned that if you want to do something positive for your children, work to improve your marriage.

Age 62:

I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.

Age 64:

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.

Age 65:

I've learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you.

Age 66:

I've learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision.

Age 72:

I've learned that everyone can use a prayer.

Age 82:

I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.

Age 90:

I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch - holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

Age 92:

I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.


We all have a lot to learn. Let's keep learning!

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly: A review

Harry Bosch is less of a jerk in this latest book than he has been in the past. Is it possible that he is finally mellowing as he nears 70? After all, he has been retired from the LAPD now for four years, time to chill out a bit. 

Or maybe it is the influence of his latest "partner" Renee Ballard. Ballard isn't really his partner, of course. She is a 30ish detective with LAPD. She works the midnight shift known as the "Late Show" and she has hooked up with Harry before to work cases. He has become something of a mentor for her and she is certainly a worthy successor to his years with the police department. She is every bit as obsessed as he ever was.

One of Harry's early mentors has recently died and the opening scene of the book finds him attending the funeral. At the reception later, the widow gives him something that her husband had taken with him when he retired from the department. It is the murder book for an unsolved murder that took place more than twenty years before. There is no indication of why he took it or whether he was working to solve the cold case.

Renee, meanwhile, wakes in her tent on the beach where she sleeps to find that another beach person nearby had burned alive in his tent when a heater tipped over igniting the structure. Since she is the first detective on the scene, she takes charge of the potential crime scene but soon the guys from Arson show up and take over. They are ready to write it off as an unfortunate accident, but Renee isn't so sure. She finds anomalies that she thinks require investigation.

Connelly even manages to work his other famous character, the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, into the mix when Harry helps him out with a pro bono case he had been assigned to defend involving the murder of a judge. Turns out his client didn't do it and Harry helps him prove that prompting the ire of the detectives who had worked the case. Another reason for Harry to be persona non grata with his old department.

As they work these cases together, they come to realize that there is a connection between the death on the beach and the case Haller was defending. Once they put two and two together, the ultimate solution becomes easier.

As for the cold case Harry inherited, he finds to his disappointment that his mentor's feet were definitely made of clay, but Harry finds a way to finally solve the case and bring justice to the victim.

This is a complicated plot involving the three cases, but Connelly as always manages to keep us on track with his step by step procedural. He really has no peer that I know of when it comes to police procedurals. Having read all the Bosch books and all the Ballard books, their "partnership" makes a lot of sense to me and I trust Connelly will continue with it. That being said, this book would also work perfectly well, I think, as a standalone.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Poetry Sunday: The courage that my mother had by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It is a sad fact of life that we often do not fully appreciate our parents until it is too late. It is certainly true of me. I never really appreciated the courage with which my mother faced life and the many challenges of her life until it was too late to tell her how much I admired that. So now all I can do is try to live with at least some of that courage, hoping that she has passed it on to me even in my ignorance.

The courage that my mother had
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.
The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.
Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

Friday, December 6, 2019

This week in birds - #381

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

This female Rufous Hummingbird seems to have settled in to spend the winter with us. In recent years, we almost always have had at least one Rufous with us for the winter, often more. So the hummingbird feeders stay filled and ready for visitors.


The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas has dodged another bullet for now. This week a Texas judge granted a temporary restraining order to the opponents of a crowdfunded project to build part of President Trump’s border wall, siding with the butterfly conservancy that sued over its projected environmental impact. The restraining order involves a three-mile stretch along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County, where a hard-line immigration group led by Stephen Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, wants to build an 18-foot-tall wall on private property.


A paper published by the Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed science journal, documents that the early computer climate models of the '70s, '80s, and '90s were actually impressively accurate.


At the UN climate conference in Madrid this week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who led a congressional delegation, told the gathering that the commitment of Congress to taking action on climate change is ironclad.


As sea levels rise, there are some places on the coast that it will be impossible to save. One such place is likely to be the Florida Keys.


A study found that Australia's threatened bird species have declined by 59% over the past thirty years and migratory shorebirds have declined by 72%.


As forests around the world become more fragmented, the danger to the continued survival of the species that depend upon them is increased.


Ross's Gull is rarely found in the lower 48 states and after an incident this week it is even rarer. One of the gulls turned up in Seattle where it was seen and documented by several birders. But then the bird was caught and devoured by a Bald Eagle. Nature at work.


A study of penguin populations in the Antarctic identifies some winners and some losers as the climate changes. Chinstrap Penguins, for example, are having a harder time adapting than species like the Gentoo, apparently because the Chinstraps have a more specialized diet than the Gentoos. 


The current administration in Washington has deployed a surge of park rangers to help patrol the southern border of the country, leaving many national parks, which are already understaffed, seriously depleted of personnel to protect them.


A new study found that the Great Auk was driven to extinction entirely due to human activities, namely overhunting, rather than by any environmental change. 


More frequent and severe wildfires in the Sierra Nevada region pose a threat to the roosting and foraging habitats of Northern Goshawks in the area.


A study of 52 bird species that died when they collided with buildings in Chicago over the years has shown that the size of the birds has decreased over the past four decades while their wings have gotten longer. The changes appear to be responses to a warming climate.


Researchers discovered an unorthodox but effective method of attracting diverse fish species to reinhabit devastated coral reefs. They broadcast the sounds of a healthy reef and it worked! Fish swam to the area once again.


The Recovering America's Wildlife Act of 2019 advanced from the House Natural Resources Committee this week. It will likely pass when it comes up for a vote in the House, but will it ever be considered in the Republican-controlled Senate?


Did you hear the one about the electric eel who is powering the lights on a Christmas tree? It's happening at Tennessee aquarium where an electric eel named Miguel is demonstrating the ultimate in renewable energy this season. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: A review

Here we have another modern writer who eschews standard English punctuation. There are no periods in her book. Sentences are delineated by an indentation as at the start of a new paragraph. There are no capitalizations at the beginnings of sentences; only proper names are capitalized. Interestingly, she does use question marks at the end of her questions and she uses commas to define clauses. But the effect is of one long, uninterrupted flow of information. It reminds one of the works of many poets. Indeed, at times it seems almost a hybrid of prose and poetry.

The quirkiness did not bother the Booker Prize committee which awarded Girl, Woman, Other this year's prize (along with co-winner Margaret Atwood's Testaments). Bernardine Evaristo thus became the first black woman to win the Booker. Pity they diluted the honor by making her a "co-winner".

After the first few pages, Evaristo's idiosyncratic punctuation choices didn't bother me either. I was lost in her big, busy narrative featuring a large cast of female characters all related in some way to roots in Africa or the Caribbean. These are mostly mixed race women with ancestors in both the black and white world and we follow them as they come to terms with what that means in our modern world.

These characters wrestle with gender issues as well. There are women who were born female, women who were born male but now identify as female, lesbians, heterosexuals, bisexuals, almost any sexual permutation you could think of is represented here. All are representatives of the human condition and are written about as such.

Moreover, women are represented at all ages, from teenagehood to old age. The oldest character is 93.

This polyphonic novel features the voices of at least a dozen primary characters and it seems utterly impossible to neatly sum up, but if there could be said to be a central character, it is probably Amma, a black lesbian 50ish playwright, who has a new play being produced at the National Theater in London called "The Last Amazon of Dahomey". Several of the other characters have relationships with Amma and others are drawn in some way to her play. On opening night, many are present for what turns out to be a great triumph.

The stories of each of the dozen characters that we come to know are told in time frames that drift back and forth between the past and present and each story is marked by its multicultural sensitivity. While Evaristo tells her characters' stories with sympathy and with grace, she also does not hold back from occasionally tweaking them for examples of hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Their full humanity is on display.

I thought this book was a remarkable accomplishment. The writing is lyrical, poetic, and it shines throughout with a wit and a vitality of spirit. The plot is loose; one might even argue that it doesn't have a plot but that doesn't really detract from the richness of the story. It is evident why the Booker Prize folks liked it so much.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Poetry Sunday: At Day-Close in November by Thomas Hardy

Before there were houses built in my neighborhood some forty years ago, there were tall pine trees, many reaching a hundred feet or more into the sky. Many of the lots still have some of these trees in their backyards. I find it hard to imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land. 

Our lot does not have pine trees. When we moved here thirty years ago, there were a couple of magnolia trees on the lot. One of the first things we did after moving here was to plant trees, live oaks and red oaks. Today those trees spread their limbs over our front yard and reach for the sky. I'm sure the children who live in the neighborhood cannot imagine a time when these giants were not present on the land.

Thomas Hardy addressed that in this poem:
And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.
Let us hope that there will not be a time when none will be seen.  

At Day-Close in November

by Thomas Hardy

The ten hours' light is abating,

And a late bird flies across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.