Crow Planet : Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness – Lyanda Lynn Haupt

There are certain naturalist types of books that I love, treatises on creatures that draw you deeply into the world of the creature being observed and study and leave the reader with an entirely new view of the world in which they are a part.  The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is one, Crow Planet, another.

The crow and human populations have risen together since such things were recorded, unsurprising since crows like the same sorts of environments that many human’s do  open spaces with copses of trees dotted across the countryside for beauty/safekeeping (depending on your point of view!)

Having previously written Rare Encounters with Ordinary  Birds where she had a chapter on ‘Crow Stories”,  Haupt’s publisher approached her about writing a book on crows.  She was not interested but eventually became won over. “I began asking people – normal people, not ‘bird people’ – what they thought about crows.  And I’ve rarely been so surprised.  Whenever I ask someone about chickadees or robins or flickers or other common birds that people see with some regularity, the response is almost always lackluster, noncommittal, or at best blandly cheerful.  But not so with crows.  People opinions about crows are disproportionately strong.  Some love crows …. Others hate them ….. And surrounding the myriad responses, even among the crow haters, there is nearly always an air of respect – a feeling that crows are, behind their shiny dark eyes, knowing things.  It is a respect that few songbirds command.”  (20, Haupt)

In fact, crows, part of the corvidae family belong to the larger avian order of the Passeriformes – song birds.  Their raspy call may not be considered a song, but they are exceedingly talkative conveying vast amounts of information through their constant chatter.

Because of crows close relationship with humans it is interesting to watch the and consider our place in the world:

“We all know dour environmentalists (or perhaps we are one), wringing their hands while myopically bemoaning the disasters to befall the earth in the near future.  Why, when we know that they are right, do we want to spill organic cranberry juice all over their hemp sandals?  because they are no fun, for one thing.  And, more important, because they will suck us dry if we let them.. but we don’t have to let them.  There is a way to face the current ecological crisis with our eyes open, with stringent scientific knowledge, with honest sorrow over the state of life on earth, with spiritual insight, and with practical commitment.  Finding such a way is more essential now than it has ever been in the history of the human species. But such work does not have to be dour (no matter how difficult) or accomplished only out of moral imperative (however real the obligation) or fear (though the reasons to fear are well founded).  Our actions can rise instead from a sense of rootedness, connectedness, creativity and delight. but how are we to attain such intimacy. living at a remove from “nature” as most of us do, in our urban and suburban homes (7-8. Haupt)

You may have heard about the study covered in the Nature documentary “A Murder of Crows” that proves that crows can identify human beings by their facial features.  A pretty remarkable feat.    To learn this the scientists put on a mask and then went and banded the birds, measured them, etc.  They would then walk through campus with the mask on.  Initially the crows that had been immediately affected were the only ones to swoop and scorn at the person in the mask, eventually, the entire flock of crows would swoop and scorn the ‘caveman mask’.  To further test the theory they had people with all kinds of masks walking through campus but the caveman one was the only one to be harassed. They even took the experiment one step further…would the crows be able to teach their young to recognize the dangerous person, the answer was yes…and crows could remember things for two years.

There are many fascinating things to learn about crows in this book that will cause you not only to reflect on the nature outside your door but how you interact with it.

Have you read Crow Planet?  Do you, like many others (see Buried in Print) add it to your list of life altering books?

I’ve taken this book out of the library three times and I *think* that means it is time for me to buy it.  It is available through Amazon or if you are lucky at your local bookstore or library.

A review from the NYT can be found here.


The Possibility of You – Pamela Redmond

Set in 1916, 1976, and the present Pamela Redmond’s “The Possibility of You” explores the lives of three women on the cusp of  motherhood.  Each of the three characters finds themselves with child and asking the questions: what is it to be mother, which choice will be the best for the child, how does my history affect this child’s future?

1916 : Bridget a young woman freshly off the boat from Ireland was a nanny to Floyd, the child of Maude Apfelbaum wealthy socialite and suffragette.  during the polio epidemic that year Floyd dies and so begins Bridget and Maude’s co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship that has ramifications for generations.

1976 : Billie has just lost her father.  Her childhood hadn’t been particularly easy, no mother that she knew about, her father had led them from one poor home situation to the next, a drunken philosopher though she loved him deeply.  Her friend, a student at the college that she is surreptitiously attending comes with her to clean out the apartment and collect her belongings. She is quite in love with this young, black, aspiring pediatrician despite the fact that he says his preferences mostly lie with the other sex.

2010+ : Cait is a world traveling journalist who does not let the moss grow under her feet.  Covering the story of a missing child she becomes friends with a married man, a friendship that culminates in a drunken one night stand.  He professes love, says his marriage is in shambles, and though her feelings are similar, she encourages him to go back to his wife and try to make it work.  A month later when she discovers that she is pregnant, her resolutions waiver and she calls him. Her situation is further complicated because she was adopted as a baby and realizes now that she wants to find her birth mother.  She is terrified that her birth mother took one look at her and couldn’t love her, and if that’s the case, perhaps she won’t be able to love this child.

A friend who is an adoptive mother read this book in one night, tears streaming down her face, she loved it.   In fact, she loved it so much that I promised to move it to the top of my reading pile.

To read the perspective of a mom – look at Mutterschwester.  She also has a video of Pamela Redmond reading from her book here.

The Possibility of you is available on Amazon, or possibly from your favorite local bookstore, or your library.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Original edition (February 21, 2012)

Cooked – Michael Pollan

Ayelet Waldman was tempted to ‘Live tweet’ Michael Pollan’s, Cooked  and it isn’t hard to realize why…there are so many delectable tidbits worth sharing.  I am famous in my house for  reading bits and pieces aloud to my family when they are trapped somewhere with me, a road trip or the living room on a rainy day. Did you know that…….??? Yes, it is a joy to live with me.

As tempting as it is to live tweet Michael Pollan’s books I will restrict myself to a couple of quotes that I hope will give you a general idea about the flavor and bread(th) of this book. (I could pun myself to death)

The way that we prepare food as a nation is changing :”The amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-sixties, when I was watching my mom fix dinner, to a scant twenty-seven minutes a day.  (Americans spend less time cooking than people in any other nation, but the general downward trend is global).  And yet at the same time, we’re talking about cooking more-and watching cooking, and reading about cooking and going to restaurants designed so that we can watch the work performed there.” p3.  He goes on to point out that chefs have been elevated to super-stars.  As if there is almost a direct, adverse correlation between our interest to watch food preparation on television and our willingness to actually cook it ourselves.

There is also a feminist discussion…is cooking a part of the ‘feminine arts?l “There may be another reason cooking has not received its proper due.  IN a recent book called The taste for Civilization, Janet A, Flammang, a feminist scholar and political scientist who has argued eloquently for the social and political importance of “food work,”  suggests the problem may have something to do with food itself, which by its very nature falls on the wrong side – the feminine side- of the mind0body dualism in Western culture.

“Food is apprehended through the senses of touch, smell, and taste,” she points out, “which rank lower on the hierarchy of sense than sight and hearing, which are typically thought to give rise to knowledge.  In most of philosophy, religion, and literature, food is associated with body, animal, female, and appetite – things civilized men have sought to overcome with knowledge and reason.”

Very much to their loss. (p. 11)

He also brings up a number of points that I couldn’t agree with more, no matter the discipline.  I am always fascinated by people that spend much of their time complaining that people don’t pay them ‘what they are worth’ and then shop at Walmart.  We have no idea how much effort goes into growing a pea pod and yet we want hundreds of them for .99.   Grow something, bake something , make cheese! Then talk about value.

“Several of the recipes here are for things most readers will probably never make themselves-beer, for example, or cheese, or even bread.  Though I hope that they will.  Because I discovered there was much to learn from attempting, even if only just once, these more ambitious and time-consuming forms of cookery, knowledge that might not at first seem terribly useful but in fact changes everything about one’s relationship to food and what is possible in the kitchen.” (p. 16)

Some have argued that Pollan is an elitist who has the time to do all of these things – and it is true…he does have more money than many others do.  However, the ase of what he is saying, enjoy the work that you do, be aware of the food that you are putting into your mouth, just ‘be aware’ generally…this is not an elitist perspective – it is a human perspective.  The point of view of someone who is also sharing this planet with us.

“To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption.  (Come to think of it our nonwaking moments as well : Ambien, anyone?)  It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is wok best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption.  This dependence marketers call ‘freedom”

Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals:  It transforms us too, from mere consumers into producers.  Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that event to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions.  Cooked is an invitation to alter, however slightly, the ratio between production and consumption in your life.” (pp 22-23)


I would love to hear from you whether you like or dislike Michael Pollan!

For a different point of view please visit the review that Inexact Change wrote of Cooked.

Alternately you can read Tracey McMillan of’s review. McMillan notes “To be honest, I felt vaguely allergic to Omnivore—a fact that, as a writer covering food and poverty, I don’t usually spread around….The offending allergen? On a diplomatic day I would say “tone;” on a grumpy day, you’d hear “class privilege.” I bring this up because elitism is one of the most common complaints lobbed at Pollan. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself far less bothered by Pollan’s class privilege in reading Cooked.

A Hundred Summers – Beatriz Williams

Memorial Day weekend, 1938 finds Lily Dane and her family back in their idyllic and unchanging summer community Seaview, Rhode Island.  Lily is somewhat happily resigned to spending another quiet summer with her six year old sister until she discovers news that takes her breath away.  After years away her ex-best friend, Budgie  is coming to reclaim her family home joined by her husband, Lily’s ex-fiance.

Matters grow more complicated as we come to learn that Budgie is one of those friends that one might be better off not having.  She tends to draw trouble like a lightning rod though (perhaps a sad, drunken lightning rod.) and it may be that she doesn’t actually like Lily all that much. A fact that Lily probably knows well enough.

It is Nick Greenwald, the ex-fiance, that truly broke Lily’s spirit  Tall, handsome, intelligent, wealthy and compassionate and now someone else’s husband.

Though it becomes clear that things are not as they seem it is not until the end of the book that the depths of misunderstanding, and deliberate obfuscation become apparent.

Sling this into your beach bag and while the hours away.

Jaime Bohler does a great spotlight on this book and the author here 

And for a particularly good review of the audiobook I would encourage you to read Literary Hoarders Review here

You can buy A Hundred Summers from Amazon, your local bookstore or perhaps borrow it from your library.

The Returned – Jason Mott

I was intrigued by this book even before I heard the hype. “Brad Pitt has purchased the rights to this book as a TV Series – It’s shooting in 2014!” “All the women who have met Jason Mott have crushes and all the men want to start bro-mances, he is SUCH a great guy!”

However the only thing that tells you about the book is that people are talking. I’m here to say it’s for a good reason. This book made me a bad mom…I’ll make your lunch after I finish the next chapter…10 pages!”

What makes the book so compelling is somewhat difficult to describe. We are introduced to Harold and Lucille Hargrave, an elderly couple who are spending their years doing what most elderly couples do – read, church, tv…up until the moment when a gentleman brings a child to their door. This child, is one of the first of the returned – their son who died in 1966 and looks the same as he did the day he died having drowned in the river behind their home.

How this couple reacts, and the town and country reacts to the increasing phenomenon of “The Returned” is fascinating.  I just kept reading and reading wanting to know the answer – what would happen, will we find out what caused this – how will this resolve itself?

I was very surprised to discover, about half way through the book – that I was a little “more all right” with those loved ones that I had lost.  That their passing was suddenly – a little less painful.  I can neither explain nor promise that you will have the same reaction but I thank you for it Mr. Mott.

If you are looking for something different, that will entertain and provoke you this fall, I strongly recommend The Returned – due to come out in September 2013.

In the meantime “The First” sometimes referred to as “The Returned part o.5” is already available…if you are on a Kindle it’s  free I haven’t read it yet…downloaded but…

Here is what you Jason Mott has to say about his three spin off stories:

From Jason Mott’s introduction for Kindle Readers:

“The FIrst”  is about a man named Edmund Blithe, who died suddenly when he was struck by a bus while on his way to work, leaving behind a fiancee to grieve the loss.  Edmund is the first of the Returned, and it is his mysterious homecoming that sparks the global upheaval in the novel.  He is mentioned only in passing, but as the impetus for the events in the novel, I was compelled to bring his to try to life in a bigger way, and to illuminate the complex range of emotions of lovers being reunited after tragedy has torn them apart.  It has been a year since Edmund’s death, and his fiancee has only just begun to let him go.  When she is faced with his return, she is naturally confronted with a mixture of disbelief, fear, relief and elations.  With this story, I wanted to examine a loss that was still new – a love only freshly resigned- and to explore the transcendent powers of the truest kind of love “”

He also has two other stories, The Sparrow, and The Choice.  After he describes each of them he says “Ultimately, my sincerest hope is that these stories encourage you to reflect on the people you care about.  The goal of The Returned is not simply to brood on death and loss, but to remind us that our loved ones are always a part of our lives, whether we hold them close in the late-night hours, or let the bonds with which we cling to their memories slip and slowly drift away.”

You can pre-order The Returned from Amazon, make a note to buy it from your local bookstore or put a hold on it at your library.

A Beautiful Truth – Colin McAdam

I asked someone from SoHo books which book they were most excited about this season and without a moment’s hesitation she handed me “A Beautiful Truth” by Colin McAdam.
At it’s most basic level – this book struck me as intensely honest. The story begins with Walt and Judy. Walt,’s first wife died in a car accident and so he learned quickly and painfully precisely what was most important in his life. When he met Judy he treasured her with our without children. Judy was a devoted wife, trying to figure out how to live beyond her desire to have children. Despite their difficulties, they were happy. One day Walt saw a clown with a chimpanzee and he was struck by the notion of these creatures – so similart to human, and yet not. He made inquiries and eventually secured a chimpanzee to adopt. If you have ever seen Project Nim, then you will not be surprised by anything that happens.

There is no way that I could pretend to know a chimp’s point of view no matter how much I have followed Jane Goodall’s work in the Gombe National Park, and yet – it rung true.

Project Nim

There is at times a disjointed feel to the book that also is appropriate to both the story and the setting. McAdam manages to lightly and naturally touch on many of the different aspects of the lives of chimps in captivity over the last 40 years.

Who are these creatures in relation to humans, what rights have they or we over one another? How and where are we different? How shall we move forward, what is the nature of love. Over the course of this novel my mind kept prodding me with all sorts of questions and,…if not ‘re-assessments’ then perhaps simple shifts in the way I understand the world.  Something I consider a gift when reading.

If you come across Colin McAdam’s works – read it and see what answers you have to these questions…perhaps your mind will be changed.

Columbine – Dave Cullen

Post -Newton School shooting I wasn’t sure if I was up for an in depth re-cap of the shooting in Columbine in 1999.  Numerous people said that they couldn’t put the book down and I can see why. Despite the difficult subject matter Dave Cullen presents a compelling dissection of the tragedy.  So often when things happen we look for straightforward explanations – who is to blame, why, etc. Indeed – this is what most of the reporting is directly after a tragedy of this magnitude….and it is generally not factually correct.  As the story unveils going from witness accounts to the diaries/weblogs of Eric and Dylan to police reports one is provided with the full scope of the actions and lives of the boys that culminated in this horrific event.

It is a hard book to listen to though perhaps not as hard as I would have thought.  There was so much  misinformation that was spread about the event that has never been adequately dispelled.  I found myself listening and thinking, wait..what? That didn’t happen that way?  Perhaps most interesting is the reflection about how these big events are dealt with and understood with a particular emphasis on how the media gathers and reports information when tragedy strikes. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an indictment – more he explores and helps us to understand how these things happen – it may change the way that you listen to the news.  (disclaimer, I tend to prefer to read a long, well researched article rather than the constant updates and STILL it changes the way I listened to the news).

Cullen goes to great lengths to provide all information in a fair and reasoned manner. Other reviewers – notably those *from* Columbine tend to be the ones that feel he did not tell the story well, or that he was one sided in some way.

For those that enjoy reading about current events, journalist style explorations of events, or even crime lit – this book is for you.

You can buy Columbine on Amazon, from your favorite book store or borrow it from your local library. (now available in paperback)


For more reviews, please check these out:

ErikaMiller  .  Ginger Musings  .  A Crowded Bookshelf  .  NYTimes Book Review