The Flight of the Iguana, David Quammen
In a series of essays originally published in magazines, Quammen explores the oddities of natural history and human behavior in humorous and often profound ways. I didn’t like his essay on dogs, but I most certainly did enjoy everything else. Most of what he wrote made me laugh and wonder. A few of the essays, specifically the ones he wrote about refugees from El Salvador trying to get into the U.S., and in desperate need of political asylum that we wouldn’t grant upset me and made me wish I knew what I could do to make the world better.
Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett
Another interesting choice, given the subject of my English class. Ship Fever is a series of short stories centering around science, especially natural history. A couple of stories center around colonialism, with European explores going to exotic locations to collect specimens. But she also writes about immigrants in the U.S., and my favorite story in the collection, “Ship Fever” talks about the mass starvation and immigration of the Irish to Canada, once again detailing oppression and other nasties, and what people might try to do to fight against them, and what they risk in doing so.
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (reread)
I first read this book when I was volunteering as a wilderness ranger, which was certainly one of the best ways to be introduced to Edward Abbey’s own story as a park ranger, and it remains one of my favorite books. Northern Idaho is quite different from the Utah canyon lands (landscape-wise, not so much politically), but the experience of solitude and conversations with odd strangers were fairly similar. The thing I like about Abbey is his iconoclast tendencies, not even his beloved desert is sacred. His sense of humor also greatly appeals. He can write about his experiences without descending into maudlin and irritating sentimentality, which is something I’ve yet to learn to avoid in my own writing. Abbey’s monkey wrenching sensibility comes through in several places in this book, an aspect of his environmentalism I’ve never found particularly helpful (The Monkey Wrench Gang read like frustrated fantasy to me) but he also has interesting insights and ideas on what our problem (as a culture is) and how we might solve it, and some amazing description of adventures in the southwestern desert.