Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution
A book about flying that includes “all the different ways of defying gravity that have been discovered by humans over the centuries and by other animals over millions of years,” Richard Dawkins’s Flights of Fancy also includes ruminations on the nature of flight, futurism, and flight-related digressions. Between its full-color illustrations and mathematical discussions of flight mechanics, this book is filled with ideas for all ages and offers multiple ways to become fascinated with flight.
An educational book pitched equally to children and adults, Flights of Fancy has the same wide appeal as an Attenborough nature documentary. Its fifteen chapters cover topics like moths whose wings are anti-sonar in a way that’s akin to stealth bombers, aerial plankton, and humanity’s colonization of space. Along the way, the book poses questions to its own arguments, like “If flying is so great, why do some animals lose their wings?”—a question that garners a chapter-length response.
In addition to lending his expertise as an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins allows his own fascinations, musings, and questions to shape the text. At times, he’s credulous about current scientific theories and popular thought. At others, he’s as excited as a school kid to contemplate extinct species, like the flightless terror bird and one of the largest birds ever to fly, pelagornis. Yet, whether for evolutionary adaptation or human creation, flight is presented as an economic compromise: life is cheap, so trade-offs are always being made in order to achieve long-term goals.
Dawkins notes that the “end products of human design and evolutionary design are both so good … that we find it convenient to forget how different are the two processes of improvement.” Flights of Fancy finds a story in those trips and the amazing results that plants, animals, and engineers bring to bear through their diverse processes.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (April 27, 2022)
A wronged, bitter young man welcomes his fate in Natalia García Freire’s novel This World Does Not Belong to Us.
Lucas was just a child when his father sold him to another farmer as a laborer. Years later, Lucas returns, full of resentment and burning for revenge. As he bides his time, familiarizing himself with the home that strangers and loved ones alike have defiled, he recalls the events that led him to this moment. Lucas comes to realize that there is only one way to set the situation right.
The story, told from Lucas’s perspective, takes the form of a monologue directed at his departed father, who not only sold Lucas into slavery, but sent his mother to a sanatorium. Using the cudgels of religiosity and respectability, the entire community conspired to rob Lucas and his mother of all that they loved, and all that made them unique and human. Making matters worse were the two strange men whom Lucas’s father invited to stay with them and soon lost control of, leaving the family at their mercy, with deadly consequences. All of this sets Lucas on a path which no one in his household will be able to turn back from.
Visceral prose captures Lucas’s obsession with death, bugs, and other unpleasant aspects of life. Even as a child, these subjects held a grim fascination, even comfort, for him. Now, as an adult, Lucas again turns to his beloved insects for consolation and insight as he grapples with his traumatic past and uncertain future. There is a strange, unconventional beauty to his morbid world—a beauty that helps him endure pain and humiliation and achieve an unnerving final calm.
This World Does Not Belong to Us is a bleak exploration of how all ends in death and decay.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (April 27, 2022)
Stories from a Restless Life
The luminous essays of journalist Marcia DeSanctis’s A Hard Place to Leave juxtapose the restless search for elsewhere with longing for home.
The entries begin in a dank Moscow hotel room in 1983, and end with DeSanctis on a blazing West Texas trail in 2020. The disparate sites bookend her global travels well. DeSanctis recalls summiting a Rwandan volcano in the rainy season—and in tennis shoes; being stunned by Lapland’s Northern Lights; falling in love with Paris multiple times; and encountering spies, heads of state, all manner of wildlife, and the ghosts of her own past. Her individual essays also encompass topics like the immensity of the cosmos and tender personal encounters, as with a street dog in Africa whose longing found instant resonance in DeSanctis’s seeking heart.
Examining her need to engage in the restless, repetitive travel loop of “leave, return, stay, repeat,” DeSanctis recognizes it as a way to reduce ruminations on loss and mortality. As a mother, she knows how “nature charges ahead even when the heart is reluctant”; every milestone makes her less necessary in her children’s lives. And, while loving her sculptor husband and their rural New England home, she knows that a house “does not hold memories sweetly,” but compels backward looks during the steady approach of old age. Not wanting her life to be about that, she travels—most often solo for solitude and freedom, often to enough places that her coffee is all that reminds her that she’s the same person everywhere that she wakes up.
A Hard Place to Leave gathers memories from a restless, adventure-filled search for an elusive elsewhere.
KRISTINE MORRIS (April 27, 2022)
Fishing Adventures in Search of America’s Native Gamefish
Casting Onward is Steve Ramirez’s insightful, entertaining account of his fly fishing trips to scenic waterways across the US. It includes advice from expert anglers and an impassioned plea for conservation.
After he left behind a long career in public service, Ramirez decided that the “most responsible thing” he could do now was to go fishing. His accounts of twenty-plus expeditions capture his searches for prized and threatened native fish, including the Guadalupe bass near Texas’s hill country, the striped bass of Cape Cod, the northern pike of the St. Croix River, and the cutthroat trout of the Colorado River. He details the native plants and animals of each region, alongside fishing techniques and artful illustrations of the various flies he used. Both the fish and the local anglers are called “kindred spirits.” And Ramirez is a self-deprecating, humble guide: “I fish the same way I play guitar, casually… I’m a take-it-easy fly fisherman.”
There are colorful reflections of stops along the way, including descriptions of a haunted Art Deco hotel in funky Western Silver City, New Mexico, and of the flashing lights and bling of Reno, Nevada. And intertwined with these amusing travelogue sections is an urgent message about the moral imperative of protecting native species and waterways from the threats of habitat loss, contamination, and invasive species. Observing, catching, and releasing beautiful, unique fish brings Ramirez wisdom and a kind of enlightenment:
[Fishing is] not for the faint of heart. It’s not some animated virtual world with singing bluebirds and dancing starfish. Angling…requires you to pay attention, live in the moment, and become part of the ecosystem.
Captivating and persuasive, Casting Onward will delight experienced anglers and newcomers to the sport alike with its engaging depictions of the beauty of unspoiled streams and of the meditative act of fishing.
KRISTEN RABE (April 27, 2022)
In this story that encourages self-acceptance, a frustrated girl with untameable type 4 curls goes to her grandfather in despair, asking why she’s the only one with hair like hers. He assures her that she is not, in fact, alone: many others in her extended family can also boast masses of curls. Multimedia illustrations in which Minu’s hair is replicated by piles of feathery, textured material follow along as her grandfather teaches her to embrace, not bemoan, what makes her feel different.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2022)