Communing with the Cosmos
In the center of each cottonwood twig there is a perfect five-pointed star, a reminder that everything is made of “star stuff,” including ourselves. Gail Collins-Ranadive, a Unitarian Universalist minister and peace worker, shares her musings on the place and purpose of humans in this dynamic, expanding universe. The wisdom of mystics, she writes, is increasingly seen to merge with the startling revelations of quantum physics.
“Now we are in the liminal space between stories,” she writes. “While this can be disorienting and distressful, it can also be a deeply creative place.” It’s also a dangerous place, its beauty distorted by greed and a ruthless lust for power, but apparently it hasn’t always been this way. Collins-Ranadive notes that, for prehistoric cultures, cooperation, not competition, was the norm. Even in nature, thriving ecosystems have more do with cooperation than was previously thought.
In this light, Collins-Ranadive’s perspective on the concept of sin is intriguing and sets us firmly in relationship both with ourselves and with all the interdependent web of creation. “Sin,” she writes, is “what you do to keep yourself from fulfilling your destiny,” and “evil” is “when you prevent others from living out theirs, whether they be trees or creatures or other people.” From this perspective, it becomes apparent that Western culture has sinned greatly, that it is begging to be transcended, and that we are the ones who must do it.
How? By shifting our perspectives, Collins-Ranadive writes, to see the transcendent within the ordinary. That shift happens when we give ourselves over to something much larger than the paltry, limited human ego—over to the Cosmic, or Divine, Self, which has the eyes to see, as the Gospel of Thomas declares, that “heaven is spread upon the earth.”
KRISTINE MORRIS (August 27, 2018)
The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion
Pumas (also known as cougars, mountain lions, and ghost cats) are the least familiar of North and South America’s big cats. Seldom-seen loners, their numbers are growing even as other species diminish. In Path of the Puma, biologist Jim Williams shares his knowledge, acquired over years spent tracking and studying the cats from Canada to South America. The ways of pumas and their ecosystems are eons old, but our understanding of them—and our strategies for peaceful coexistence—is still evolving.
Seamlessly interweaving information with Williams’s personal story, the book follows Williams south, from his first assignment in western Montana down to a stint in Patagonia. His enthusiasm for nature and animals jumps off every page. This isn’t a book that advocates banning humans from the wild, or a scolding, hand-wringing screed over the “inevitable” loss of species; rather, it sees humans as part of the mix, and it proposes that it is necessary for our own survival that humans coexist with other species.
Williams’s writing is expert, friendly, and interesting. Well organized and clearly presented, information emerges from field work examples, such as the tracking studies that showed that pumas feed almost exclusively on wild prey rather than domestic herds. That information meant that only a handful of tagged and identified cats needed to be relocated to remote areas.
The book is exceptionally well-produced, durably bound and with dozens of full-page and full-spread color pictures. Final pages include a list of organizations that support wildlife and wilderness conservation, and there’s an especially helpful section on what to do if you encounter a puma in the wild.
Jim Williams’s fascinating and inspiring Path of the Puma tracks mountain lions and their place in the ecosystem, showing what can be done to preserve their habitat while enjoying our own.
SUSAN WAGGONER (August 27, 2018)
In Kate DiCamillo’s beautiful follow-up to Raymie Nightingale, Louisiana Elefante is back, and she and her granny are out to face the family curse. When they stop to sleep in a small Georgia town, Louisiana is left to wander on her own. She meets Burke Allen, who is kind, has a pet crow, and can get her anything she wants from the motel vending machine. The two form an instant friendship.
Louisiana returns to her room to find her granny missing, having left a note that turns her world upside down. Louisiana must rely on the kindness of the people she meets, primarily the town minister and Burke Allen’s family, as she tries to figure out what to do next.
Louisiana is a precocious lead with an interesting sense of ethics, a sometimes sharp tongue, and a lovely singing voice. Left alone in a strange place, far away from friends and utterly without family, she must learn some very large truths; much of what she thought defined her simply no longer applies. She knows she wants to go home, but how can she possibly find her way home when she doesn’t even know who she is?
The book strikes a delicate balance between relating a charming, entertaining story full of colorful characters and imparting a deeply meaningful life lesson about deciding what kind of person to be. Not everyone Louisiana meets is interested in helping her, but those that do reach out to her with great love and compassion. Louisiana takes a large step towards maturity, learning to be her best self and to redefine what home really means.
CATHERINE THURESON (August 27, 2018)
The Romantic Realism of an Artist and Teacher
New Orleans-based painter Auseklis Ozols spent decades producing beautiful work that usually depicts real-life subject matter. His work is now celebrated in John Kemp’s book, which features dozens of Ozols’s works and shows his versatility.
The book begins with a short biography of the artist, who was born in Latvia, where his family survived German occupation in World War II and time in the Dachau concentration camp. He moved to the United States in 1949. The text describes how Ozols developed his throwback style of painting at a time when modern and avant-garde works dominated the art scene. Color images of the artist’s work are grouped into categories.
Ozols is known for the diversity of his techniques; he is rare among modern painters for switching between landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. His landscapes are particularly impressive. Primarily oil works on canvas or linen, they feature vivid colors and textures, and show off Louisiana’s natural and human-made beauty.
Apotheosis of Louisiana depicts a pelican landing on a flagpole before a backdrop of red-lit clouds; At the River features a scene of people and animals along a wooden river dock. Standout murals include 1996’s The Banjo Mural and 2005’s Plantation, in which Ozols combines trees, portraits, and colorful skies to create memorable scenes.
The book also includes a series of Ozols’s portraits, from nudes to a self-portrait of the artist at work. His still lifes sometimes depict traditional subjects like flowers in a vase or fruit, and other times include a crab, a pile of eyeglasses, the remnants of a Mardi Gras party, or nautilus shells arranged like the apostles at the Last Supper. The artist’s senses of proportion and perspective are strong throughout. Auseklis Ozols collects lovely, sometimes old-fashioned works by a contemporary master.
JEFF FLEISCHER (August 27, 2018)
Queen of Kenosha introduces Nina Overstreet, an aspiring performer in the 1960s Greenwich Village music scene who becomes intimately involved in the covert world of Nazis and secret ops.
The first book of Howard Shapiro’s Thin Thinline Trilogy, Queen of Kenosha begins with Nina—raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin—singing at a New York City club. One of the onlookers is Nick Ladd, a secret agent who’s tracking an underground Nazi group. Nina soon finds herself witnessing, and participating in, a back-alley melee. Impressed by Nina’s self-defense skills, Nick believes an agent with a cover as a performer would be a great asset, and he recruits Nina into his group.
What follows is a deadly adventure that offers spy thrills with a twist, as Nina and Nick tentatively explore the possibility of a romantic relationship and Nina continues to advance her music career. Shapiro clearly loves music; his enthusiasm infuses the book, especially in chapter title pages, each of which features a recommended listening list with two real songs and one fictional one written by Nina Overstreet. Shapiro takes the conceit even further, with full lyrics to all of Nina’s songs included at the back of the book, along with an album cover.
Erica Chan’s art is excellent. Though there’s an overall similarity in her construction of faces, characters are easily distinguishable. Complex emotions are captured, like a wordless page-long sequence in which Nina and Nick simultaneously consider calling each other, but don’t. Spies and music might not be the most obvious pairing, but Queen of Kenosha does it with gusto.
PETER DABBENE (August 27, 2018)