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Art, Literature, Photography

Posted by rdsayler | November 22, 2022


Watercolor of sunflowers in the Snake River Valley
[Watercolor photo of sunflowers in the Snake River Valley near Washington State University. Photo credit: Rod Sayler]

Science, Art, Literature

From time to time, in addition to our research science, we like to share some of the art and literature that we feel may offer interesting, thoughtful, and useful perspectives on science, the natural world, and the human condition. A few of these books and other works are shared below.

As the old saying goes, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. And so we also occasionally share photos and artwork about plants, wildlife, and landscapes in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in photo exhibits that you are welcome to view here.

What We’re Reading (and why):

One might normally suspect that university students would read a lot of books. Some undoubtedly do. But you would be surprised at how few books are assigned to students to read outside of the standard subject matter textbooks.

Now I’m not sure about the last time you attempted to read a textbook, but I’m pretty safe in guessing that it may have done a good job of putting you to sleep. Textbooks, no matter how well written, are not read for pleasure.

Current Photo Exhibits:

American White Pelican

Hang Gliding With Pelicans


Water color photo of a chukar

Photo Exhibit – Chukar


Watercolor photo of Mourning Dove

Study #23 in Mourning Doves & ‘Pigeons’

Reading for Pleasure. What a Novel Idea!

In the many classes that I’ve taught at Washington State University I’ve often had an assignment for students to select a science book written for a popular audience and read it outside of class for use in a major analysis and reporting project at the end of the semester.

Typically I’ll provide the students with either a suggested list of possible books that complement the subject matter of the course or I’ll tell them where they might find one and then send them off to explore either real or virtual bookshelves and ask them to select a book that interests them greatly.

Then, I’ll have them run it by me for final approval to make sure it’s appropriate for the class, and especially, that it’s not a textbook, but rather a book on science written for a popular audience.

Almost uniformly across the board, students greatly enjoy this class assignment and being able to explore a topic that interests them, unless they procrastinate, which of course, students never do…

Here we’ll not certainly not presume to give you such an academic assignment, but merely point out some of the books below that caught our eye recently (regardless of when they might have initially been published) and might well be worthy of gracing your nightstand, e-reader, tablet, or bookshelf, depending on your own interests.

We invite you to review the works described below to see if any of them may enrich your life in ways large or small.

R. Sayler


[Disclaimer: Washington State University does not endorse or support the sale of commercial products and any of the books, literature, or other materials pictured or reviewed here are done at the discretion of the author for the sole purpose of academic and intellectual inquiry.]

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed by authors are their own and do not reflect policy or positions of Washington State University or the School of the Environment.

The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth

In the realm of pregnancy, “quickening” refers to the time when a woman first starts to feel movement of the fetus in the uterus, which often may occur from about 18 – 21 weeks of development.

In her new book, author Elizabeth Rush joins a scientific expedition to visit the Thwaites Glacier and explores the troubling question, “What does it mean to bring a child into the world at this time of radical change?

Elizabeth Rush is the author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, and a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

Publisher’s Web Site: Milkweed Editions

Review: Los Angeles Times

See Additional Review Excerpts on Author’s Website: Elizabeth Rush

Book Cover: The Quickening by Elizabeth Rush
[Cover art: The Quickening written by Elizabeth Rush.]

An immersive journey through both exterior and interior landscapes, deftly crossing the boundaries between the frigid Antarctic and the warm heart.”—ROBIN WALL KIMMERER

The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet

Jeff Goodell covers climate change for Rolling Stone and is an award-winning author of numerous books on climate and energy issues.

This summer has awakened many people to the harsh new future that all life is facing on Earth. The heat is coming. Relentlessly. Goodell’s new book explores in frank detail the consequences of a primary force in climate change, increasing heat.

Podcast (listen or read): MSNBC – Why Is This Happening? The Chris Hayes Podcast – “The Heat Will Kill You First” with Jeff Goodell: podcast and transcript

Publisher’s Web Site: Hachette Book Group

Review: The New York Times 

Video: YouTube

Cover Art Heat Will Kill

New York Times Bestseller!

National Bestseller!

Film Review: Asteroid City

Those of you who like the director, Wes Anderson, may enjoy his new film, Asteroid City, with an ensemble cast including the likes of Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Carell, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, and many, many other notable actors.

To consider the linkage between the film’s messages and ecological grief we point you to an analysis of this film as well as some reviews below.

See: The Conversation – Ecological grief and uncontrollable reality in Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’

(note: the above article also contains some excellent resources for ecological grief)

Film Description: IMBd – Asteroid City

Film Review: Rotten Tomatoes (75% Tomatometer© rating “Certified Fresh”) – Asteroid City

Thumbnail of theatrical release poster for the film, Asteroid City

Black Memory

The writing, poetry, and many other contributions of Black Americans to the literature of nature writing and ecology are often overlooked. Fortunately, that oversight is addressed in a new essay collection from ‘A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars‘ published by Milkweed Editions.

“A vibrant collection of personal and lyric essays in conversation with archival objects of Black history and memory.”

“A well-curated assemblage of Black voices that draws profound connections among family, nature, aspiration, and loss.” – Kirkus Reviews

Orion Magazine recently shared 6 excerpts from this book in a feature article “An Archive of Black Memory.” We encourage potential readers to review these excerpts to experience a sample of the authors and their writings.

In addition, the above Orion feature article has links to other articles and works published by some of the featured authors.

Publisher’s Web Site & A Short Review: Milkweed Editions

Genres:  Essays, Nature, Nonfiction, Environment, History

A Darker Wilderness book cover

[A Darker Wilderness: Black nature writing from soil to stars. Cover photo used with permission, Milkweed Editions.]

Cascadia Field Guide 

We were delighted recently when we bumped into a feature article in Orion Magazine entitled “Science, Art, and Literature Meet in Cascadia Field Guide” by the three editors of this new book.

This new ‘feel guide’ is essentially a selected anthology of biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest that does exactly what the Orion article says by combining science, art, and literature including poetry.

“…we created Cascadia Field Guide, which gathers into thirteen communities 128 iconic and endemic beings of the Cascadia bioregion, a vast area stretching from Southeast Alaska down to Northern California, from the Pacific coast east to the Rockies.
This collection is an invitation to slow down and more deeply consider familiar beings like Sword Fern, near ubiquitous of this region, and to be introduced to lesser-known residents, like Clark’s Nutcracker.” – from the editors E. Bradfield, C. Fuhrman, and D. Sheffield writing in Orion Magazine

In this introduction to the Cascadia Field Guide published in Orion, the editors select a sample of writings, artwork, and poetry for 8 organisms ranging from mountain beaver, Chukar, bushy-tailed woodrat, and map lichen to illustrate the diverse contributions of artists and writers and their thoughtful descriptions, poems, and feelings about the natural history of plants and animals in this region.

Publisher’s Web Site: Mountaineers Books 

Orion Magazine: Science, Art, and Literature Meet in Cascadia Field Guide 

Cascadia Field Guide Cover

[Cover illustration from Cascadia Field Guide. Used with permission. Publisher: Mountaineers Books.]

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Cover of Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert
[Photo credit: Crown]

This book is by the excellent science writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s been a national bestseller that’s recommended by former President Obama and by Bill Gates. It’s widely reviewed and unanimously called one of the best books of the year in 2021. We probably don’t have to say any more, but we will.In a world under siege by climate change, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at how we, humans all stuck on the same planet, are responding to the threats of climate change. Many of our students have read and liked this book as we study the controversial topic of “geoengineering” or purposely attempting to manipulate the Earth’s climate in the future.”To be a well-informed citizen of Planet Earth, you need to read Elizabeth Kolbert….” – Jeff Goodell, Rolling StonePublisher’s Web Site: Crown
Review: NPR

The Soul of an Octopus

A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

One of the books that several of my students who are interested in animal intelligence and marine ecology have elected to read is the descriptive work by Sy Montgomery detailing her personal experiences exploring the personalities, intelligence, and behavior of octopuses.

Cover of the book, Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery
[Photo credit: Simon & Schuster.]

Publisher’s Web Site: Atria Books a division of Simon & Schuster
Review: from Simon & Schuster

How to Speak Whale

In 2015, Tom Mustill was kayaking while whale watching on Monterey Bay when a whale breached high in the air and came down on top of his kayak. Obviously he survived, but as a naturalist and filmmaker, Tom became fascinated by the event and wondered how artificial intelligence and modern technology might be used to help humans understand animal communications.

Cover of book How to Speak Whale
[Photo credit: Grand Central Publishing.]

Publisher’s Web Site: Grand Central Publishing
Review: from Oprah Daily

Braiding Sweetgrass

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Author Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist and scientist. This book has been read by many of my senior students in several classes dealing with restoration ecology and conservation biology at Washington State University. Everyone who read it, loved it. I believe the book was originally published in 2013 by Milkweed Editions and reports are that the book spread rapidly by word of mouth from reader to reader, without any major advertising campaign, and quickly became a best seller.

Cover of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
[Photo credit: Milkweed Editions.]

Publisher’s Web Site: Milkweed Editions
Story: from The Washington Post – ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ has gone from surprise hit to juggernaut bestseller

Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps 

At this point you will undoubtedly recognize that I am an indefatigable optimist. How else could I expect that anyone might want to read a book by Seirian Sumner on one of the most despised insects in the world? But if you have curiosity about the complex and absolutely amazing life histories and social lives of these insects and the nearly secret world (for most people) that they occupy, you’ll enjoy uncovering the mysteries of their dramatic influence on our natural ecosystems. If you do read this book, you’ll probably never swat at a wasp ever again.

Cover of Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps
[Photo credit: Harper]

Publisher’s Web Site: Harper
Review: from The Week 

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