Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream

The tiny, tiny town of Royal, Nebraska had a zoo, more of an optimistic roadside attraction or a sort of do-it-yourself menagerie with aspirations.  It never made much money (or any at all), but the people of Royal, near the South Dakota border, were proud of it; it was popular, and it gave them something to fight over.  Nebraska native Johnny Carson even donated money to build a “primate center” for Reuben the chimp who was later joined by Jimmy Joe, Tyler and Ripley.  Zoo Nebraska, in its day, housed a variety of wildlife, but the chimpanzees, the “non-human primates”, were the center of the attraction.  However, it’s the “human primates” (though I’m hard-pressed to make a distinction) who are at the center of Carson Vaughn’s book.  If this “one-horse town” had had a horse, they’d have fought over the horse.  They did, in fact, have someone who made buggy wheels, quite a unique character, and, boy, did they fight with him.  Did you know there’s still a market for buggy wheels?  It’s a wasted day if you don’t learn something.

Anyway, Royal resident and really good-hearted fellow Dick Haskins fell in love with Africa and the Great Apes after seeing a Jane Goodall documentary in eighth grade.  From that point he’s all about going to Africa to work with Goodall or Dian Fossey, so after college, he finds a job at the Folsom Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska working with “non-human primates”, and this is where he meets Reuben the chimp.  And he’s off – on his way to becoming a self-styled primatologist.  When the Folsom Zoo seeks to relocate Reuben to another facility, Haskins gains custodianship of the chimp and begins planning a primate center in, of all places, Royal, Nebraska – population about sixty.  The school is closed; the Methodist church is closed; the library is closed.

For years, Haskins works himself to the bitter end without pay – adapting as his hoped-for primate center becomes a small zoo, and losing sight of Africa all together.  When, at last, he must give it up, Zoo Nebraska begins its long and contentious downhill slide to oblivion.  Just plain folks doing the best that they can?  Maybe, maybe not.  But first Royal will be in the national headlines and not in a good way.  Human primates.  What is that saying about big fishes in small ponds?  A good piece of non-fiction.  I read it, and, if I were you………I’d read it, too!

Zip on out to your local bookstore for this one or support an indie bookseller online by clicking here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Little A via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Superlative: The Biology of Extremes

The outliers:  biggest, smallest, deadliest, smartest, strongest, oldest, fastest.  A sort of Guinness Book of Records for grown-up nerds, huh?  Same fascination factor, for sure, but with purpose and science to boot.  What can we learn from these extremes of nature?  How did they come to be?  What are the challenges to their survival?  How can they benefit us?

For example, in “Why Almost Everything We Know About Giraffes Is Wrong”, we learn that prevailing theories say giraffes developed their unique bodies and long necks in order to graze from tree tops.  But did they?  They seem to bend down to eat from grasses and shrubs as much, if not more, than in trees.  So why those long necks with those pretty little heads at the top?

And there’s “Why Elephant Cells Are Like Empathetic Zombies”.  Elephants grow so rapidly that cells tend to mutate, and so it seems that elephants would develop cancers at an astounding rate – but they don’t.  In elephants, mutating cells appear to “develop a conscience” and die.  Now wouldn’t it be great if our pre-cancerous cells offed themselves?  Yeah, that’s the ticket, and we’d have elephants to thank, so back off, poachers!

I’ve only sampled Matthew LaPlante’s good book, but I’ll be back, and it’s perfect for enjoying this way if you like.  Of course, for many, it’ll be like potato chips.  Hard to stop with one or two.  Whatever your style, munchies or the full buffet, the line starts here.

Be the biggest, smartest, fastest reader to buy this book from your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by BenBella Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Wild Boy: A Memoir

Italian writer Paolo Cognetti grew up in the city, but until the age of twenty, spent summers in the Italian Alps, free to roam, a wild boy.  At thirty, Paolo suffers a rough patch and cannot write.  So he reads.  Thoreau’s Walden, Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, and Elisee Reclus, The History of a Mountain, and he decides to return to the Alps hoping to live an essential life and to find that wild boy again.  Renting a refurbished cabin at 6,000 feet above sea level, he spends three seasons there, “…where the last conifer trees gave way to summer pastures.”  Not dangerously isolated as was Chris McCandless of Krakauer’s book, Paolo has a couple neighbors across the way; there are summer cowherds who come and go; and he even gains a dog that didn’t make the cut as a herding dog.  While this book is neither as gripping and gritty as Into The Wild nor as introspective and philosophical as Walden, Cognetti is an excellent writer, and this is a beautiful book.  Did he find what he was looking for?  Did he even know what he was seeking after all?  Do any of us?  Get away for a while with Mr. Cognetti, and find something for yourself in his breathtaking Alps.

Currently scheduled to hit bookstores on July 2, 2019. The Wild Boy can be pre-ordered here from your local indie bookseller or click here to order from Amazon.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Year of No Summer: A Reckoning

I did not finish this, though I feel that, at some point, I might go back.  Certainly I think I’ll be tempted to do so.  Odd and intriguing.  My first thought was stream of consciousness, but…well…maybe.  Freeform history?  Some sort of literary tone poem?  Or something like that.  Say what?  The language is beautiful and poetic, sometimes coalescing into more straightforward prose; and I wanted to read this simply for the words, lovely words; but then that coalescing comes along, taunting me with the possibility of narrative.  I’ll let the author speak for herself, and she ends by saying, “I’m standing here thinking it all fits together, but how or why, I know not.  My hands are too small for God.”  Yes, right there, and Rachel Lebowitz, I admire what you’ve done, and I think it fits together, too.  I want it to.  Maybe I’m just not ready for it.

But you might be and, if so, click here to order from your local indie bookstore or from Amazon

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Biblioasis via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and Edelweiss for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

A Florida State of Mind: An Unnatural History of Our Weirdest State

Had a sampling good time (admittedly not front to back), and “weirdest state” is the author’s opinion, not mine!  However, we had an aunt in Florida, married several times, who had a dog she named Mister.  It gave her a kick to go to the door and call, “Here, Mister, Mister,” she said.  A little weird, I guess.  Mr. Wright lives in Florida and calls this “…a collection of factoids, oddments, stories, and backstories…”.  I call it fun.  Let’s see.  Florida remained loyal to Britain during the Revolution, so no fourteenth colony.  How “oh wow” rich is that laid back Jimmy Buffet who, we’re told, is Warren Buffet’s distant cousin?  What happened to the Florida of Fifties and Sixties vacations, Silver Springs and glass-bottomed boats, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee?  Did Gore or Bush win the contested 2000 Presidential race in Florida, and how many types of “chads” were there?  Ha, there were four identified and named!  One was a swinging chad.  Didn’t you date him?  Florida is known as the “Road Kill State”, and there’s an interesting flipside.  White-tailed deer kill more humans than sharks, alligators, bears, snakes and insects combined.  A recipe for Tang pie is here too.  Check it out on April 30!

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press / Thomas Dunne Books via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds

Caroline Van Hemert, a biologist, and her husband Pat Farrell (artist, outdoorsman, builder) dream a simple dream, yet one so daunting in scope that few could dream it – a trek of 4,000 miles from Bellingham, Washington to a far, far speck in the Alaskan Arctic, Kotsube.  Ever been there?  Me, either.  Without snowmobiles, ATVs, sponsors.  No planes, no trains, no hitched rides.  After four months intense planning, they leave Bellingham in two rowboats built by Pat, traveling up the Inside Passage then across mountains, glaciers, rivers, delta, and tundra on foot, on skis, by canoes and pack rafts.

This challenge was undertaken, I felt, in the spirit of a quest, though perhaps not consciously so; and it is recounted here in all its harshness, dreamy beauty and overriding love of the wilderness.  In a stunning episode, we’re practically part of a migrating caribou herd, and the astounding migratory flights of birds weave in and out of the narrative as a counterpoint to the journey.  The lovely title is, in fact, a reference to migratory bird navigation.  So, readers, travel and grow with this intrepid young couple.  Well-worth anyone’s time.

Take the trip now at Amazon.com or shop your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Little, Brown and Company / Little, Brown Spark via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.