Spring is here! And so are new books to the Urchin Bookshelf! Check it before you wreck it. (Actually, don’t wreck it at all. We only have one, and it was given to us by a large man with a long white beard, possibly the real Santa Claus.)
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma forever changed the way I think about food and how I eat. While Pollan is technically a journalist, he’s as much a scientist of human nature and philosopher. Several years ago I saw a portion of the PBS documentary based on The Botany of Desire and was completely blown away by eloquence in person that was equal to that on the page. The precursor to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire follows four different foods – the potato, marijuana, the tulip, and the apple – through their context in social history. He reveals how both humans and plants have helped shaped each other and finally asks, ‘Who’s domesticating who?’
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
One of my favourite writers, Larry McMurtry, called Abbey ‘the Thoreau of the American West.’ (Hey, I live there!) Abbey is another author that I have waited far too long to read. Environmental activist, essayist, and yes, anarchist, wrote often about the western landscape, a place I have always been drawn to. Desert Solitaire is a collection of vignettes drawn from Abbey’s experience as a park ranger in Arches National Monument. Abbey recollects a search and rescue mission to pull a dead body from the desert, the effects of the desert on society, and the detriments of outdoor tourism.
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
A few weeks ago, I happened upon a massive book sale held by Tauranga’s local Rotary club. Four giant spaces in an empty fruit packhouse were filled with table after table of books for sale from $1 – $5. The day I went just happened to be the final closeout, meaning that all books were reduced by 50%. As you can imagine, I was like an Urchin in a… well, 50%-off used book sale. When I saw this reimagining of the love between Cupid and Psyche by C. S. Lewis, it quickly jumped to the top of my reading list. Lewis’s non-fiction work A Grief Observed is one of my favourite pieces of writing in the world, challenging me with new ideas and viewpoints every time I pick it up. In Till We Have Faces, Lewis turns his poetic writing style and deeply philosophical wisdom to an ancient tale, and I’m greatly anticipating the opportunity to reflect on the philosophical notions presented in the story. According to a note from the author, Lewis began constructing his reinterpretation of this story while at university. It feels like a privilege to read the passion project of one of my favourite thinkers and writers.
London: the lives of the city, a collection by Granta
In 1999, Granta literary magazine compiled its largest issue to date: a collection of short stories, memoirs, essays, and photography about London. I’ll start making my way through them all as soon as I can open the book without bursting into tears.
Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro
I was born in 1986, two years after Prince’s movie and soundtrack, Purple Rain, came out. How was I to know that, during my formative years of newborn to five years old, the myth known as Prince was forming, too. Being a baby, I failed to take notice. It took me twenty-six more years to pick up a copy of that album. I now realise that this fact boldly attests to that album’s timelessness. After picking up a few more of his albums (there are about a thousand of them), I wanted to know as much as I could about the man, myth, and legend behind these songs. Conveniently, music journalist Ronin Ro just published a biography on Prince, and while it isn’t an official biography (there may never be one, even if Prince himself writes it), Ro’s account will surely add more questions and answers to music’s most enigmatic, influential, and puzzling performers.
The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life by Virginia Woolf
Urchins think alike. Just as Sarah waits to deem herself ready to dip into the Granta collection, I’ve only recently deemed myself ready to read this book. I’ve read a few of Woolf’s books years before, and they were so powerful that I purposely decided to wait until I was a few years older before reading her again. I wasn’t actually sure when the moment would come, either, until she was heavily referenced in Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? Bechdel’s analysis on Woolf’s writing made me remember that Woolf will remain, possibly forever, perhaps the best writer any of us will ever read.
What are you all reading?