I’ve been reading all sorts of different oddities lately, despite my not posting since… I don’t know when. January probably. Life’s often in the way of Catapulting these days, although it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe I’m making a comeback, who knows. Not making any promises here, dear loyal reader. Anyhow, here’s a reading recap of some things I’ve been mulling, just as a way of dipping my toe back into the Catapult pool here.
I just recently finished Caspar Henderson’s The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary, which I’ve been dropping into and out of for 2 years now. It’s arranged as an A-Z bestiary of creatures, but all entries have a tie to humanity and our relationship with the wildlife around us. It has a poetic, almost Victorian-era throwback feel to it at times – it reads like a mediation on the universe around us, really. Leatherback turtles and their incredible hardwired navigation systems; the mysterious Nautilus and its pinhole eye leads to a sidebar on the camera obscura; the microscopic Waterbear can withstand temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit – and as low as -460 and the vacuum of space! It’s a fascinating, introspective collection that feels like much more than a simple bestiary. Also along those nature lines I’ve been dipping into The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben – he’s a forestry guy from Germany who is exploring the inner workings of the networks that trees form to communicate with each other. For example, often when a tree is cut down, their neighbors will continue to feed it sugars through the roots for centuries to keep it alive. How many of your neighbors would do that? Also a great one to just drop in and out of – the chapters are James Patterson-short and Wohlleben offers something in each section that’s fascinating about our arboreal friends that you’ve never considered before.
Also outstanding is What Becomes Us by Micah Perks – published by indie pub Outpost19, which is a publisher I proudly represent in my working life. (Based in San Francisco, they publish a handful of interesting novels and a few pieces of nonfiction a year. Everything I’ve read has been great – no joke. If you don’t know them yet, just wait – a breakout work is approaching, I’m sure of it.) No work bias here, I promise – I loved this weird little novel and all the strange people living in it – and it just might be the best thing I’ve read this year. I picked it up for work initially and was starting JS Foer’s new book, Here I Am at the same time. I soon dropped the Foer altogether when Micah’s book kept me much more interested. I’ve often said that to me, the mark of a great work of fiction is whether you continue to think about the characters long after you’ve finished the last page. Definitely the case here for me. Evie Rosen, pregnant with (omniscient narrator) twins, flees her abusive marriage in Santa Cruz, CA for a small town in upstate New York, where she gets a job teaching high school history. The close-knit community soon proves to have a little bit of strange going on – mostly centering around the 1682 memoir of Mary Rowlandson, who was captured by Native Americans during King Philip’s War. Half the town desperately wants Evie to teach the book, while the other half wants to run her out of town if she does. Everyone has their reasons and Evie must navigate the townsfolk and their potlucks, make sense of her new life, plan on the arrival of her children, and maybe fall in love in the midst of it all. Lauren Groff (Fates & Furies) called it “warm, wild, hilarious, eccentric, and moving.” I know that this sounds SO not like something Book Catapult to many of you, but trust me – this is a hidden gem out there in your local bookshop.
Mr. Eternity by Aaron Thier pretty much had me at hello – the narrative of the mysterious Daniel Defoe begins in 1560 as he Conquistadors his way across the New World (although he first arrived with Columbus, nearly a century before) and his improbable life continues far into humanity’s bleak future in the year 2500, where the Atlantic seaboard is underwater and air conditioning is a myth of the past. (That section has the best post-apocalypse name I’ve ever seen: “Anthony Fucking Corvette.” If that doesn’t sum up early-21st century-Trump-America, looking back from 500 years down the line, I don’t know what does.) It’s a great way of looking at humanity’s folly over the past centuries – and of speculating our future if we hold course. Each narrative arc – 1560, 1750, 2016, 2200, & 2500 – is told from the perspective of someone who encounters Old Dan and has their life altered by his existence. Very cool.