Friday, April 14, 2017

What I've Read: Land on Fire by Gary Ferguson

I have a strange confession to make:

I am absolutely fascinated by fire. I don't know why, exactly, and it's not in a pyromaniac sense - I, quite reasonably, fear fire - but the human relationship with fire is a surprisingly rich area of history. I went through a phase where I was heavily researching the history of arson investigation and talking about it with anyone who I thought might care (spoiler: no one did). I then moved on to volcanology. I then read a longform article about the Yarnell Hill fire and devoured it in one sitting, ignoring the pile of work next to me.

So when I saw Land on Fire in the NetGalley offerings, I hit "request" immediately.

Wildfires seem to dominate the news cycles every summer, with hot, arid conditions, lightning strikes, and human error all contributing to what can be a truly devastating force of nature. Land on Fire brings the world of wildfires and everything involved with them to lifegiving a comprehensive overview of everything from what causes them to the intricacies of how they're fought. With its focus centered on the American West, Land on Fire steers itself away from jargon, covering the sometimes complex information in a way that's clear to people who might be unfamiliar with the biology or bureaucracy involved in fire suppression.

There are also stunning photographs peppered throughout, providing astonishing visual aids to accompany the text. Some of the information might be a little dry or dense at times, but Ferguson does well to make it come alive, even including specific historical examples to illustrate the text. When discussing the natural world, in particular, Ferguson's prose is rich with the lushness appropriate for describing a living, breathing forest.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in fire, natural history, biology, climate science, or fire-fighting.

Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What I've Read: Odd Bloom Seen From Space

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Odd Bloom Seen From Space is a remarkable collection, not the least of which is for what it accomplishes and balances in each poem. At once, these poems are biographical and confessional and nostalgic, but never precious; self-aware but never smugly so; unflinching but without callousness. Thematically, these poems are filled with the reconciliation of histories, personal and public; memory, ancestry, and pop culture; man and literature and landscapes. In "Outside Los Banos, California", Welch writes "There's a brutal distance / between men", and it's this brutal distance that Odd Bloom Seen From Space investigates, makes known, and contends with in each verse. There are parts that are brutal, that unflinchingly meditate on alienation, and yet others that undermine the gravitas of all that and are, instead, flippant and funny. These elements never compete with each other, finding a reflexive balance in each poem that reads instead as simple truth. There are moments of confession, moments of reconciliation, and moments of amusement, all strewn together into a lively melange of poems that surprise, challenge, and delight the reader.

The poem "Carried By A Bee" also features what is almost certainly one of my favorite lines I've read this year: "if we are not the victims of our own kind hearts then / our stupid lives are sad".