Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book PREview for a change

The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany. Graeme Gibson. Doubleday, 2009

This book looks great (grrrr-ate?). And because I looked through it a little before leaving the library, here’s a book preview. First, the cover: irresistible, no?

It’s called a “miscellany,” which suggests you can dip into it now and then, with no need to remember a plot line from one dip to the next. And, the author already sent “The Bedside Book of Birds” out into the world, so he must have done something right with that to be coming out with this one.

Possibly less a recommendation for the book, unless you’re superstitious, but the author’s first name, “Graeme,” is a good omen. Another book I’ve liked very much, “The Discovery of Dragons,” is the work of Graeme Base.

Flipping through the book, it’s quickly obvious that art and text are well balanced; each makes the other appealing. There are dark and light pages and there’s lots of color. The front flap page indicates that the book “explores the relationship between predators and prey,” indicating the author has gathered works of art and literature “from all eras and cultures.” That flip-through makes this clear.

Then, on the back cover comes this quote from the book:

“They are called ‘beasts’ from the force with which they rage; and they are termed ‘wild’ because they are by nature used to freedom and they are motivated by their own will. They do indeed have freedom of will and they wander here and there, going as their spirit leads them.”

Gibson quotes from Ecclesiastes III, 18-21 at the beginning. Here’s an excerpt:

“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.”

A rueful book REview (2-28-10):

I was seduced by the pictures; it may be that simple. This is still an attractive book, but reading it is something else. It is all about death: death by hunters, death by animals, death of hunters and of animals . . . you get the idea.

What bothered me most were the essays that talked about killing animals (always needlessly, just for so-called sport!) matter of factly and as if that's what all men do. (Maybe there were times when most men actually did. Anyway, I was pleased to find no references to women feeling the need to shoot innocent animals.)

Much of the writing here was not contemporary. It refected different times, different values. But it was still sickening to read. And it raised the question: why publish a book that seems to glory in killing? We hardly need it.

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