As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, U.S. national parks lead me down a winding path.
Williams, Terry Tempest. The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. Macmillan. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780374280093. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374712266. NAT HIST
In her thoughtful, graceful, and intimate evocation of America’s national parks, Williams (Refuge) offers readers an armchair tour that is as much a history lesson as it is an ode to space, as much a reminder of our shared responsibility of stewardship as it is travel memoir, as much poetry as it is prose. Traversing multiple locations, the author explores the distinctness of each, many of which she has known for much of her life, but also those that present new experiences. Serving several aims, the work illuminates the scope of the U.S. Park Service, detailing large open spaces in the West along with important battlefields, stretches of seashore, and human-made monuments. Williams describes the great shifts in landscape represented in the parks, conjuring habitats of all kinds. In haunting and lyrical prose, she takes readers along on her rambles, revealing her observations. In one essay, she discusses becoming exhausted by the idolatry of some at Gettysburg and needing to step into the solace of a quiet, ruminative expanse. This leisurely unfolding book provides a similar respite for readers.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Ballantine. 1985. 352p. ISBN 9780345326492. pap. $7.99. BIOG
Like Williams, Abbey (The Monkey Wrench Gang) shares personal, philosophically informed accounts of sweeping and intimate encounters with the land and animals of national parks, or, in his case, with one specific location. The author served as a park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah during the mid-1950s, a locale remarkable for its sandstone towers and archways. He kept notes on his work, vignettes that form the basis of this collection, originally published in 1968. A testament to Abbey’s connection with the land and the issues that inform our relationship with the environment, this witty and searing narrative still resonates. Abbey’s sense of and engagement with place has become a model of nature writing and makes a fine accompaniment to Williams’s work.
Berry, Wendell. This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems. Counterpoint. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781619024366. pap. $20.95; ebk. ISBN 9781619022584. POETRY
There’s a poetic force and lyrical grace to Williams’s writing that deserves to be met with poetry itself. One of the best companions for Williams is Berry (Our Only World), a poet equally committed to the environment and an author of nonfiction as well. For decades, Berry has been writing about the wild of his home ground, a farm in Port Royal, KY. While not as grand as a national park, the landscape has occasioned the author’s interactions with flora, fauna, other people, and human space in the natural world. Emotions and moments of revelation are all captured in these poems born of Sunday walks and urgent investigation. In language that is clear, strong, and enriching, this collection offers the same sense of feeling and attention as Williams’s volume provides.
Adams, Ansel & Peter Galassi. Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley: Celebrating the Park at 150. Little, Brown. 2014. 204p. ISBN 9780316323406. $100. PHOTOG
This oversize edition of Adams’s photographs was produced to celebrate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite Grant Act, which eventually led to the creation of the U.S. National Park Service. It’s doubtful that anyone more than Adams has created such iconic images of the American landscape, and this anthology features 150 photographs of Yosemite’s most popular destinations, including the El Capitan summit, Half Dome, and Cathedral Rocks. There are other titles on the subject, with more pictures and at more reasonable prices, but this volume highlights both the glory of the land and the photographer. For contemporary displays of the entire parks system, consider Ian Shive’s The National Parks: An American Legacy.
Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. Harper. 2010. 960p. ISBN 9780060565312. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061940576. HIST
During his tenure as U.S. president (1901–09), Theodore Roosevelt signed into law five national parks and placed millions of acres into the public trust, ensuring the land and wildlife he so appreciated would become an inheritance for the country. Brinkley (American Heritage History of the United States), an enthusiastic and detailed-oriented historian, explores Roosevelt’s impact on the parks system, the larger environment, and public policy. He ably demonstrates how the wilderness and an active engagement with the natural world shaped his subject’s character and career strategies, creating a fascinating mix of history, politics, personality, and culture that enlivens the era and offers a highly readable and accessible form of presidential biography.
National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States. 8th ed. National Geographic. 2016. 496p. pap. ISBN 9781426216510. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781426217517. TRAVEL
Covering every U.S. national park, this nature-oriented guide highlights each destination’s natural wonders. Arranged in alphabetical order within regions, it is also excellent for overall planning and mapping possible park-to-park tours. Entries cover key sites, information on camping and lodging, and visitation details. Other manuals to suggest include Lonely Planet’s USA’s National Parks and travel giant Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West, which directs readers to specific areas such as Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
Box, C.J. Free Fire. Putnam. (Joe Pickett, Bk. 7). 2016. 448p. ISBN 9780735211940. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781440631757. F
Rich in both atmosphere and framing detail, the seventh of the “Joe Pickett” crime novels delivers a taut, violent, and suspenseful read. Pickett, once a game warden now working on his in-laws’ ranch, is quasireinstated by the governor of Wyoming and sent to Yellowstone National Park, where four environmental activists have been murdered. A savvy lawyer has figured out a way to escape any severe legal penalties for his confessed crime and certainly looks to get away with his actions. That alone would sit heavy on Pickett’s square shoulders, yet there is more to the boiling situation than just that snarl. More danger is ahead, blending politics, money, and environmental issues, and Pickett knows the situation could blow at any time.
Barr, Nevada. Winter Study. 11 CDs. 12.5 hrs. Recorded Bks. (Anna Pigeon, Bk. 14). 2008. ISBN 9781428198111. $111.37. MYS
Barr has earned an avid following for her mysteries featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon. In this 14th entry, Anna is on the case in Isle Royale National Park, MI. Always connected to the landscape, this novel highlights a winter study of wolves and moose, but death is stalking the woods. Narrator Barbara Rosenblat, a longtime reader of the series, excels in crafting the voices of the small cast, helping to deepen the isolation and mistrust dogging the story. Her skills at building and extending the tension are notable, adding to the recording’s multiple pleasures.
Rash, Ron. Serena. 10 CDs. 11hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2014. ISBN 9781480586277. $52.97. F
Set in a landscape that will become part of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rash’s Depression-era tale tells of a newly married couple who run a logging company in North Carolina. The pair seem to know no bounds as they follow a determined quest for power and fortune, and this bleak and violent Southern gothic details their ruinous path through the forest and the lives of others. Narrator Phil Gigante highlights Rash’s glorious ability with language and excels at devising vocal characterizations for the entire cast. His deft control of pacing and authentic-sounding dialog round out a top-notch performance.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. color. 720 mins. Ken Burns, PBS. 2009. Blu-ray UPC NA $84.99. NAT HIST
This Emmy Award–winning six-episode series traces the history of the U.S. National Park Service and highlights its many marvels. A visually stunning display of the treasures of America, the production makes a strong political point as well, that the intervention of government to save lands in the name of the public trust was a bold, necessary, and even founding idea. Episodes describe the history of the parks system, the creation of various areas, and the political fights and concerns involved in protecting land for future generations. Episodes also spotlight key figures such as President Theodore Roosevelt, author/naturalist John Muir, and industrialist Stephen Mather. In standard Burns fashion, actors (including Tom Hanks) provide voice-overs, while Peter Coyote narrates.
A Walk in the Woods. color. 104 min. Ken Kwapis, Broad Green Pictures. 2015. Blu-ray UPC 025192325878. $14.99. COMEDY
Wild. color. 115 min. Jean-Marc Vallée, 20th Century Fox. 2016. 4K Ultra HD UPC 024543261537. $29.99. DRAMA/MEMOIR
These two films offer viewers treks through a number of national parks, highlighting both the East and West Coasts. Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, is based on Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir of the same name. It follows Strayed as she tackles the Pacific Coast Trail, an epic cross-state hike across the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, allowing her time to reconcile her life and come to terms with grief and loss. On the other side of the country, Robert Redford and Nick Nolte take center stage in the adaptation of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about a pair who improbably set off on the Appalachian Trail, extending from Georgia to Maine, an equally epic journey, although this film is played more for laughs than catharsis.