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Category: animals

A natural history that almost wasn't: 'America's Other Audubon'

"Nest and Eggs of a Field Sparrow"
As a little girl in Ohio in the mid-1800s, Genevieve "Gennie" Jones would accompany her country doctor father in his buggy as he visited patients. Along the way they'd discuss the natural world, which turned into a lifelong passion. Then in 1876, consumed with heartache from a broken engagement, Jones traveled to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Here she viewed John James Audubon's masterpiece, "Birds of America."

Inspired by the beautiful watercolor drawings, she returned home with a new sense of purpose, determined to create a companion book illustrating birds' nests and eggs. Encouraged and financed by her father, Jones set about creating the artwork. Her brother, Howard, collected the specimens, wrote the field notes. With help from her friend Eliza Shulze, they practiced sketching the eggs and nests and learning the lithography process through correspondence.

After completing just five illustrations, Jones was stricken with typhoid fever and died. Overcome with grief, the family decided to continue working on the project as a memorial to their beloved. Seven years later in 1886, "Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio" was published.

Of the 90 completed, only 26 intact copies have been located. One (valued at $80,000) on display in a plexiglass case at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History caught the attention of the new assistant librarian, Joy Kiser, who would walk by it every day. Captivated by the story of the Joneses and their unbridled devotion to completing Genevieve's endeavor, Kiser, now a writer and editor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, spent the next 15 years meticulously researching materials, tracking down relatives and telling their story at seminars.

She chronicles the tragic yet triumphant story behind the making of the Joneses' extraordinary 19th century book in "America's Other Audubon" (Princeton Architectural Press: $45). The cover of "America's Other Audubon"

"Despite praises and positive reviews from naturalists and ornithologists, Jones' book was never given the proper reception," said Kiser, who felt a strong connection through a shared appreciation of nests and eggs when she was a child. "Finishing the book was a way to keep her alive."

It was a laborious undertaking by the Joneses. Although Shulze left to study art in New York, she trained Jones' mother, Virginia, how to draw on the lithographic stones; nearly 90 copies of every illustration had to be hand colored, so they hired local girls to help.

The life-size color and black and white illustrations were drawn and colored by hand with imported Winsor and Newton watercolors and printed on the same Whatman's Hotpressed Antiquarian paper that Audubon used. The intricate details of the nests' construction are accentuated with the occasional burst of baby blue eggs.

PHOTOS: Images from "America's Other Audubon"

Jones' father, Nelson, depleted his retirement savings and sold subscriptions to museums, naturalists and even President Rutherford B. Hayes and Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt. During production, Howard and Virginia contracted typhoid, leaving Howard with heart damage and Virginia nearly blind for two years.

"America's Other Audubon" features original field notes and reproductions of the 68 original lithograph plates representing 129 species. Actually, 130 were intended, but, alas, the nest and eggs of the Cerulean Warbler could not be found.


The World's Most Expensive Book

-- Liesl Bradner

Images: (Top) "Nest & Eggs of the Field Sparrow," Illustrated by Virginia Jones. (Bottom) The book's cover art . Credit: "Americas Other Audubon," by Joy M. Kiser. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.

Book news: Dr. Spock ebook, 'disgusting' blurbs, Gingrich's pandas

Drspock9thAre you an ultra-modern new parent who wants to raise kids the tried-and-tested mid-century way? "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care," the bestselling child-rearing bible, will be available as an ebook starting next week, Skyhorse Publishing has announced. Dr. Spock's manual has sold more than 50 million copies and gone through nine editions since its initial publication in 1946; now parents can read it on Kindle, Nook or iPad. Three other Dr. Spock books have already made the ebook leap: "Dr. Spock's The School Years," "Dr. Spock's The First Two Years" and "Dr. Spock's Pregnancy Guide."

The literary website The Millions looks at the practice of book blurbing. Book blurbs, the quotes that appear on the back of a book from other writers, were dubbed "disgusting tripe" by George Orwell. Back in 2005, Nick Tosches tackled the same topic for Book Forum, from the perspective of both a book blurbee and blurber. He confirmed the suspicion that many authors don't actually read the books they blurb. "I like you. I don't need to read it," he told a new friend who'd asked for a blurb for his first book. "Just tell me a little about it and I'll give you the blurb." Tosches writes that his blurb -- "a howl of laughter from the abyss of horror, a comic nightmare from the sick, troubled sleep of this century's desolate end" -- did appear on the book, but doesn't reveal the title. What was it? Jerry Stah's "Permanent Midnight."

The website Book Riot, launched late last year by a roster of experienced book bloggers, has upgraded its design. Instead of looking like a blog, it now looks like a magazine, better showcasing the work of its writers.

Did you know that Newt Gingrich likes pandas? The N.Y. Daily News parsed eight years of the Republican candidate's Amazon reviews -- at one point, Gingrich, who when he's not running for office writes historical fiction, earned the site's "top reviewer" status. Books he commented on included Henry Kissinger's "Does America Need a Foreign Policy," "The Marines of Autumn: A Novel of the Korean War" by James Brady, and Terry L. Maple's "Saving the Giant Panda." Sadly, for Gingrich, there are not many pandas in Florida.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

2012 Steinbeck Festival will also fete Woody Guthrie


The Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., has held a festival honoring the author of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men" every year since 1980. At the 2012 Steinbeck Festival it will jointly celebrate John Steinbeck and folk musician Woody Guthrie, two chroniclers of American hardship and resilience.

2012 marks Guthrie's centennial, and the Steinbeck Center will present an exhibition, "Woody Guthrie at One Hundred," in cooperation with the Grammy Museum and the Woody Guthrie archives.

Guthrie's daughter Nora Guthrie is scheduled to appear at the festival, which is scheduled for May 3-6 and will be organized around the theme "The Voice." Others expected to appear include Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw and members of Ansel Adams' family, who will discuss Yosemite National Park with author Peter T. Hoss. There will be a discussion of graphic novels and closing day -- a free family day -- will include bilingual events.

Steinbeck celebrations will also be held far afield next year, in New York, the Philippines and Jerusalem.


2009: Steinbeck's latest sad story

"The Bacon of Wrath": John Steinbeck in #replacebooktitleswithbacon

John Steinbeck's migrant workers

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times

Dogfight! Julie Klam vs. Jill Abramson, editor of the N.Y. Times


Two slender books written by women about the relationship between humans and dogs are coming to shelves. The first, "The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout," is by no less than Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times; it's out next week. Then a week later comes "Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself" by Julie Klam, whose previous book, the dog memoir "You Had Me at Woof," was a N.Y. Times bestseller.

How do the two match up?

Abramson/"Puppy": 256 pages
Klam/"Bark": 192 pages

Abramson/"Puppy," first line: "The truth about getting a new dog is that it makes you miss the old one."
Klam/"Bark," first line: "It was six forty-five a.m., and I was heading back to my apartment with my three dogs, Wisteria, Fiorello, and Beatrice."

Abramson/"Puppy": photos of Scout in the text
Klam/"Bark": photos of dogs on the end papers

Abramson/"Puppy," Page 70: "What happened next was a loopy canine version of O. Henry's famous short story, 'The Gift of the Magi.' On the same day and without telling each other, Henry and I both put in a distress call to the same dog trainer."
Klam/"Bark," Page 70: "I'm not taking her, but the group is trying to decide whether or not she should come in to foster. She has malabsorption syndrome and some neurological thing and she's 'fecally incontinent.' "

Abramson: 9,982 Twitter followers
Klam: 5,398 Twitter followers

Abramson/"Puppy," Pages 154-155: "I still yearned, of course, to return to my epicurean days of cooking a plat du jour for Buddy. But Henry was still insisting that we refrain from giving Scout human food at mealtimes, using it only for high-value treats."
Klam/"Bark," Page 155: "Would I wear dirty, wet clothes to save a dog? Definitely. Was I looking forward to it? Nope."

On Monday, Klam premiered her book trailer, which features Twitter buddy Timothy Hutton (playing  something like "evil Timothy Hutton") at New York Magazine. So far, Abramson does not have a book trailer, but you can hear her talking about  writing "The Puppy Diaries" on the book's website.


Susan Orlean on writing "Rin Tin Tin"

Book review: "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend" by Susan Orlean

New N.Y. Times executive editor Jill Abramson's upcoming puppy book

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credits: Riverhead Hardcover, left; Times Books

Susan Orlean on writing 'Rin Tin Tin'

Susan Orlean's book "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" publishes today. The New Yorker staff writer recently sat down in her backyard with Carolyn Kellogg to talk about writing, dogs and her family's recent move to Los Angeles. Here is more of the conversation.

Jacket Copy: How did you start thinking about Rin Tin Tin?

Susan Orlean: When you're a writer, the things that are in your immediate world often trigger you to think of story ideas. Having a new dog, I think, just refreshed that whole interest. And then one story led to another.

I can't imagine being excited to do something that I already knew the parameters of: It grew and grew and grew. I start the story in the late 1800s when Lee [Duncan, Rin Tin Tin's trainer] is born. In order to tell the story with any authority, it required me really learning a huge spread of history. I began thinking the story is really Daphne [Hereford, who sells puppies descended from Rin Tin Tin] and the present day, then no, of course not. The story is Lee and Daphne. And then, really in the 11th hour, I thought, "Oh no, the story is Lee and Burt [who produced the Rin Tin Tin TV show] and Daphne." There was another span of about 40 years and the whole beginning of television. It was a lot, a lot, a lot.

JC: How do you maintain your curiosity?

SO: It's just the way I look at the world. I don't do anything to fuel it or engage it -- I think it's hard for me to not enter a situation and think, "I wonder about that, or I wonder who that is, or if you took that road instead of this road, I wonder where you’ll end up." It's a habit of mind that is instinct.

JC: It seems like obsessives feature frequently in your work; they definitely make a strong appearance in "Rin Tin Tin."

SO: First if all, I think people who are obsessive live their life almost like on a billboard. Their dreams and desires are so capitalized, that as a writer they're very attractive. They've got this defining psychology that makes them appealing and dramatic. One hopes that as a writer, you never portray them as being so simplistic that they become a caricature.

Continue reading »

Like Haruki Murakami? Do it on Facebook and read Ch. 1 of '1Q84

Murakami1Q84 Haruki Murakami's massive new novel "1Q84" won't be on sale until Oct. 25, but its first chapter is on Facebook now.

To access it, fans must "like" the Haruki Murakami Facebook page. Like many things on the Internet, Murakami's Facebook page includes a cat photo -- the author is holding one.

In Japan, the much-anticipated book was closely guarded and held back until its publication day. For its publication in the United States, it is not so hard to find. 

In July, The Millions dug up the first paragraph and published it online. But the next paragraph is what launches it as a story. From Facebook, the opening of "1Q84":

The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janácek's Sinfonietta — probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn't seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

How many people could recognize Janácek's Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between "very few" and "almost none." But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.

And then the story continues. The New Yorker published an excerpt of "1Q84" in late August. These two pieces probably won't give too much away -- the book is 944 pages long.


Haruki Murakami's '1Q84': The first words

Haruki Murakami's '1Q84' coming to America this year

New Yorker brings back Haruki Murakami story for Japan issue

-- Carolyn Kellogg



Subscribe or the puppy gets it

Slakepuppy Slake isn't really threatening this adorable little puppy. But it would like you to subscribe, and this newborn is coincidentally in the possession of magazine co-editor Joe Donnelly. Slake is the year-old Los Angeles-based literary magazine that has published work by Mark Z. Danielewski, Jonathan Gold, Michelle Huneven, James Greer, Jerry Stahl, Dana Goodyear and Ben Ehrenreich.

On Facebook, Donnelly has posted about a summer subscription special the magazine is holding. "This is required," Donnelly wrote, encouraging people to subscribe now and get one issue free. "I've got a pregnant dog, for god's sake (yes, I'm exploiting my pregnant dog in hopes that you'll take pity on all of us and subscribe to Slake)."

The pregnant dog had the littlest litter ever: You're looking at him.

The dog was found cowering under a car in Donnelly's neighborhood June 27. Whose car? Actress Lisa Edelstein's -- she played Dr. Cuddy, House's boss, on "House." Edelstein and Donnelly finally got the dog to come out. Then Donnelly adopted her. And in exchange, Edelstein now reads Slake. She posted a photo of Joe and his new dog via Twitter.

After Joe suddenly found himself the owner of a newly rescued dog, Slake had a naming contest on Facebook. The winner got a free issue of Slake No. 3 -- and gender notwithstanding, the little dog got the name "Otto."

Surprise! Otto was pregnant. She gave birth to her puppy on July 13.

In June of last year, Donnelly told The Times,"We got tired of people complaining that print is dead, that culture is dead -- that writing is dead. We wanted to get up and take action." But now, the literary journal has also found a way to embrace the online world. Its online presence is now robust, with a beautiful website with a unique design, integrated online event invitations, art from the magazine and excerpts its written pieces. While emphasizing its print product, Slake has jumped into social media whole hog -- or, rather, whole dog.


Former LA Weekly editor is back in print with Slake

The opening celebration for "The Rattling Wall"

A literary journal editor reveals the secrets of getting published

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Otto's puppy, name TBD. Credit: Joe Donnelly

The Reading Life: Lydia Davis talks to the animals

Thecows_lydiadavis This is part of the occasional series The Reading Life by book critic David L. Ulin.

I'll read anything Lydia Davis does. Her fiction -- the story collections "Break it Down," "Almost No Memory," and "Varieties of Disturbance," and the novel "The End of The Story" -- are masterpieces of spare, objective writing, acute and often edgily funny: the very definition of sharp. Her translations assume nothing, taking their cues entirely from the text. 

Davis' chapbook "The Cows" operates along a similar trajectory, although it is also a departure of sorts. Originally published in the journal "Electric Literature," this series of impressions reads almost like a set of entries from a disembodied diary, as Davis watches three cows that live in a pasture across the road from her upstate New York home.

"Each new day," she begins, "when they come out from the far side of the barn, it is like the next act, or the start of an entirely new play." The conceit here -- or the tension, such as it is -- has to do with the interplay between human intention and bovine placidity. "They comes out from behind the barn," Davis observes, "as though something is going to happen, and then nothing happens."

And yet, in that apparent nothing, Davis uncovers something, as she has throughout her career. How does she do it? I can't say, exactly, but perhaps the key is that she takes nothing for granted, watching the cows as if to discover new ways to see.

"They are often like a math problem," she writes, in my favorite passage:

2 cows lying down in the snow, plus 1 cow standing up looking at the hill, equals 3 cows.

Or 1 cow lying down in the snow, plus 2 cows on their feet looking this way across the road, equals 3 cows.

By the end of the chapbook (it's only 37 pages) the three cows have become five, echoing the cycles that occupy the center of this impressionistic work. It's the most simple stuff, but by slowing down to take a look, day in and day out, Davis reminds us of the profundity of everything -- even creatures who "do not know the words 'person,' 'neighbor,' 'watch,' or even 'cow.'"

-- David L. Ulin

A memory book for dogs (and the people who love them)

Today my heart is swelling with love for Dolores Hestad, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and -- most important -- devoted caretaker of the 5-year-old Shih-tzu Shadow. She's also the author of "This Is My Doggie Life" and "This Is My Kitty Life" -- two self-published memory books similar to the ones people make for babies. In this case, however, they're for dogs and cats.

On the Official Blog of Dolores Hestad, she writes that she conceived of the animal memory book while on her way home from a vacation with her husband and Shadow.

I thought wouldn't it be nice to have a book to write all of Shadow's adventures.  He had taken a plane ride from Seattle to California, went to the beach for the first time and tasted the salt water.  When we got home I started to do some research and writing things down and I thought, why not write a book like a baby book but only for dogs and cats?

The result is a book that has space for devoted caretakers to record their furry friend's medical history,  Dolores microchip number, favorite things, least favorite things and tales of their four-legged adventures. And, of course, there's  room for photos too.

I haven't gotten around to making a baby book for my 3-year-old, so it's unlikely that my dog's adventures and health will receive this level of attention. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the cover or the title font on the interior pages. It has a saccharine, cutesy vibe -- but it's hard not to love a great-grandma so enamored by her dog that she was inspired to make a memory book for him.

And for other dog lovers to purchase  too, which they can at major online retailers through links on Hestad's website.


New N.Y. Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson's upcoming puppy book

The 1970s classic 'Once Upon a Potty' goes digital

Kafka meets kittens in 'The Meowmorphosis'

-- Deborah Netburn

Photos: Courtesy of Dolores Hestad

New N.Y. Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson's upcoming puppy book


On Thursday, the New York Times announced that former investigative reporter and editor Jill Abramson, who has been serving as a chief deputy to Executive Editor Bill Keller, will replace him. Abramson is expected to take over her new duties Sept. 6.

Keller will become a full-time writer, the newspaper reports. Abramson is a writer herself -- and although she's reported from Washington and Wall Street, her upcoming title isn't about business or politics.

It's about puppies.

Puppydiaries Actually, that's not quite true. "The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout" is based a series of columns she wrote in the Times about her new golden retriever. The 256-page book expands on what ran in the paper, and although a copy has not made its way to Jacket Copy, it does have an awfully cute cover.

"The Puppy Diaries" is being published by Times Books, which describes it this way:

Part memoir, part manual, part investigative report, The Puppy Diaries continues Abramson's intrepid reporting on all things canine. Along the way, she weighs in on such issues as breeders or shelters, adoption or rescue, raw diet or vegan, pack-leader gurus like Cesar Millan or positive-reinforcement advocates like Karen Pryor.

"The Puppy Diaries" will be published in October. Chances are Abramson will be too busy with her new responsibilities to go on book tour, but maybe Scout will show up for a few signings.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Newly named New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, center, with new Managing Editor for News Dean Baquet, left, and outgoing Executive Editor Bill Keller, right. Credit: Fred R. Conrad / Associated Press


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