Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

June 16, 2024

Ill-Advised Hike of Grand Canyon Becomes Paean To A Park's Legacy, and America's Pandemic Steward Tells His Story

A Walk in the Park: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko. What began as one of the most poorly thought-out and harebrained hikes perhaps of all time turned over the course of 14 months into a life-changing experience. Back in 2014, Kevin Fedarko was approached by his best friend, National Geographic photographer Pete McBride, with an idea - the pair would embark on an end-to-end traverse of the Grand Canyon, a journey of approximately 750 miles that, McBride promised, would be "a walk in the park." Against his better judgment, Fedarko agreed to the scheme, unaware that the small cluster of experts who had completed the crossing billed it as "the toughest hike in the world."

You would think Fedarko would know better, having spent 20 years writing about conservation, exploration, and the Grand Canyon. He is also the author of The Emerald MileThe Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, which chronicles a trip down the Colorado River undertaken by himself and two others in a wooden dory. And, yet, he and McBride set out - determined but woefully unequipped, both in terms of gear and any real understanding of what the physical demands would be. In a 2022 interview with travel blogger Pam LeBlanc, Fedarko talked about how they quickly realized the enormity of their task: “You have to walk into side canyons, and there’s no trail that will carry you by land through it. You’re trying to piece together a route that’s trying to resist travel. There’s only one highway through there, and that’s the river.”

After about two weeks, the foolish duo recognized that their lack of planning rendered their goal impossible - even with the help of some experienced Grand Canyon hikers - and they went home to regroup. When they resumed, it was with a new appreciation of their goal and the canyon itself. Overall, the 750-mile “walk” took 75 days broken up into eight trips over the course of 14 months. Over that time, Fedarko and McBride discovered a place that was deeper, richer, and far more complex than anything the two men had imagined--and it came close to killing them both more than once. Along the way, they met members of the canyon's 11 Native American tribes who brought them face-to-face with layers of history that forced them to reconsider myths at the center of our national parks. As Fedarko puts it, “Although it’s one of America’s iconic national parks, it’s one taken from 11 tribes that occupied that space for thousands of years before we arrived. They were written out but retain a connection to the canyon and continue to draw sustenance from it – and still do today.”

On Call: A Doctor's Journey in Public Service by Anthony Fauci, M.D. The calm and experienced steward of the country's pandemic crisis - and a subsequent punching bag for ignorant MAGA sycophants - has written an appealing autobiography that chronicles his illustrious career in medicine and public service. In addition to advising seven Presidents on global HIV/AIDS issues and on preparedness against emerging infectious disease threats, Fauci was the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 1984 to 2022. In addition to Covid and AIDS, he has provided leadership in navigating worldwide outbreaks of anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, West Nile, and SARS. In addition, he has spent decades caring for critically ill patients and the last several years navigating the often muddy whirlpool of Washington politics. Not a bad resume.

Fauci divides On Call into five sections: From Bensonhurst to Washington; The AIDS Era; The War on Terror and Disease; Expecting the Unexpected; and Covid. And although his career and accomplishments are massive in scope, his chapters are filled with personal anecdotes and in-the-room conversations with everyone from decision-makers to patients. When the book's publication was announced, Fauci said, “I hope that this memoir will serve as a personalized document for the reader to understand better the daunting challenges that we have faced in public health over the past 40 years. I would also like to inspire younger individuals in particular to consider careers in public health and public service.”

Racial Incident Doesn't Color Passionate Birdwatcher's Love of Natural World

Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper. The timing of this paperback release on the eve of Juneteenth may be coincidental, but the book serves as an apt reminder of our country's fluid definition of freedom for all. Reading about Cooper's life as a "Blerd" (Black nerd - his description), devoted comics fan, and avid birdwatcher is plenty interesting on its own, but his handling of unwanted celebrity and his grace under racism add extra depth to this memoir.

A science and comic book writer, the New York resident spends every spring gazing upon the migratory birds that stop to rest in Central Park, a ritual that's been a part of his life since childhood. Unfortunately, that ritual was rudely interrupted in May 2020 when what should have been a routine encounter with a White female dog walker whose dog was off-leash in a restricted area turned racially ugly. Cooper's video of the incident went viral, spurred in part by another racial incident the same day - the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Although Better Living Through Birding does devote space to the incident, and includes Cooper's explanation of how a life spent watching helped prepare him for such encounters, that's not the primary focus of his story. Instead, he extols the pleasures of a life lived in pursuit of the natural world and invites readers to discover them for themselves. Equal parts memoir, travelogue, and primer on the art of birding, this is Cooper's story of learning to claim and defend space for himself and others like him, from his days at Marvel Comics introducing the first gay storylines, to life-changing birding expeditions through Africa, Australia, the Americas, and the Himalayas. Cooper is passionate about his hobby, and his enthusiasm might make even a non-birder grab a pair of binoculars.

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

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