Book Notes

 

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl
Stacey O'Brien, Free Press, August

What a hoot! (Pun intended.) A fun and enlightening book about the fascinating world of owls and the humans who study them. Stacey O'Brien was a young biologist working in the Hogwarts-like atmosphere of the owl lab at Cal Tech in 1985 when she "fell in love with a four-day-old barn owl." The owl, dubbed Wesley, had an injured wing that had left him unable to survive in the wild. O'Brien took him on, commencing a 19-year love affair that ended only with Wesley's death. The demands of owl-rearing, including the necessity of chopping up countless mice, cost the author some boyfriends, but she succeeds in making us feel it was all worth it. O'Brien's bubbly spirit matches Wesley's own. No other characters are really developed, but the author's focus on her relationship with her live-in owl doesn't require much else.

 

Trash Fish: A Life,
Greg Keeler, Counterpoint Press, October

Greg Keeler grew up with a father and grandfather who fished copiously and with the help of extensive profanity. The longtime Montanan evolved into an awkward youth more attuned to his fishing gear than to the women in his life. He has a penchant for "trash fish," those bottom-feeders like carp and catfish, finding in them a source of humor and a metaphor for what he perceives as his own sorry soul. His writing achieves what good comedy strives for  -- tears amid the hilarity. This is a guy who, through many trials, comes to realize just how much he loves his wife; his obsessive fishing turns out to be both an escape into perpetual boyhood and a way out of it. Along the way we meet various denizens of the literary, celebrity and good ol' boy culture of Montana. This deeply touching book is easily accessible to those who have never fished; highly recommended.

 

Bretz's Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World's Greatest Flood
John Soennichsen, Sasquatch Books, October

Books like this bridge an important gap between those with Ph.D.s in geology and those just curious enough to pick up a Roadside Geology book. Washington writer John Soennichsen uses the life of J. Harlen Bretz as a vehicle for laying out the tensions of geology as it came of age in the last century. The Great Flood, a Pleistocene catastrophe that permanently altered the landscape of eastern Washington, was "undiscovered" until Bretz began measuring land forms in the area. The book provides an erudite tour of some of America's least-known country, but Soennichsen is less strong on the geologist's own life. Bretz himself does not seem particularly colorful, and Soennichsen tends to use stuffy language to describe him, as if in writing about a Victorian you have to become one yourself. Arcane phrases like  "God-fearing Christians" and "marry they did" abound; still, Bretz's Flood makes for an affable and informative read.

Kate Niles is the author of the award-winning novel The Basket Maker. She lives in Durango, Colorado.