walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Nature Noir_, Jordan Fisher Smith

I picked up the 2005 hardcover with the trees and then a free standing open door. This book has not attracted brilliant covers.

It reads a lot like Aldo Leopold's _Sand County Almanac_: short, episodic, with a quirky mix of nature observations and human interactions. Because it is subtitled "A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra", a solid chunk of the book is Cop Experiences. It's quite wonderful that the author has gone back and consulted records -- his own and others -- to flesh out the stories he remembers. And as one would expect from a Cop Memoir, the descriptions of his coworkers and their interactions are affectionate but subtle.

The very end of the book describes briefly his experience with Lyme Disease (he narrated a documentary on the subject later on).

I read Leopold (finally) for book group, in April 2012. I was really excited to read it, and expected to enjoy it. I didn't. And I'm sure when I picked up _Nature Noir_ at Barnes & Noble in April 2005, I was super excited to read a cop's eye view of the Sierras. I like parts of it. I eye rolled at other parts, notably the extended juxtapositions of nature with criminal activity.

I _suspect_ that just as Leopold's book is probably really quite fantastically good, this book is excellent as well. Whatever the case may be, while I did finish it, and was happy to have learned a lot, I mostly found the foreboding tone of the book (rangering in a condemned environment!) overwrought. But it seems wrong to pick on a really nice guy who did good work and then suffered from a really awful disease.

All the best to him, and if you think this is the kind of thing you might like (say, you really enjoy descriptions of lady beetles, or whatever -- I quite liked the description of the shelter made out of outhouses), give it a try. I'll say this for the author: he does not waste the reader's time. At no point in this book did I wish it were shorter, or that an editor had tightened it up, and I didn't have any difficulties finishing it.

I will further add that I really had no idea why we quit building dams in this country when I was a kid. I knew my dad really liked them and took us to all kinds of them on tours when I was young (he was an electrician: legitimate excuse). I figured we quit building dams because there weren't really suitable sites any more, but I retained a general impression of hydroelectric as "clean" energy; I knew the damage done to fish runs (my first husband's father and grandfather ran commercial fishing boats up in Alaska for a while, and he worked on them summers), I knew about the problems associated with temperature changes relating to releases. But I don't think I had the first clue about the degree of ignorance of seismic issues when dams were still being built (the engineers hadn't even accepted tectonics yet!), nor the number of dam failures and deaths directly attributed to the willful denial of those issues once better understood.

Fisher Smith does a really great job of conveying enough of that to make it very easy to go do further research on one's own (I wouldn't have wanted more within the narrative, so this is all to the good of the book). He also does an unusually good job of conveying the personalities of the participants in the policy process, and the blocks of stakeholders they represented.

I feel a little guilty not liking this more than I did, but sometimes the tone of a book just doesn't work for me. Perhaps as the days and weeks go by, my opinion of the book and my feelings about it will evolve (that sometimes happens with stealthily excellent books).

This was another in the Read or Release project; I'm particularly happy that I _did_ read it, rather than just eventually giving up and sending it along unread. I'll be interested to hear my sister's opinion, if she decides to read it.
Tags: book review, non-fiction

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