A dual citizen of Britain and Canada and now a resident of Berlin, Lee is descended from mainland Chinese who were exiled to Taiwan and then relocated to Ontario where her fighter-pilot grandfather mopped floors in a factory. Her deeply reflective memoir combines cultural and political history as well as travel and, perhaps most of all, astute and heartfelt nature writing, for a moving inquiry into “what ought to be simple: articulating who we are.” Who, exactly, is Lee, as the heir to multiple displacements and their attendant losses and gains? The narrative centers on her relationship to Taiwan, a place she knows primarily from her mother’s memories. Compelled by “a longing to remember the things I hadn’t known,” Lee makes repeated visits to the island, exploring it through extensive hikes, linguistic research, and reconstruction of her family’s experiences, including a reunion with forgotten relatives. Throughout, Lee balances the often painful personal discoveries with fascinating details of Taiwan’s natural environment—especially its once magnificent false cypress forests—its cartographic history, and its precarious position along two tectonic plates which has endowed it with more than forty active fault lines.
Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, an evolutionary biologist and science journalist, respectively, taught us a lot about animals, humans, and the diseases we share in their groundbreaking Zoobiquity. Again skirting the twin dangers of anthropomorphism—making animals too much like us—and anthopodenialism—missing the connections between us and animals—their new work looks at how both animals and humans experience adolescence. Shared by nearly all species, from insects and amphibians to birds and mammals, adolescence, or, as the authors term this pivotal developmental stage, Wildhood (Scribner, $28), is crucial to helping the young develop skill sets concerning safety, status, sexuality, and independence. Examining each life lesson in detail, the book tracks the experiences of a juvenile penguin leaving her Antarctic birthplace for the treacherous seas; a young male hyena, born at the low-end of his species’s totem pole; the complicated romantic history of a humpback whale; and a wolf who has to go off and survive on his own. Full of fascinating details about these four species and many others, these coming-of-age stories also bear profound similarities to those of their human counterparts. If teens seem maddeningly reckless, over-sensitive, and obsessed with status, this book shows that they are only behaving as evolution prepared them to.
Richard Louv struck a nerve with his Last Child in the Woods, which diagnosed a host of physical and psychological ills as symptoms of nature-defi cit disorder. Simply put: if we get outside more, we’ll feel better. We’ll feel even better—and treat the planet better—Louv shows in Our Wild Calling (Algonquin, $27.95) if we cultivate relationships with animals. Making his case with stories buttressed by studies, Louv shows how bonds with animals have changed people’s lives, and often that of the animals as well. Moving and thought-provoking, these accounts—featuring dogs, foxes, crickets, turtles, elk, wounded birds, and others—illustrate how relationships with animals ease loneliness, connect us to something larger than ourselves, and stimulate empathy and generosity. This “magic” lies behind the increase in service and emotional support animals, and it will also serve as the foundation for new kinds of relationships with wild animals—to the point that we can stop the crises of the Anthropocene and move instead into an era “where we advance through a deep sense of shared connection with other living things.” As reflected in new accommodations to animals in urban spaces, such as wildlife corridors and biophilic architecture, and even granting legal rights to rivers and land, we’re already taking the first steps.