For the Birds Radio Program: Guilt Free Book Club

Original Air Date: Jan. 16, 2003

Laura talks about several books: Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder, a new biography of Frederick and Frances Hamerstrom, Gaylord Nelson’s Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise, and Ernest Thompson Seton’s Two Little Savages.

Duration: 4′27″


On the third Wednesday of every month I get together with a handful of people to talk books. We belong to the Guilt Free Gilt Free Book Club, and we talk about books that at least usually have something to do with birds. We meet at Pepper McGregor’s, a coffee shop that sells only fair-trade coffee, grown by small farmers rather than the ones who own the plantations that replace rain forest, so we don’t have to feel guilty.

Next month we’re going to be talking about Barbara Kingsolver’s new book of essays, called Small Wonder. She manages to weave stories about an Iranian baby found and nursed by a bear, global warming, the joys and heartaches of raising a child, and a hummingbird nest into a lovely and hopeful book about the future of the natural world. Anyone is welcome to show up—the point behind a guilt free book club is we don’t take attendance, and though we keep the conversation pretty much on the book we’re reading, we don’t feel guilty when we don’t. We don’t even feel guilty if we haven’t read the book.

I’ve been reading some other books, too, lately. There’s a new biography of Frederick and Frances Hamerstrom, the Wisconsin biologists who not only became authorities on prairie chickens and marsh hawks but did more to protect prairie chickens than probably anyone else in the world. This book, titled Mice in the Freezer, Owls on the Porch, is a wonderful look at the flamboyant Fran and her reserved, quiet husband and the partnership that produced thousands of pages of published research and trained hundreds of researchers. This book, by Helen McGavran Corneli, and published by the University of Wisconsin Press, opens with a quote by Robinson Jeffers:

The whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature or the artist admiring it, the person who is interested in things that are not human…We can best fulfill … humanity’s claims by keeping our emotional sanity, and this by seeing around and beyond the human race.”

Gaylord Nelson wrote a book titled Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise, an analysis of the environmental challenges we face, 32 years after the first Earth Day. It opens with a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who writes, “You show me pollution, and I will show you people who are not paying their own way, people who are stealing from the public, people who are getting the public to pay their costs of production. All environmental pollution is a subsidy.”

Of course, all these are fairly heavy reading. I’m also reading a children’s book originally published 100 years ago, in 1903, by Ernest Thompson Seton, called Two Little Savages. This delightful story of two boys who lived in the wilderness and learned about nature inspired hundreds of naturalists over the years—it was Roger Tory Peterson’s favorite childhood story. I bought it as a Dover reprint, and although I’m not very far into it yet, am finding it thoroughly enjoyable. Ernest Thompson Seton made over 200 simple little line drawings that both enliven the story and give it a lovely touch of sincerity and honesty.

Right now is a tough time to read the news, so I’m having a good time picking up substitutes in these books. If you’re interested in joining the book club, check it out on my webpage. Meanwhile, keep reading.