Tag Archives: Adult Non-Fiction

William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘N’ Roll by Casey Rae

David Bowie and William Burroughs, photo by by Terry O’Neill 

I didn’t read much as a child. As a late teen, I discovered good literature via my love for Rock & Roll. And I continue to do so as an old man.

I had a need to find the sources of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed’s references in their lyrics and interviews. Once I found The Beats, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Nelson Algren, and Hubert Selby, the flood gates broke and unleashed a “word hoard” that has drowned me. But, I believe, literature is a good way to die. Or live.

The writer who has influenced all the rockers that I mentioned before is WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS.

Paul McCartney chose him to be on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And through Paul, Burroughs was a big influence on The Beatles’ avant-garde development in the mid 60’s. Bob Dylan read Naked Lunch (1959) and it influenced his lyrics and poetry collection, Tarantula, which is like reading Burroughs’s later cut-ups. Lou Reed was very influenced by Burroughs’ subject matter in Junky, Queer, and Naked Lunch, reflected in many songs such as “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and “Heroin.”

Lou Reed and William S. Burroughs, photo by Victor Bockris

Bill lived a very hard and lonely life. But an exciting life.

Born in 1914 in St. Louis to a prominent family, Harvard educated, but bored and a total misfit, he began hanging with seedy people in seedy places. Bill was a founding member of The Beat Generation that began in the late 40’s with the meeting of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg.

He began doing morphine around age 30 and was a heroin junkie for a large part of his life. This made for him a very peripatetic life around the globe (Tangiers, Paris, London) until he landed in NYC in the mid 70’s. He was always running from the law. He was in his early 60’s and managed to get another bad heroin addiction in NYC. His assistant helped him move to Kansas to get away from drugs. He was on the methadone program and smoked weed until his death at age 83.

This book is not a biography but a travel through Burroughs’ life and those that choose him as a friend and an influence. And the list is long of musicians that sought Bill out at his place in NYC (known as “the Bunker”) or to his modest home that he owned, late in life, in Lawrence, Kansas. David Bowie (pictured above), Iggy Pop (pictured below), Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, members of Hüsker Dü, R.E.M., and Sonic Youth to name a few. Many just mined his writings for their band name (Soft Machine, Steely Dan, and Mugwumps – an early version of The Mama and Papas – to name a few), or for song titles/lyrics.

Iggy Pop and William S. Burroughs

This book explores every musician inspired by Bill’s very wild life and writings. The irony in such a book is that Bill had no interest in Rock & Roll or Punk Rock (which he is oftentimes called the Godfather of Punk Rock). But he took a great interest in the musicians that visited him. And he formed a few friendships with men young enough to be his grandsons.

He was very fond of Kurt Cobain, who visited him 6 months before Kurt committed suicide. As Kurt drove away, Burroughs remarked to his assistant, “There’s something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason.”

I have read a lot about Burroughs’ life and some of his books, yet there are stories told here that I have never heard before. For example, there’s a very funny one about his first visit from Al Jourgensen, the leader of the band Ministry.

William S. Burroughs is a writer that you should know and this book is a good way to begin. Or if you already familiar with him, it is a good book to add to your knowledge of him.

Reviewed by Tom,Main Library

Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald

I’m not going to lie, the title was the first thing that drew me to this book. Even though I am a library assistant, my bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and Criminology so I’ve always wondered how a library would work in a prison. I knew they existed because of the classes I took in college but I didn’t learn how they would work.

Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald answered the questions I had and even questions I didn’t even ask.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is prisonlibrary.jpgWhen the author graduated from library school in 2009 there were more librarians than jobs. Gruenwald took the only one that she could find, a position for a librarian at a minimum-security prison outside Cleveland, Ohio. What follows is a memoir of her time at the prison, the inmates and officers she meets, as well as the lessons she learned.

One thing which I discovered while reading this book is how similar working in a prison library is to working in a public library.  You still have the same patron looking for the newest James Patterson or other bestselling authors. You still have patrons asking random (sometimes off-the-wall) questions, seeking legal advice, and wanting the daily paper.

But I also learned what makes them different. A patron looking for the latest bestseller may be stymied due to prison rules and regulations about content. Further, budgetary considerations mean that patrons have to wait until a book is available in paperback. Also, prison libraries are subject to quite a bit of censorship, which for the most part is something that doesn’t exist in public libraries.

Reading Behind Bars isn’t a fast-paced memoir, but it was an informative read about one librarian’s first  job and the lessons she learned along the way. This is an important memoir for librarians and library employees. Any reader, as well as those employed in the criminal justice field, may learn something from this memoir.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In 1961, C. S. Lewis published A Grief Observed, a book about the death of his wife and his journey through his grief.  Nearly sixty years later, people are still connecting with Lewis’  words.  I read A Grief Observed last January, a few years after losing a dear friend.  Lewis affirmed my thoughts and feelings again and again and I wished that I had read it years before when I was in the midst of my grief. Death affects all of us. The loss of a loved one is at some point brought before us and yet still we often fumble in our interactions about grief and with the griever. I think Lewis says it best when he says:

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

You can’t help but feel Lewis’ deep love and subsequent anguish at the loss of his wife. His words ring true as he describes the anguish, the emptiness, the anger and finally the desideratum surrounding a life partner taken too quick. Lewis puts words to an experience all face but few can articulate in quite a poignant manner. He writes:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

– C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

How often have those who have been in a period of loss felt that restlessness with a listlessness that makes it hard to be? You can’t really sit still because you need to move before you drown further in the sadness that has grabbed hold of all of you. If you are there and you need help facing life after death, I highly recommend A Grief Observed. I recommend it for anyone who wants to witness fierce love and loss and becoming who you will be without, all that you were before.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy

“Does for mental clutter what Marie Kondo has done for household clutter.”

Publishers Weekly

This sounds like a pretty heavy book, in length and depth. It is the latter. But it is “simple” heavy in its depth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading it. I have a great interest in Zen, but most books are beyond my ken. I am 55 years old, and I have endured a great amount of suffering, physically and emotionally (lesson 76). Thus, I often feel that I have a lot of the Buddha within me without learning terminology, sutras, and koans. I’ve learned a little of Zen and Taoism via other authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Hanshan.

The author here, Shunmyo Masuno, breaks down 100 practices into small segments that are easy to digest and also, easy to put down and pick right back up without losing a beat. Because of chronic pain, my life has become a very cluttered existence. Both in the brain and all around me physically. So I saw this new book laying on a cart and with its sky blue cover, I was drawn it. And like a Satori, I realized that I need this book. And so I picked it up.

We are born with nothing. NOTHING! But along the way, we pick up attachment after attachment and we don’t realize the weight we are carrying within and without. And until they weight us down so much that we live in fear and anxiety, we are not mindful of how big a burden we carry with everything from ideas to cars and houses.

After reading half of this book, I realized that WOW, I KNOW all these lessons. And it is true that these lessons are simple to understand and if you have lived long enough, you may know them as well. So, for me, these lessons are a reminder to put to use what I already know. Be mindful of your life. Every second of it.

America, Louisville, and often your workplace are full of anxiety. Learning to be calm has been helping me with all three. I tune out the world and all its trivial news and problems. I now worry only about what is in front of me. I cannot change the past, and can only change the future by being calm and seeking within. The best way to calm yourself is to be in Nature. Go take a hike. If you cannot hike, lay on a blanket in the park. Stare at flowers.  But you need to find time alone and away from the cares of the world. Empty the Mind of all the woes and worries that the world puts in it. Let go of attachments. But when you buy something, treat it with love. Respect it.

This small book can help you on your journey to finding ENLIGHTENMENT. All the answers are within you. Seeking them outwardly is not the solution. I personally have trouble with ‘being positive.’ I usually hate people when they point this out. But after reading this book, I am trying hard to be POSITIVE without advertising it to anyone. Work hard to be happy in the moment. And BE IN THE MOMENT! Or as Ram Dass put it: BE HERE NOW. This book will make you think about how you spend/waste your time. And in the end, that is what life is.

We have this book both in Hardcover and in eBook. Reserve it here!

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

I remember singing this rhyme as a child. I found it fascinating and morbid and terribly ghoulish.  So began my obsession with all things true crime, the tale of Lizzie Borden being one.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lizzieborden.jpg

I find true crime to be an irresistible genre, whether in books, movies or television, it holds my attention like no other category.  Making a Murderer, The Staircase, Amanda Knox, Forensic Files, you name it, I’ve probably watched it.  As a teen and young adult I very much wanted to be an FBI profiler and read John Douglas books prolifically. I studied serial killers and during my undergrad study in a major of psychology my two favorite courses were Deviant Psychology and Homicide.  I never became an FBI profiler but being a librarian is pretty rad in itself and when a new book came out recently about the trial of Lizzie Borden, I was on it.

I knew of the basics of the case and some of the theories, she did it naked, she had a mysterious lover, maybe she and Bridget Sullivan did it together…etc., etc., etc.

Yet the case still holds a deep fascination for me and many other people.  If she did commit the murders, how did she do it without having a speck of blood on her?  There’s an hour time lapse after her stepmother was killed to when her father was murdered.  So she’s got an hour at least with other people in the house and she spoke to her father before he went to lie down in the parlor.  If she did do it how in the world did she hide that she had murdered her stepmother for AN HOUR?  AAGHH.  I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.  So my skepticism that she could have done it is strong.  However, who else would commit such a very personal attack? Makes my head spin…

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson was a treat to read.  Robertson being a lawyer herself, the book is incredibly well organized and researched.  I learned of the particulars of the day of the murders, Lizzie’s arrest, the intricacies of the trial, newspaper accounts, local accounts by members of the Fall River society and the sensation the murders and trial triggered in the community and the world.  The mystery of Lizzie’s burned dress, the curious disappearance of a hatchet handle, possible missteps by the local police and more puzzling details are included.  Robertson gives a gifted account of the time period as well, being the Gilded Age of America, and how cultural and gender expectations of the time affected Lizzie and the trial. 

The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a page turner and kept me on my toes.  While I was reading late at night I’d turn to look down my long, dark hallway past my bedroom and fear the figure of Lizzie staring me down at the end of it.  I spooked myself pretty badly a couple times.  And yet…I still cannot say what I believe in terms of her guilt or innocence.  Robertson leaves it to you, the reader, to be judge and jury and I still can’t find myself on one side or the other.

— Review by Heather, St. Matthews

“We didn’t know it then, but our fairy tale was about to begin.”

“In those first few weeks, I had no idea that our story would be one so full of love.  When I adopted Juniper, I thought she needed me, but every time I see her snaggletoothed smile, I realize I need her, too.” – Jessika Coker, author of Juniper

The world presents before us a dichotomy: the good and the bad.  While this may well be a grossly oversimplified view of our world, my point is that we experience in our lives both good and bad, highs and lows, etc., and it seems far too easy to become focused on those less pleasant aspects of our lives here on earth.

With this in mind, I felt it appropriate for my review this month to be of a book whose focus is the pleasant, a simple “feel-good” story.  And why not?  It is immensely satisfying and uplifting to read about the wonderful things of which people are capable, and Juniper, the Happiest Fox is a book that very much accomplishes this.

To begin, I must place before you an admission: due to the literature of my youth and of conventional folklore, the fox is an animal towards whom I have always felt a certain level of disdain.  Despite not owning fowl or other animal stock vulnerable to the fox, I have always felt a great sense of mistrust toward them.  And then there is the fact that I am the proud owner of a Wire Fox Terrier, who, as her breed name implies, finds as primary quarry the fox.  Well, Ms. Coker and her slim book have revised my feelings regarding this widely-decried “beast.”

Ms. Coker is a person who has since childhood felt a great love for all animals, and as she aged and collected experiences in veterinary clinics and animal rescue organizations, the fox became an especially beloved creature for her.  One day, she received word that there was a litter of kits in need of a good home.  When she arrived, the runt, who was no larger than the hand of a small child, called to her heart, and since in Native American culture juniper is employed to keep negativity at bay, it seemed the perfect name for this tiny ball of fur with an unforgettable snaggletooth that added to her perfection.

Thus, the adventures, filled with trials and tribulations, began for Ms. Coker and her Juniper.  This is a short read filled with anecdotes and lovely pictures that depict the love and affection that is possible between man and “beast.”  I would recommend this for anyone in need of a pick-me-up in a world that, perhaps, offers too many opportunities for pick-me-downs.

“Juniper gives me hope.  She is my constant reminder that there is still, goodness, purity, and unconditional love in this world.  The world can be heavy, but there’s still a little bit of magic if you know where to look.” – Jessika Coker, author of Juniper

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown

Andy Kaufman skirted the line between nonsense and reality in his performances where during his comedy career; he brought many unique characters to life.  Two of the most recognizable are Latka Gravas, a lovable kook on the TV series Taxi, and Foreign Man, a character he created for Saturday Night Live. Kaufman and his work  were immortalized in a film called Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey portrayed him.. Author Box Brown has now brought Kaufman’s life to another generation in a biographical graphic novel, Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.  

The novel follows his life beginning as child and his appreciation of performing arts, music and wrestling.  He enjoyed wrestling so much that he created parodies of his favorite stars bit of humor to the violent world of pro-wrestling. For a time, he put his dream of becoming a wrestler on hold while honing his showman skills with improvisational comedy and television appearances.  However, he felt this was not the direction in which he wanted to go. He finally jumped into the wrestling ring, putting on amazing acts and stirring up trouble along the way. His most notable appearance was the controversial debacle with former wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Box Brown’s simplistic pencil drawings and limited color illustrations capture the story of a young man who was sensitive, thoughtful, and very funny. He uses traditional boxed-in scenes throughout the entire book which reads like an original comic strip. The nostalgic style draws (pun intended) you into the story, while moving swiftly through Kaufman’s short life.  Brown has made this book more than a biography of Kaufman by including footnotes about the world of professional wrestling without interrupting the flow of the story.  There is also an in-depth bibliography of references, websites, television episodes, and personal interviews, as well as a list of books by people in the wrestling industry.

If you enjoy this journey into the life of a comedian turned wrestler, check out Brown’s book about another famous wrestler, Andre the Giant.  

Format Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

William Burroughs commented on Paul Bowles‘ autobiography, Without Stopping, saying it should have been, “Without Telling.” The opposite is true of this new bio on Lou Reed. It could be subtitled TMI.

Some called Lou names like The Prince of Darkness, Darth Vader of Rock, and those were the nice ones. His fans called him Lou. Andy Warhol called him Lulu. He called Warhol, Drella. A lot of people today don’t know who Lou Reed was (that’s fine…here is your shot to learn), or they confuse him with Lou Rawls (not cool). I call him the 2nd greatest songwriter ever, slightly behind Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan.

Lewis Allan Reed was born into an upper middleclass Jewish family on March 2, 1942. He was in Doo Wop and Rock groups as a teenager. He was on record by age 14, but his “true fame” wouldn’t come until after he finished College at Syracuse and had a lot of out of the norm personal experience. His parents had electroshock treatments performed on him, either because of his bisexuality (Lou’s version) or his according to his mother, doctors thought he may be schizophrenic.

Although, college was a dreadful experience for the non-conformist and drug user, Lou met someone there who changed his life. Delmore Schwartz was a renowned poet/professor on his way down. He had been a top poet in the 30’s but paranoia and speed had caught up with him by the 60’s. Of course, Lou chose him as a mentor. Schwartz would hold court at a little off campus bar and read James Joyce to his followers. Schwartz told Lou that if he ever “sold out” his talent as a writer, his ghost would haunt him. And it did to some degree.

After graduation in 1964 with a B.A. in English, Lou moved to NYC and became a songwriter for a small company called Pickwick, which produced cheap exploitation albums of the newest musical fads. He also made frequent trips into Harlem to buy heroin.

Lou and his fellow musicians wrote a song called, “The Ostrich,” that got some notice and airplay. It was recorded by studio musicians, so when a local TV station wanted the band (The Primitives) to perform, that had to search for a stage band quickly. One of the guys chosen was John Cale because he had long hair. Cale was an avant-garde classical musician from Wales. In time, the band evolved into The Velvet Underground. They played dives in NYC and got fired, but were discovered by Andy Warhol.

On July 11, 1966 Delmore dies. Lou was in the hospital for Hepatitis C and checked himself out to attend Delmore’s wake. So, in Warhol, Lou had found another 2nd father and genius to learn from. Andy is credited with producing the first Velvet Underground album. VU would go on to record 4 studio albums from 1967-1970, and go through many personnel changes (Lou was difficult to work with.) Lou fired Andy, but stayed friends until a later falling out.

Along the way Lou became a great guitarist noted for his use of distortion. When Lou left VU on August 23, 1970, he had had enough of the R&R business. VU had not been a financial success and they were only famous among the people living outside the mainstream. He had legal problems and was burned out on every level.

So he moved into his parent’s house and worked as a typist in his father’s business for $40 a week. Eventually he drifted back into his only true love. From 1972 to 2011, he released 22 solo albums, 13 live albums, and 16 compilation albums. He married 3 times to three distinct women. Lou was polysexual and experimented with various drugs, mainly speed, heroin, and alcohol. He was at times sweet and violent, and his songs reflect this. Some are soft and sensitive, others will offend most. In the end, after AA and laying off most drugs, Lou was mellow most of the time. Although reporters and critics were always fair game for him.

Lou died on a Sunday (Oct 27, 2013). One of his sweetest and most haunting songs was titled, Sunday Morning. For me, Lou had a good soul – wild, free, and full of anger as a young man. But in time, he would find some peace in the world.

A young writer named Vaclav Havel on a visit to the U.S. in 1968 bought the 2nd VU album. He would go on to lead the Velvet Revolution and become President of Czechoslovakia in 1989, and the First President of the Czech Republic. Lou interviewed him in 1990 and they became friends.

Lou was influential to many younger musicians and he could be called the Father of Punk, New Wave, Glam, and Alternative. All his albums are distinct. Read the book and listen to his albums! You’ll be glad you did.

Format Available: Large Type, Regular Type, eBook

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

 

Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading And Writing, Edited by Stephanie Stokes Oliver

Some time ago, a friend and I were discussing what it might be like to lack the ability to read and write. How many people today lack the wherewithal to decipher the black squiggly lines and put meaning to the words? Many of us cannot remember a time before we couldn’t read.

For a moment, place yourself in a foreign country that displays signs, names of streets, buildings and warnings, of which  none are in English. How will you find your way around or locate some place to eat or sleep?

Step for a time into the shoes of those whose rights were stolen, particularly the right to read. How would you feel? Frustrated? Powerless?

Be thankful that you have the ability to read and understand the essays edited by Stephanie Stokes Oliver and walk in the footsteps of those who suffered, struggled and overcame great difficulty to learn something you were given before you could miss it, knowledge of the written word.

Stephanie Stokes Oliver presents the book in three parts with writers of the various time periods; The Peril (1800-1900), The Power (1900-1968) and The Pleasure (1968-2017). This essay anthology follows the journeys of a multitude of African-Americans throughout history from Frederick Douglass to former president Barrack Obama on the importance of the ability to read and write. As you read each essay, you see how notable people lived their lives with a burning passion, the voracious need to decipher the written word, to express themselves in writing, to make a better life for themselves.

In The Peril, the reader will meet people like Solomon Northup. In his memoir, 12 Years as a Slave, Mr. Northup writes of his desperation to get a letter to a dear friend. He painstakingly boiled white maple bark to create the ink and plucked the wing of duck to use as the pen.

Did the letter reach its intended reader? You will have to read Black Ink to learn the answer.

The largest portion of essays are in The Power, a time period which includes comments from people like Maya Angelou. Angelou credits Ms. Flowers, who gave her lessons in life starting with reading, in part for her ability to read.  They shared classic books, such as A Tale of Two Cities, and after a time Ms. Flowers gave her a book of poetry for which Angelou memorized a poem she could share, strengthening her reading skills.  Why was this time period so filled with power of the written word?

In The Pleasure section, we hear about Roxane Gay* who recalls what drove her passion of reading was the desire to read the Sweet Valley High series.  “I waited for new Sweet Valley High books the way other kids waited for new comics or movie releases.”  What was so compelling about this series for Roxane Gay? To learn what the draw was behind this serialized storyline, read Black Ink.

My need to read this title came from the 2018 Read Harder Challenge from BookRiot.com as it fulfilled the challenge of reading an essay anthology.  In my opinion, the passion, the need and the love of reading from the various time periods through the decades are at the heart of these stories.  Oliver’s final summary is succinct and it drives home an important lesson for all, “Reading matters.  Writing matters. People matter.” Reading is an inalienable right for everyone.


*Roxanne Gay is a regular contributor to the New York Times and released a memoir last year called Hunger.


 

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch

The Tiger: a True Story of Vengeance and Survival

Cats are adorable little serial killers, as The Oatmeal would say. What if the cat in question were about fifty times bigger, and actually did decide to turn its predatory instincts on humans? It does happen, occasionally, that a big cat decides to put soylent green on the menu, and go hunting for long pork.

Cover art of The Tiger

Make a housecat fifty times bigger: the scariest thing you can think of, or the scariest thing possible to think of? Oh, and you’re trapped in the taiga with it. On the other side of Siberia. Good luck with that…

There have been other books about tigers, lions, leopards, and even lots of other non-cats that eat people. We have told stories of predators eating people for as long as stories have been told. Below: mammoth ivory carving of a cave lion, Panthera leo spelea, about 40,000 years old, from Vogelherd Cave. This is literally one of the oldest works known to be from our own species.

mammoth ivory carving of a cave lion's head.

By Rainer Halama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With head reattached to the recently-recovered body:

whole cave lion figurine

By Museopedia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By the late 19th Century, the stories people told were different: dangerous big cats were obstacles in the way of progress, and tigers were treated as vermin to be exterminated, prizes to be shot and counted.

a stack of dead tigers after a hunt

You get the idea. A large, relatively slow-breeding animal with a low rate of survival to adulthood and huge energy and space needs can’t make it against this kind of pressure.

As human settlement encroached on tiger territory, and old patterns of human and tiger behavior that kept both insulated changed, tigers came into increasing conflict with people. In this context, professional hunter Jim Corbett wrote the landmark book Man-Eaters of Kumaon, detailing why – in his experience – big cats became predators on humans, and that humanity and Earth would lose a part of their heritage and soul if they were to become extinct. Nature’s reserves were not infinite, and could be hunted to exhaustion.

cover of a new edition of man-eaters of kumaon.

A modern reprint of the classic. To give the book it’s due, it cemented the common wisdom that cats that eat people do so because they can’t catch their usual prey, and our world is richer for having tigers in it. Without this book, maybe all of our nature reserves and parks would be without any large predators in them.

The Tiger by John Vailiant adds to this robust body of literature, and, as it is written in the shadow of Corbett, far from being a straightforward “hunter vs man-eater” tale, touches on the instinct, myth, religion, and folklore of feline predators. Although in the main, this doesn’t go beyond a means to build up the beast into an almost supernatural force of vengeance, and ultimately it feels incomplete, as if in fleshing out this killer tiger tale with these details, there is another, more academic treatment that goes down to the bone marrow waiting to be made into its own book. Overall, while it left me hungry for more, this read is more modern, nuanced, and substantial than the earlier hunter-savior-proto-conservationist genre, epitomized by Jim Corbett’s Maneaters of Kumaon.

— Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch