Book Review: Eruption

“A natural disaster is not a disaster until it becomes a human disaster; otherwise, in the minds of most people, it is a mere spectacle.”

This is one of my favorite lines from Steve Olson’s 2016 book, ERUPTION: The Untold Story Of Mount St. Helens. It perfectly sets the tone for the entire narrative : an honest and humanistic telling of the events of 1980. No one was prepared for what happened – the eruption was one of the largest in American history, killed 57 people and caused over a billion dollars in damage.

ERUPTION is coded as Science and the strikingly beautiful cover – featuring an erupting Mount St. Helens – only hints at the depths the book goes into while telling the tale of this dramatic natural disaster. You think you’re going to learn about the geology of volcanoes – and you certainly do – but the book is much more than that : a sympathetic tribute to the humans who found their lives intertwined with Nature in a powerful, life-altering way that fateful summer.

Olson is a master at weaving these stories through the narrative in a way that is easy and uncontrived. We learn about the science teams, the logging industry, and the local residents who were all major players in what transpired during those months and trace the final days of those who perished. We discover how decisions made even decades ago influenced the events of that day – of all the economic and political factors that shaped the fates of the victims.

I can’t recommend this book enough! It was a sweeping, cinematic look back at an important time in our nation’s history and Olson helped put everything into a larger context, interweaving personal tales with politics and capitalism in a moving and evocative way. It’s a great book for those interested in Natural History, Conservation, or the Pacific Northwest.

Five Questions With Grace: David Berger

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I didn’t know anything about razor clams, much less razor clamming, before I met David Berger.  I was the event person in charge of one of his book readings and his enthusiasm for the subject, as well as great presentation skills – he came prepared with some awesome visual aids!- soon had us all enthralled with this fascinating bivalve!

David has been a contributor to the food feature, “Northwest Taste,” in the Pacific Magazine, and is a former art critic for the Seattle Times. He is also a recipient of a Metcalf Fellowship for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

His new book, RAZOR CLAMS: BURIED TREASURE OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, is published by University Of Washington Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let’s here what David has to say!

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island every couple of years, so I guess it’s reasonable to wish I’d written it and had the chops for it.

It’s a great yarn and one of the world’s most popular books. I like stories and insights that have to do with the sea, and young Jim crossing the ocean with pirates and comrades, and having a tide-tossed boat ride in a tiny vessel called a coracle, are quite the watery adventures.

Sometimes people like to be read to as they’re failing in health and preparing to shuck this mortal coil. I wouldn’t mind hearing this tome in that circumstance. We’re all crossing something, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I need the stars to line up correctly, some space in my life and head, research and papers at hand, and a good amount in my bank account

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would you want to always have in your home?

 

Well now, that’s a tough one. A dictionary, say the Random House Dictionary of the English Language. I like words and language.

Treasure Island, I’ve already said.

Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez.

Collected Essays by George Orwell.

My portable field guide to Western mushrooms, All that the Rain Promises and More… .

I like art, too, so The Hokusai Sketch-Books: selections from the Manga.

But OMG that’s leaves out Dostoyevsky, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, all the poets and so much more!

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

 

I dunno, not feeling very advisor-ly at the moment.

Eat more chocolate. Buy more real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

5. During the course of your research for the new book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered about the razor clam or about clamming?

 

One thing that was surprising was how much fun it was to do the research. The number of people who went razor clamming in the 1970s, maybe as much as seven percent of Washington State’s population, was surprising.

And It’s quite astonishing to picture the razor clams on the West Coast all dwelling in their sandy intertidal burrows with hinges facing the surf. Their backs to the pounding waves. “Lined up as orderly as soldiers on parade.” That haunts my imagination every time I think of it.

 

 

 

 

Be sure to pick up a copy of David’s book from your local bookstore and check out the UW Press website to see if he has an event near you! And stay tuned for next week’s Five Questions With Grace with Eric Andrews-Katz!

Ikigai: Finding Happiness In Doing What You Love

Fall weather is here and I love it! I feel most alive and energized when the sky is grey and there is a slight drizzle of cold rain. Not a popular point of view here in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone lives for sunny days – but hey! I grew up in the tropics; I’ve had more than my share of sun!

Weather like this calls for a warm scarf, a cuddly kitty (luckily I have the perfect one), and a feel-good book! I picked up exactly such a book for the weekend. This latest in a long series of globally-themed life improvement manuals is not from Scandinavia but from Japan! I seriously can’t resist all of these cute little books so of course I had to check this one out!

So, you all remember Hygge – the Danish concept of finding contentment in coziness – well, ikigai is all about finding joy in working on your life’s purpose. And your own personal ikigai is the intersection of what you’re good at and what you love doing.

Makes a lot of sense! I am a firm believer that having goals, and dreams, and a raison d’etre can help you find focus and contentment -even if other things in your life aren’t always going according to plan. When you find your passion and you are able to find a way to work on that passion, your whole life changes. The little things in life don’t get to you as much – you have your purpose to keep you focused and on track.

This book is filled with scientific facts, anecdotal evidence, and interviews with some of the world’s oldest people. I look forward to reading it this weekend.