What happens when a philosopher and an ornithologist collaborate? Philippe J. Dubois and Elise Rousseau use the lens of bird behavior to present a deep examination of what it means to be human. Newly translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins, A Short Philosophy of Birds (Dey Street, $19.99) touches on equality, family, love, beauty, freedom, power, pleasure, otherness, death, and more. Some philosophical questions must be asked anew by each generation and some questions are of emerging importance. To the question of freedom, the authors point to hens and doves who, when allowed complete freedom, stay near their coops. To the question of gender equality in parenting—a matter seldom considered by many generations of male philosophers—Dubois and Rousseau point to the sandpiper, who lays two separate clutches of eggs, one for her to raise, and one to be raised by her mate, creating two independent "households." This unique, trim volume is an antidote to the unexamined life and a balm for the nature lover or those fed up with human behavior.
Women are central in Kate Walbert's return to short stories after five novels. Although there are male characters on the periphery (mostly dead, divorced, or gone), the emotional stakes are all between the women. These are not stories of the sisterhood, however, but of lonely women hungering for each other's company and ultimately being unable to connect or having the promise of connection torn away. The women in this collection keep each other at a stiff distance while longing, with burgeoning self-refl ection, for something more, remembering the mothers, daughters, neighbors, and coworkers who touched their lives, remembering how She Was Like That (Scribner, $26). Anxiety is the central mood of these stories, but Walbert creates some deeply funny scenes, as in the many defi nitions of a mother in the Mother's Day school project that gives "A Mother is Someone who Tells Jokes" its title.
Ignored by his grieving family after the sudden death of a sibling, our young narrator ricochets back and forth between an increasingly chaotic home life and the woods outside his home in coastal Alaska. Both environments are treacherous in their own way, and so full of opposite extremes that the overall effect is one of disturbed equilibrium. With an aching lyricism, Lin exposes the raw physicality of childhood and family life in a way that feels completely new.