Of the eight extant species of bears, six are seriously endangered, but without ongoing protections even the success stories of North American black and brown bears could still have a dire ending. If this hard truth makes for difficult reading (as do the stories of “dancing” sloth bears and the sun bears farmed for their bile), it also makes Dickie’s detailed profiles of these creatures all the more essential. Through her fascinating cultural and natural histories we get a glimpse of the elusive spectacled bear (the model for Paddington) and the rare, tiny moon bear, some smaller than dogs. We also learn that pandas in captivity need to be taught how to breed; that given climate change and human food many bears have stopped hibernating; that grizzlies are replacing polar bears in the Arctic; and that, faced with a smart, determined bruin “almost nothing”—no lock, door, or barrier--is truly “bear proof.”
If we talk to the dead enough, will they answer back? Will they even come back? Moore sets the ground for such questions with a 19th century letter from one sister to another; describing a world “ready to barkle you with its fossils and warts,” it’s a tour de force of language. From there we jump into the 21st century where two brothers relive their past at a hospice—but before Max dies, Finn learns his beloved has finally succeeded in killing herself—news that takes him to her burial site and launches the reunited couple on a giddy Bardo-ish road trip full of wry observations, social critique, examinations of love and conscience—and more. Whether the product of Finn’s “controlled hallucination” or “random reality shards,” these scenes and sentences will haunt you. Laurie Greer
A book of questions, theories, and answers—all the more intriguing for being partial—Ackerman’s compelling third study of birds could as well be titled “What Humans Don’t Know about Owls But are Determined to Find Out.” Each of the thematic chapters delves into a basic “how” of owl life—from courting, mating, and breeding to migrating, hunting, feeding, nesting, and perceiving the world—and explores how different species have adapted to their particular niches. A burrowing owl will collect (or hoard?) a wide range of colorful, often man-made objects to decorate its underground nest, for instance. A saw-whet owl is so “cryptic” it can stay invisible even as it calls from a tree beside you. And urban owlets practice hunting by raiding clothes lines. But owl behavior is just half of Ackerman’s story. She also introduces the many, equally fascinating humans who study these creatures, reporting on the awe and wonder that drew them to the woods in the first place and that—literally—keeps them up nights listening to calls, searching high and low for elusive nests, counting and banding birds, and solving one mystery with the discovery of several more.