Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: EVERY NATURAL FACT, by Amy Lou Jenkins

I'd planned to post this review two weeks ago; when the book arrived in the mail from Amazon, I was sure I'd fly through the text and crank out a report within days. Being a speed reader, I'm used to absorbing material quickly.

That illusion evaporated within my first five minutes of reading EVERY NATURAL FACT. This is not a book to scan, it is the exact opposite of an easy read -- and I mean that in the very best of ways. This is a book that requires a cup of tea, an easy chair, and regular hours of quiet solitude. This is a book to fall into; it's a full sensory experience that deserves your complete attention.

Jenkins writes beautifully and brilliantly. As a resident of mountainous New Hampshire, I never thought I'd be interested in the lands of Wisconsin, but Jenkins's lush descriptions of her state's natural habitats instill a deep appreciation for those beloved meadows, marshes and woodlands. She is a gifted writer; her narrative is rich and detailed.

The book focuses on her relationship with her son, DJ, which is what drew me to the book when I read a description on the internet. As a mother who hikes with her kids, I appreciate reading the stories of other parents who hike with their children. It's a hard topic to find -- there's a dearth of published parent-child nature narratives. Hopefully that trend will change as the years move on and our country fully embraces the Last Child in the Woods movement.

In EVERY NATURAL FACT, DJ is a tween, and Jenkins walks the balance of sharing the outdoors with her son and giving him the emotional and physical independence his age requires. She does the dance wonderfully well; I can only hope to do the same when my own children reach that stage of youth.

Each chapter involves a particular topic or excursion, and each chapter is peppered with flashbacks and insights into Jenkins' own childhood or not-too-distant past. Jenkins weaves philosophy, history, local folklore, and religion throughout her narrative; the mix works, it contributes to the text's intimacy and deepens the overall scope. In addition, her sentences are just plain beautiful. In Chapter Eight, "The Point of February," she writes: "The branches of the shrub held little orbs of ice that glowed in the overhead moonlight like the crystal drops of a chandelier." Gorgeous.

I finally finished this book three days ago, but I wish I had drawn out the experience. For this book is an experience; it's not a quick read, but a full sensory immersion. Get this book and sequester yourself for at least a half an hour every evening. Sit in an easy chair with a cup of tea and let yourself fall into this. You'll be glad you did.

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