All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures
By Roger Tory Peterson
Houghton Mifflin, $30
In these essays, culled from Peterson's 12-year stint as a columnist for Bird Watcher's Digest, the esteemed inventor of the modern bird-identification guide blows away any notion that birding is for little old ladies in white tennis shoes. His tales read like pulp adventure, whether describing his wanderings in a Chilean garbage dump (so he could photograph visiting vultures) or a treacherous paddle into angry Patagonian waters (to cozy up to Magellanic penguins). But Peterson wasn't simply about chasing down the world's rarest birds, or "ornithogolfing," as he called it. He luxuriated in observing the birds themselves, a feeling that infuses each essay, whether it's about the ducks of Central Park or the carmine bee-eaters in Botswana. "I would rather shoot a roll of film on some relatively common species," Peterson confesses, "than add a new bird to my life list."
Truck: A Love Story
By Michael Perry
Revisiting New Auburn, Wisconsin, the scene of his fine 2002 memoir Population 485 (now 562), Perry's follow-up is a comforting slice of literary meatloaf. As he homes in on age 40 and begins to get "a sense of all the things I will leave undone in this life," Perry decides job one is refurbishing the rusting 1951 International Harvester pickup that's been sinking into his driveway for almost a decade. While chronicling his mechanical progress, Perry reconnects us with the oddball characters of his hometown and spotlights his own pathetic attempts at gardening, his blood-bred devotion to deer hunting, and his quickly evolving love life with a local teacher. As his vehicle slowly takes shape, so does the unreconstructed bachelor. "A year ago," he writes, "I was good with the number of toothbrushes in the bathroom. Now here it is December and held to my desk there beneath the weight of a live 30-06 round is a newspaper clipping with a headline that reads, Successful Couples Compromise.' " As for the truck? Let's just say it gets in on the action, too.