Book Reviews

SILENT SPRING

By Rachel Carson

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston (1962)

Silent Spring is as relevant today to the environment, wildlife and humans as it was when Rachel Carson wrote it in 1962, two years before her death from breast cancer.

Carefully compiled and approved by many experts and environmentalists, the author fought the might of the chemical companies to prove that DDT is toxic and deadly to all wildlife, including beneficial insects and humans.

Perhaps the most frightening part of the novel is the first chapter,  “A Fable for Tomorrow,” in which Ms. Carson depicted an anonymous American town where all life — birds, fish, insects and even children — were wiped out by the deadly effect of the strongest pesticide of all times, DDT. This caught the attention of the American public, as well as government officials, and started the campaign to outlaw this deadly chemical. President John F. Kennedy was alarmed enough to have the President’s Science Advisory Committee examine the issues the book raised. This led to close government inspection and supervision and its eventual ban.

Carson was the ideal person to write such a book. She had attempted to have articles printed in magazines, including Reader’s Digest, about the dangers of this pesticide with no success. When DDT became available for civilian use, after being used in World War II, very few people expressed any misgivings about this new “miracle.” She also was a famous nature author and former marine biologist. One of her previous books, The Sea Around Us, had been on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 86 weeks.

Ms. Carson decided it was time in 1958 to write a book about DDT’s dangers after one of her friends from Massachusetts wrote her about her concern that a large number of birds were being killed after DDT spraying on Cape Cod. Needless to say, she was ridiculed by the chemical companies, which were making big money from this toxin. But she was meticulous in her preparation of the facts for Silent Spring and had 55 pages from experts who had read and approved the manuscript. It took her four years to complete the book. Where she had been on the defensive earlier, now it was the chemical companies who were asked to prove that this very prevalent pesticide was indeed safe and not toxic to the environment.

The American people, as well as people around the world, owe a great debt to Rachel Carson for leaving a legacy that nature is vulnerable to human intervention.

She could be called the founder of the modern environmental movement. Isn’t it ironic that Ms. Carson died of cancer, one of diseases she warned could be caused by DDT.

~ Peggy Kiefer

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY

By Gabrielle Zevin

Workman Publishing, New York (2014)

In only 272 pages, many memorable characters can make you laugh, make you cry and help you learn a great deal about bookstores and the power of love to change a life. This is the magic of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

The owner of a failing book store on fictional Alice Island, loosely based on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeonly, disillusioned 40-something-year-old. His wife has recently died, his bookstore is not doing well and his life is not a happy one. To magnify his problems, his most valuable possession and what he plans to sell at a high price to fund his retirement, Poe’s Tamerlane, a rare collection of poems, is stolen. He has few friends, drinks too much and has isolated himself from most of the people of Alice Island. Over the door of the small bookstore hangs a faded sign with the motto, “No Man Is an Island; Every Book is a World.” A.J. Fikry discovers what this means in this beautifully written novel.

Into his life (and the book store) comes a small package that will change his life and help him find love and happiness. This package is a 2-year-old precocious girl named Maya, whose mother has left her, as she cannot care for her. We find a little later that the mother killed herself.  Surprising, as it seems, Fikry adopts the child and immerses her in the world of books as well as his life.

Then a rather eccentric but determined sales representative from Knightly Books comes into his life. Her first encounter with him did not go well, but she is determined, and ends up an important part of his future. She has quite a task just to get to Alice Island as she lives on the mainland and has to take trains and the ferry to get there.

An unusual but very intriguing part of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is that at the beginning of each chapter there is a mini book review, mainly written by A.J. for Maya, who proves an avid reader from a very early age.  The book review sometimes is tied to the character in the next chapter, but often is aimed at educating Maya about life. There are several other interesting characters you will meet such as the police chief, who turns into a reader, Fikry’s sister-in-law and her philandering husband.

This is an unforgettable story of second chances and the power of love and how it changes many lives. And as an added benefit, one learns a great deal about the world of booksellers, sales representatives and small bookstores.

~ Peggy Kiefer

 

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