Good to Know
In our exclusive interview with Montgomery, she revealed a few fun anecdotes:
"My companion pig, Christopher Hogwood, age 12, lost 60 pounds on his new diet and now weighs in at a trim 690 pounds."
"My first known act of Eco-Conscience: I was sent home from kindergarten for biting a little boy who had pulled the legs off a daddy longlegs. I would do it again today."
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Sy Montgomery took some time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life?
The Outermost House by Henry Beston. You will not find Henry Beston's 1928 classic in the "Spirituality" section of your bookstore. It is a chronicle of the naturalist's solitary year on a Cape Cod beach, observing the migrations of the alewives, listening to the music of the waves, feeling the hot sun on the dunes and smelling the keen, vivid reek of hot salt grass. It is a book about least terns nesting on the open beach; the flattened sharks called skates that sometimes wash up in the shallows; the character and poetry of September light on sand; and winter surf and shipwrecks.
But it is also a book of worship, one that helped me to define the prayer that is my life's work chronicling the natural world. It is a book that today continues to shape an emerging American consciousness of a spiritual connection to the land. It is a book that helps redefine spirituality itself.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
These are listed in the order in which I read them, and exclude the books of the Bible:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, which was read me by my father, and which I still enjoy reading today for its magic, humor, and poetry.
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White -- the greatest PR agent spiders could ever hope for. The book is very accurate on pigs, too.
Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat -- At times hilarious and horrifying, and a blueprint for how compassionate science can be applied to save population and species. As a young reader, this was one of my favorite books, and among the most inspiring. It turns out I met Farley Mowat many years later, and he speaks and thinks just like he writes -- he is a very generous, brave, larger-than-life soul.
The Outermost House by Henry Beston -- see above.
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas -- The most lyrical book I have ever read.
Biophilia by E. O. Wilson -- Written by my biggest hero, who turns out to be both a true gentleman and a scholar, about why we yearn in our very genes for connection with the natural world.
Reindeer Moon by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, which tells us, though fiction, who we, Homo sapiens, really are.
Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice by Mark Plotkin -- A vivid and heartfelt true adventure, full of humor and discovery, written by a superb scientist who cares deeply about Amazonian cultures.
The Same Ax, Twice by Howard Mansfield -- see below.
Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart -- see below.
Favorite music?Medieval Advent Procession music
The Methodist Hymnal
Fitzgeraldo -- a film about an opera lover who yearns to build an opera house in Iquitos, Peru. Researching Journey of the Pink Dolphins, I have spent time in Iquitos and watched the first opera to be performed in 90 years at the stunningly beautiful Theatre Amazonas, the opera house 1,000 miles up the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil. The film is very evocative and also is to be recommended because it has a sloth in it, which far too few films do.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading, and why?
I would pick three books that invite readers to join the effort to mend the world:
The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throw-Away Age by Howard Mansfield. This book examines the impulse to restore, to mend, to renew, at a time when it seems our economy is based on the McDonald's-ization of the nation. No other author has realized that the same spirit animates those who preserve old houses, who work to save endangered species, who restore antique engines, who attend re-enactments of the Civil War, and who donate to The Nature Conservancy. All of us are trying to mend the world. This beautiful book shows us a plethora of ways both how and why, and introduces us to what the author calls "an arkload of Noahs" who are accomplishing the sacred work of putting the world back together again.
Sightings by Brenda Peterson and Linda Hogan. This vivid, passionate, impressionistic homage and portrait of the gray whale cannot but turn readers into conservationists for this magnificent, wise, and loving creature. It's a fast read suited to book clubs and would be wisely paired with the vastly longer but rewardingly rich Eye of the Whale by Dick Russell.
The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Mark Plotkin and Michael Shnayerson. A riveting book that details a terrifying danger born of corporate ruthlessness. The alarming misuse of antibiotics will only grow worse unless we do something about it.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
My favorite living writers are:
Howard Mansfield, who writes on American life in a wholly original way -- examining in his books who we choose to honor as our ancestors, how we mark and demarcate the land, what we choose to preserve. In his In the Memory House, for instance, he examines small local-history museums, figures such as Johnny Appleseed and Jack Kerouac, absences in our American landscape. In all of his excellent books (Cosmopolis: Yesterday's Cities of the Future; In the Memory House; Skylark: The Life, Lies and Inventions of Harry Atwood; and The Same Ax, Twice) he dares to look at what we have lost, what we have created, and the forces that are still sculpting the American landscape.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, whose penetrating and astute observations of the Bushmen of the Kalahari in the 1950s inform her ways of understanding both people and other animals, and animate both her fiction and nonfiction. After her bestselling The Harmless People chronicled her family's historic expeditions into Bushmanland, Warrior-Herdsmen took her (and her own family, including two small children) to Uganda (as Idi Amin rose to power) to present her extraordinary, clear-eyed portrait of the brave and stoic Dodoth. Her imaginings of Paleolithic people in Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife are unmatched in detail and lyricism. She brings the same dignity, logic, and sweeping brilliance to her writings about animals, including The Hidden Life of Dogs, The Tribe of Tiger, and Certain Poor Shepherds.
Beth Kephart, whose first book (A Slant of Sun) was a finalist for the National Book Award, writes with an intoxicating poetry that penetrates the heart. Even when writing about exotic locales (such as her husband's home on a coffee plantation in El Salvador in Still Love) she addresses universal themes -- friendship, marriage, motherhood -- that resonate to the core of every reader who has ever loved. Her luminous prose is worthy of her subjects, as is her considerable intellect.
What are your favorite books to give as gifts?Certain Poor Shepherds by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas -- a modern Christmas classic for all ages.
The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throw-Away Age by Howard Mansfield -- a wonderful way to start the new year.
Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kepart -- a perfect gift for every friend.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Sy Montgomery had to say:
These classics always deepen the joy of revisiting my favorite watery summer habitats:
The Edge of the Sea by Rachael Carson -- The author of Silent Spring, a marine biologist, loved first and foremost the sea --its shores, its tidepools, its reefs. In passionate and eloquent expositions, she leads us to these magical places anew, portraying each as "a world that keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and of the relentless drive of life."
Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling -- Pagoo, a hermit crab, has been introducing children to tidepool life since this beautifully illustrated, fact-filled little book debuted in 1957. Full of sophisticated and accurate natural history information, it's a joy to read at any age.
The Herring Gull's World by Niko Tinbergen -- Written by one of the foremost naturalists of the 20th century, this is a classic study of the quintessential "sea gull" written with humor, drama and respect for his subjects.
Waiting for Aphrodite by Sue Hubbel -- Via the tide pools and ocean waters in her new hometown in rural Maine, a masterful natural history writer takes us on "Journeys into the Time before Bones."
Eye of the Whale by Dick Russell -- Carrying the summer reader even further out to sea, this thick, rich book tracks the California Gray Whale through time, through human history, and along its astonishing migration from the lagoons of Baja, California to the Bering Strait.
Dragonflies and Damselflies of Cape Cod by Virginia Carpenter -- Even New Englanders far from the Cape will find this field guide more useful than larger ones, because it contains the species you're most likely to see, and isn't jammed with the hundreds you won't. The slim, light paperback fits easily into a backpack on the way to the pond.
The Field Book of Ponds and Streams by Ann Haven Morgan -- This 1930 volume is still my favorite field guide to the mysterious and dramatic world of predaceous diving beetles, net-spinning caddis worms, and the strange, teeming life on the underside of lily pads.
Two brand-new water books join my list of all-time favorite summer reading:
Animal Heartby Brenda Peterson -- Set largely underwater, this is a spellbinding tale about people and dolphins, illness and love, activism and adventure. Forensic divers discover the hideous truth behind the Navy's experiments with ultra-loud underwater sound weapons. Riveting fiction -- yet all too true.
Self-Portrait with Turtles by David Carroll -- One of the deepest delights of my summer is its turtles -- the big, mossy-headed snapper I see sometimes out at the rock at Willard Pond, the smooth-shelled Eastern Painted Turtles sunning themselves on the log across the bog. Luminous with the honey-gold summer light of sun on water, sweet-scented with fern and flower, this book is brimful of turtles -- and from the first spotted turtle Carroll met when he was eight, they transform and animate the author's wise and joyful life.
And finally, a relatively new book (1993) honors the ubiquitous summertime sport:
The New Face of Baseball by Tim Wendel -- The inspirational and intriguing story of how Latino athletes are transforming and enriching America's national sport.
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|Sy Montgomery Home
Good to Know
|Walking With the Great Apes, 1991|
|Seasons of the Wild, 1995|
|Spell of the Tiger, 1995|
|Journey of the Pink Dolphins, 2000|
|The Curious Naturalist, 2000|
|The Snake Scientist, 2000|
|The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans, 2001|
|Search for the Golden Moon Bear, 2002|
|Encantado: Pink Dolphin of the Amazon, 2002|
|The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood, 2007|