“World of Wonders” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

(Memoir/Nature, 2020)

When I’m best engaged in nature, I’m being curious. I look at things closely: How light sifts through trees. The water line of the river. The way a bee excavates a tulip.

Nezhukumatathil’s memoir, “World of Wonders: in Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” inspires me to continue doing just that—noticing the small wonders of our natural world and pondering what they may offer to ground or enlighten us. This book has fast-paced, beautiful language, reflective of Nezhukumatathil’s curiosity and pleasure in sharing what she has learned. It’s a short, contagious read.

Organized in a collection of essays, each titled after a unique flora or fauna, Nezhukumatathil uses close examination of nature as a literary jumping point to examine herself. These essays move with her in time and place, anchoring each narrative with a wonder of the world—from the vampire squid to the cara cara orange—as she explores her childhood as a minority in Kansas and Arizona and her adult years in the colder climates of New York and Ohio.

The sentences in this book are lyrical and engaging, with descriptions of plants and animals so specific I found myself nodding while reading: yes, it’s exactly like that; thank you for capturing that in words. Nezhukumatathil weaves vivid, first-person scenes with a second-person instructive, often ditching commas in favor of the impact: “If while you are scuba diving a ribbon eel happens to wriggle and flick its way over to you, you might not even see it—its underbelly is perfectly camouflaged against the refracted sky above.” The jump to second person is just one technique she uses to broaden her personal narrative to remind us that there are many small wonders around us, if you give them your attention. It is a worthy thing to seek being astonished. (Lisa Laughlin)

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