Cover to CoverBooks by UNH faculty and alumni
by Anne Downey '95G
How to Catch a Shark, by Donald H. Graves
A Widow for One Year by John Irving '65
Ecology and Religion: Scientists Speak edited by John E. Carroll and Keith Warner, OFM
How to Catch a Shark:
And Other Stories About Teaching and Learning
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In his introduction, UNH English professor emeritus Donald Graves writes, "as you read my stories, my fondest wish is that you will say, 'Yes, that's true, but listen to what happened to me.'" He gets his wish in this charming collection of autobiographical essays with a didactic twist.
Graves's insightful stories make the reader think differently about family relationships as he assesses his own experiences for lessons that stuck. For example, there's his Uncle Nelson, who owned a boat business: "At 66 years of age he could kick the top of a door-jamb, scratch his left ear with his right toe, scull a boat, tell jokes, sing lurid sea shanties, comment on the world scene, or sum up a personality in three words...He stood a lean six feet, two inches, and with a cigar tucked in the side of his mouth, he could smoke, spit, and tell stories at the same time. My family was uneasy about our association. Uncle Nelson drank, cussed, gambled, plastered his walls with pictures of nude women, and worst of all, voted for a democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt."
In addition to the "spicy flavor" that Uncle Nelson added to Graves's life, he also taught him about integrity when, during the Depression, he didn't charge the men who needed his boats to fish for food. In Graves's comments about Uncle Nelson, he writes, "One of the reasons we learn so much in our family or on the job is that we hang around people who show us how they think." And when he asks you, in his "Try This" section, to recall someone "who taught you how to live in the world, and whose demonstrations you still carry with you," you will be eager to think, and maybe even write, about your own Uncle Nelson. If you don't have one, you'll wish you had, which is a whole other writing exercise altogether.
A Widow for One Year
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In an early chapter of John Irving's 10th novel, Eddie O'Hare, a 16-year-old student at Phillips Exeter Academy, lines up at the New London, Conn., ferry to Long Island to start his first summer job. His father, a loquacious and rather stodgy English teacher at the academy, has accompanied him and is both over-zealous about his son's opportunity, and worried sick: "They loaded the trucks first, and the first in line was a truck full of fresh clams—or, empty, it was on its way to be filled up with fresh clams. It smelled like less-than-fresh clams, in either case, and the clam-truck driver, who was smoking a cigarette and leaning against the fly-spattered grille of the clam truck while the incoming ferry docked, was the next victim of Joe O'Hara's impromptu conversation.
"'My boy here is on his way to his very first job,' Minty [Eddie's father's nickname] announced, while Eddie died a little more.
"'Oh, yeah?' the clam-truck driver replied.
"'He's going to be a writer's assistant,' proclaimed Eddie's father. 'Mind you, we're not exactly sure what that might entail, but it will doubtless be more demanding than sharpening pencils, changing the typewriter ribbon, and looking up those difficult words that not even the writer himself knows how to spell! I look at it as a learning experience, whatever it turns out to be.'
"The clam-truck driver, suddenly grateful for the job he had, said, 'Good luck, kid.'" So begins the summer that Eddie O'Hare finds his voice, an occupation—he will, after all, become a writer—and starts his lifetime association with the Coles: Ted, Marion and daughter Ruth, writers all. Irving's novel is really an exploration of the profession itself, especially the mechanisms of the mind that fictionalizes for a living. We get the text of some of Ted Cole's children's books, a chapter of one of Marion Cole's murder mysteries, parts of Ruth Cole's novel-in-progress, discussions of Eddie O'Hare's characters and plot structures (all hopelessly drawn from his own life), and references to plots that sound suspiciously like other Irving novels. We even get reminders of what fiction writing is about, a rather messy negotiation between the real and the imagined.
Ruth Cole thinks, "Hannah [Ruth's best friend] was a journalist. She presumed that all novels were substantially autobiographical. Ruth was a novelist; she looked at her books and saw what she had invented. Hannah looked at them and saw what was real—namely, variations of Hannah herself. (The truth, of course, lay somewhere in between.)" And again, Ruth theorizes, "the best fictional detail was a chosen detail, not a remembered one—for fictional truth was not only the truth of observation, which was the truth of mere journalism. The best fictional detail was the detail that should have defined the character or the episode or the atmosphere. Fictional truth was what should have happened in a story—not necessarily what did happen or what had happened."
While Irving's writers are all interesting characters, Irving fans might miss the unassailable goodness of characters like Owen Meany from A Prayer for Owen Meany, or Dr. Larch from Cider House Rules. But who else in American literature can set up a situation that would call for a sentence like this: "Eddie now recognized Mrs. Vaughan's gardener, although Eddie had seen the gardener only once—and briefly—when Eduardo Gomez had scowled at Eddie from the vantage of his ladder, from which the tragically mistreated man had been plucking pieces of pornography from the Vaughans' privet."
Ecology and Religion:
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John Carroll is professor of environmental conservation at UNH and Keith Warner is a Franciscan friar, as well as a geographer, writer and educator. Together, they have assembled this thought-provoking collection of essays about the personal and public necessity of integrating ecology and religion. As they write at the end of their introduction, "To achieve salvation. . . all religious traditions must take into account the health and well-being of all life forms. Our common future requires it of us. Likewise, the ecological sciences cannot be content with simply acquiring and processing bits of data; the information that environmental sciences bring us must be presented in a way that helps us value the natural world. In the end, we will not save what we do not love, and we will not love what we do not understand."
The 18 essayists, experts in ecology, agricultural sciences, natural resources sciences, forest and marine conservation biology, entomology, environmental toxicology, forestry and geography, are as equally passionate and persuasive for they also write as Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists and members of the Baha'i faith.
For example, in her article, "Infinite Realms of Observation: Buddhist Perspectives on Teaching and Doing Science," Stephanie Kaza writes about her resistance to choosing a single perspective as an undergraduate, and traces her professional journey from her dissertation on the tuna-dolphin controversy to a study of ethics and theology, to her current position on the faculty of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. She writes, "at the heart of good science training is cultivating a disciplined mind with astute capacities for observing the world outside the self. At the heart of Zen training is cultivating an attentive mind with astute capabilities for self-observation. The two naturally complement and support each other."
Not only is this an enjoyable reading experience, it is also an important collection of ideas as—a shout away from the millennium—our struggle to redefine our relationship with the Earth continues.
Anne Downey received her Ph.D. in English fron UNH and currently teaches in the English department and the Women's Studies Program. She writes on a wide range of subjects, and is the book receiver for Ex Libris, the newsletter for the New Hampshire Writers Project.