Ryerson Reads celebrates 10 years

Ryerson Reads 1491

New season starts September 10

For 10 years, book lovers with an interest in ecology have enjoyed lively discourse at a unique book club held at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. The 11th season starts this fall.

Longtime participant Dick Ettlinger of Highland Park said the leader Ben Goluboff guides the group in a thought-provoking way that stimulates fascinating discussions. Goluboff is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

“He asks questions and invites responses,” Ettlinger said. “He gets the discussion going. He doesn’t want to make a lecture out of it.”

Goluboff said that’s his intent: To invite comments and encourage readers to delve into issues and themselves.

“I really try to make it a dialogue, like a good literature class,” he said.

One of Goluboff’s selections this season is Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison.

Ben Goluboff - Ryerson Reads
Ben Goluboff, a professor of English at Lake Forest College, leads the Ryerson Reads book discussions.

“This is a powerful book, a delightful, challenging wonderful book, “Goluboff said. Participants will likely discuss whether the author is truly talking about gardens or something else, he said.

Over the years, Goluboff has been fascinated and excited about what participants say and observe about themselves and the environment.

“One book, The Creation by E.O. Wilson, elicited a wide-ranging discussion,” he said. “One participant talked about how Wilson’s writing caused her to re-examine her faith,” he said.

“I thought that was extraordinary. It makes people around the table recognize the power of the writer. It’s been one of the many experiences in my life that reminds me how literature can make a big difference in peoples’ lives.”

Brushwood Center Executive Director Sophie Twichell said, “We are thrilled Ryerson Reads has thrived for 10 years. This is a truly wonderful way to discuss literature in a beautiful setting with a thoughtful, knowledgeable and well-read leader.”

Copies of the books chosen for the 2014/15 season of Ryerson Reads will be set aside and available at the Deerfield Public Library, 920 Waukegan Road as well as the Vernon Area Public Library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire. Books are also available for purchase at the Lake Forest Book Store. Limited copies are on hand at Brushwood Center. The fee is $15 per session, $10 for Brushwood Center members. The entire series is $45 or $30 for members. Discussions are held from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. on the dates below.

Ryerson_Reads_Fall_2014_final_frontSept. 10, 2014:            When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
Nov. 12, 2014:             The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
Jan. 14, 2015:              The Last Animal by Abby Geni
Mar. 11, 2015:             Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert                                                                Pogue Harrison

To register for Ryerson Reads or for more information, call 847.968.3308 or visit http://www.brushwoodcenter.org/Programs/Discovery/RyersonReads.html.

Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015.  www.brushwoodcenter.org.

 

Ryerson Reads is partially sponsored by a grant from:

Rosborough

 

 

 

In honor of Earth Day, some thoughts on environmental literature by Ben Goluboff

A dense "Atlantic White Cedar swamp" in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. These habitats are characterized primarily by dense stands of Chamaecyparis thyoides, which grow tall and narrow in close proximity to one another. Image by Famartin from Wikipedia.
A dense “Atlantic White Cedar swamp” in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. These habitats are characterized primarily by dense stands of Chamaecyparis thyoides, which grow tall and narrow in close proximity to one another. Photo by Famartin from Wikipedia.

 

by Ben Goluboff

Sophie Twichell was kind enough to invite me to submit a blog post for Brushwood Center, and to share, in anticipation of Earth Day, some thoughts on Environmental Literature. Even though this means tearing myself away from Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, a book I find extraordinarily compelling, I am more than happy to do so.

Founding Fish coverYesterday, in the company of a room full of students who were polite enough to act interested, I indulged myself in a medium-long digression on the environmental writing of John McPhee, whose The Founding Fish (2002) veterans of Ryerson Reads will remember as a natural and cultural history of the American Shad. McPhee, I wanted my students to understand, is the environmentally-inclined member of a group of writers remembered now as Sixties New Journalists. These writers, in response among other things to the Vietnam-era distrust of government and media, produced non-fiction prose that abandoned traditional journalistic objectivity, in favor of a subjective, sometimes novelistic reportage in which strict fidelity to fact was abandoned. In his Encounters with the Archdruid pine barrens(1971), for example, McPhee joins David Brower, then president of the Sierra Club, and Floyd Dominy, then Comissioner of the U.S.  Bureau of Reclamation, in a rubber raft on the Colorado River not long after the completion of the controversial Glen Canyon Dam.  The dialogue McPhee reports between the conservationist and the dam builder was certainly invented or adapted (the three of them were in the middle of a deafening rapids after all) but nicely dramatizes the clash of two opposing philosophies about the natural word.

Elsewhere, as in his The Control of Nature (1989) and Annals of the Former Word (1998), a collection of his writings on geology, McPhee writes with a more traditional objectivity.  My favorite of his books, and the one I am most interested in re-reading is The Pine Barrens (1968), a survey of the landscape, ecology, history and folkways of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a wilderness of more than a million acres in one of the most populated corners of the nation. McPhee writes:

The Pine Barrens are so close to New York that on a very

clear night a bright light in the pines would be visible from

the Empire State Building.  A line ruled on a map from Boston

to Richmond goes straight through the Pine Barrens.

The halfway point between Boston and Richmond — the

geographical epicenter of the developing megalopolis —

— is in the northern part of the woods, about twenty

miles from Bear Swamp Hill.

Mullica River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Photo by Mwanner courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mullica River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Photo by Mwanner from Wikipedia.

I am nostalgic about the New Jersey Pine Barrens. As a kid growing up in the seventies, first as a camper then as a counselor at a Quaker-Hippy summer camp in Jersey, I became confirmed as a nature nut on a series of excursions into the pines.

ArcadiaCoverSM-webAnother book on my mind right now is an anthology of very current environmental poetry edited, with G.C. Waldrep, by my wonderful colleague in Lake Forest College’s English Department, Joshua Corey. The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (2012) is a collection of challenging poems that repurpose the ancient mode of pastoral writing for a moment when not only is the environment in crisis, but when, to the artistic and philosophical imagination, the line between the natural and the man-made has been decisively breached. Corey writes:

 

Postmodern pastoral retains certain allegiances to the

lyric and individual subjectivity while insisting on the

reality of a world whose objects are all equally natural

and therefore equally unnatural. Celebrity websites

and abandoned factories and telenovelas and the New

Jersey Turnpike are all eligible objects of postmodern

pastoral’s dialectical nostalgia, sites in which the human

and the unhuman mix and collide, as much as in any

mountain peak or jungle or wetland.

To learn more about the book, visit: http://arcadiaproject.net

gardensOne of the environmental titles that I am looking forward to reading in the near future we will take up as a group next year at Ryerson Reads. Robert Pogue Harrison, a scholar of Italian literature at Stanford, was first known to me for his powerful work of environmental history, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (1992).  In his new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (2008) Harrison offers, as I understand it, not a survey of garden history, but a series of philosophical reflections on what gardens – from Eden to Versailles – reveal about being human both today, in the shadow of environmental collapse, and throughout the long history in which our species has sought beauty, calm, even enlightenment from the artistic manipulation of natural materials.

Let me close by offering Brushwood Center’s readers a small specimen of my own writing – a poem on an environmental theme that is set in a landscape Brushwoood regulars will find familiar.

The Vegetation of Wisconsin

August corn

grows right to the doors

of the Adult Superstore.

Burdock and Mullein

live among the

Ho Chunk burial mounds.

At the Aviation Museum

in Oshkosh,

where they keep a shrine

to the Doolittle raids,

Loosestrife and Chicory

blaze by the parking lot.

A well-kept lawn

covers the landfill.

At its base,

and at a little distance,

they fly the flag.

From the Hamilton Stone Review, Issue #30, Winter-Spring 2014.(http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr30.html#poetry).

 

Ben Goluboff - Ryerson Reads
Prof. Ben Goluboff leads the Ryerson Reads book discussions (four per year) for Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.

Ben Goluboff is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.  He has led vibrant discussions for our RYERSON READS book group for 10 wonderful years.  Here are the selections for the 2014-2015 season. Hope you’ll join us!

Sept. 10, 2014: When the Killings Done by T.C. Boyle

Nov. 12, 2014: The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders

 Jan. 14, 2015: The Last Animal by Abby Geni

Mar. 11, 2015: Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison

 

Wolves + Moose in NYT

We invited our friend, Benjamin Goluboff, to submit a guest post to our blog about a recommended read.  We love his mind and we think you will too!  Ben has led our Ryerson Reads book discussion series for eight seasons and is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

One of the many reasons to be an obsessive reader of the New York Times is the first-rate reporting on wildlife and wildlife conservation that the Times has offered over the years. Since 2010 theTimes has featured a section called Scientist at Work: Notes from the Field. This is a series of blog posts by researchers in various disciplines studying wildlife around the world. The Times calls the series a “modern version of a field journal, a place for reports on the daily progress of scientific expeditions — adventures, misadventures, discoveries. As with the experditions themselves, you never know what you will find.”

Featured scientists have included the Field Museum’s Doug Stotz conducting a biological inventory in Peru’s northern Amazon, and Stanford University’s Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell studying elephant societies in Namibia. A particularly fascinating blog appeared last year by Roland Kays of the New York State Museum who tracked radio-collared fishers in urban and wild settings around Albany New York. Do Fishers really prey on house cats? Do Fishers really scream? Read Kays and find out.

This winter I have been reading a series of blog posts (just concluded) by John Vucetich a wildlife ecologist from Michigan Tech who leads the wolf-moose Winter Study on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island wilderness in Lake Superior. Roadless and accessible only by ferry, Isle Royale is a kayak and backpacker destination in the summer; in winter it is the site of the longest continuous study of predator-prey dynamics in the world. Since 1958 ecologists have monitored the shifting populations of wolves and moose on the island, deriving insights about the life-cycles of both species, and dispelling the myth that predator-prey interactions are governed by the “balance of nature.” Learn more about the Winter Study here: http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html

Vucetich’s posts describe a winter spent flying transects over the island and snowshoeing across its interior following the Chippewa Harbor pack as it pursues moose in the island’s deep snows. Along the way we learn something of the personality of the pack, the craft and determination of the researchers, and the shifting emphasis of the long-term study. Vucetich writes: “During the first two decades that scientists observed the wolves on Isle Royale, the predators had a very strong influence on moose abundance. Then climate replaced the influence of wolves over the next two decades. Understanding nature and the lessons of long-term research may require adjusting our sense of what counts as normal.” The writing is crisp and the story is well told. A recommended read for Friends of Ryerson woods, Vucetich’s blog can be found at: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/john-vucetich/

Benjamin Goluboff