Friday, August 21, 2009

Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zickefoose

Listening to podcasts is lengthening my books-to-read list. It is easy to understand how listening to book review podcasts would do that, but they are not alone in driving the book push. I am finding many titles through science and even birding podcasts. One title that was recommended is Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zickefoose.

Letters from Eden is a collection of Zickefoose's columns from Bird Watcher's Digest. They are rearranged in seasonal groups to tell the story of a "year" at her home in rural southeastern Ohio in the northernmost reaches of the Appalachian foothills. There she is well situated to see a cross-section of birds from eastern and midwestern zones. She describes the birds and their behaviors over a number of years.

I have fallen for Zickefoose's writings. She is what she describes as a "science monkey," always observing all the life around her. There are, of course, many observations of birds, but there is also more. One of the most memorable stories is about her raising and then parting with a bullfrog, whom she witnesses eating her songbirds.

I enjoy her enthusiasm and drive, as expressed in this paragraph, written after her second child started school:

... I was alone with the silence of the house. I knew it was heaven, but it was too quiet. ... I needed something else to care for. The orchids and greenhouse and the bonsais and gardens and aquarium and fishpond and macaw and bird feeders and hummingbirds and house and husband and (momentarily absent) kids just aren't enough.

So she wanted to get chickens, too. Zickefoose is certainly not a person to make excuses about being too busy to take on new challenges.

Letters from Eden is a great book that nearly no one knows. There is only one copy in the Metropolitan Library System's SWAN catalog of eighty plus libraries. That one library strangely has put it in the juvenile collection, where it certainly does not belong. I suspect a children's librarian bought it when it was recommended to her by client. Maybe a cataloguer quickly put it there because it has Zickefoose's beautiful drawings and watercolors. It is hard to believe so many of us missed this book. None of the major review journals seems to have reviewed, despite it being from a major publishing house. We have to look past the journals to find good books.

Zickefoose, Julie. Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 9780618573080


Julie Zickefoose said...

Ricklibrarian, will you marry me? Or at least sign on as a lavishly-paid press agent for my next book? Right now I have a monarch caterpillar about to make itself into a chrysalis. You can have that. I also have some awesome Anderson tomatoes and many tuberose bulbs. You can have those too.

All hail Google Alerts! for I found this review, which made my day. Please come visit me on the blog, which is currently at

but is about to change addresses to

You can get a little hit of Eden every day.

Thank you so much for your enthusiasm about Letters from Eden. I hope that more people will find it through your writing.

Best wishes,

Julie Zickefoose

Mary C said...

Hi Rick - I saw this posted on FB by the author, Julie Zickefoose. I commend you on the review. I have met JZ in person and she is just as down to earth as her book. Is there any way to get more copies for the library system? And is there a way to relocate the book to the adult or family reading section?