World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
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DescriptionFrom beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction--a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us.
As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted--no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape--she was able to turn to our world's fierce and funny creatures for guidance.
"What the peacock can do," she tells us, "is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life." The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world's gifts.
Warm, lyrical, and gorgeously illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, World of Wonders is a book of sustenance and joy.
September 08, 2020
5.4 X 0.5 X 8.4 inches | 0.78 pounds
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About the Author
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four collections of poems, including, most recently, Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Other awards for her writing include fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Council, and MacDowell. Her writing appears in Poetry, the New York Times Magazine, ESPN, and Tin House. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is professor of English and creative writing in the University of Mississippi's MFA program.
"Nezhukumatathil's investigations, enhanced by Nakamura's vividly rendered full-color illustrations, range across the world, from a rapturous rendering of monsoon season in her father's native India to her formative years in Iowa, Kansas, and Arizona, where she learned from the native flora and fauna that it was common to be different . . . The writing dazzles with the marvel of being fully alive." --Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review "Aimee Nezhukumatathil's shimmering essay collection about fantastic creatures and plants, World of Wonders, is shot through with memories of her peripatetic life and observations about race, motherhood, and environmental issues . . . [It's] a bibliophilic and visual delight that dazzles the senses, much like Nezhukumatathil's beloved comb jellies. Her entrancing essays are a reminder to spend more time outdoors wondering at and cherishing this 'magnificent and wondrous planet.'" --Foreword Reviews, Starred Review "Reading World of Wonders, it's clear that Nezhukumtathil is a poet. These essays sing with joy and longing--each focusing on a different natural wonder, all connected by the thread of Nezhukumtathil's curiosity and her identification with the world's beautiful oddities . . . It's a heartwarming, poignant, and often funny collection, enlivened by Fumi Nakamura's dreamy illustrations." --BuzzFeed, "Summer Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down" "Should the wonderful David Attenborough ever retire, my hope is someone at BBC has read the work of Aimee Nezhukumatathil . . . What a lovely book this is, gentle in its pacing, well-illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, and quietly subversive in the way she channels its gusts of joy." --Literary Hub, "Best New Books to Read This Summer" "Nezhukumatathil's 30 essays are brightly crafted microcosms of childhood, identity, belonging, parenthood, and memory. From fireflies recalling summer nights in rural western New York to touch-me-not plants sparking contemplation on closeness, the writing shines with a tactile and beautiful lyricism that reimagines the world we see every day and sparks new magic in it." --Ralph Lauren Magazine, "The Summer Reading List" "Nezhukumatathil is the environmental writer we should be reading in schools, instead of Emerson or Thoreau." --The New Southern Fugitives "Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is the first book to make me feel like a firefly as much as it reminds me I'm still a black boy playing in Central Mississippi woods. The book walks. It sprints. It leaps. Most importantly, the book lingers in a world where power, people, and the literal outside wrestle painfully, beautifully. This book is a world of wonders. This book is about to shake the Earth." --Kiese Laymon "Sometimes we need teachers who remind us how to be flabbergasted and gobsmacked and flummoxed and enswooned by the wonders of this earth. How to be in stupefied and devotional love to the wonders of this earth. How to be in love with this, our beloved earth. Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is as good and generous a teacher as one could ever ask for. This book enraptures with its own astonishments and reveries while showing us how to be enraptured, how to revere. Which, again, is showing us how to be in love. I can think of nothing more important. Or wonderful." --Ross Gay, author of The Books of Delights "Nezhukumtathil applies her skill as a poet to a scintillating series of short essays on nature. She takes up topics that fascinate her--the bizarre-looking potoo birds of Central and South America; corpse flowers, with their rich colors and acrid odor--and connects them to her own experience of the world . . . Throughout, she vividly describes sounds, smells, and color--the myriad hues of a 'sea of saris' from India--and folds in touches of poetry. Fumi Nakamura's lush illustrations add to the book's appeal. Readers of Terry Tempest Williams and Annie Dillard will appreciate Nezhukumtathil's lyrical look at nature." --Publishers Weekly "In her debut essay collection, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Aimee Nezhukumtathil's prose exalts a heightened practice of attention by leading readers through a stunning menagerie of curious species, from dancing frogs and vampire squids to corpse flowers and dragon fruit--creatures that often seem alien and otherworldly, but reveal so much about what it means to be a co-inhibitor of this planet." --Great River Review "These are the praise songs of a poet working brilliantly in prose. Each essay compresses a great deal of art and truth into a small space, whether about fireflies or flamingos, monkeys or monsoons, childhood or motherhood, or the trials and triumphs of living with a brown skin in a dominant white world. You will not find a more elegant, exuberant braiding of natural and personal history." --Scott Russell Sanders "This is the kind of gentle and lyrical ecotone [I am] thrilled for everyone on planet Earth to read. Through ancestry, travel, academic study, and her childhood, motherhood, and career experiences as a woman of color, Nezhukumtathil illuminates a brief yet moving display of life through nature." --Katelynn Tefft, Third Place Books "A truly whimsical and vibrant journey through a world of odd and lovable creatures and plants . . . A perfect read for anyone looking for beautiful writing about the natural world." --Katie Kenny, Bank Square Books "[Nezhukumatathil's] poet's eye, irrepressible spirit, and unquenchable love of nature bestow previously untold riches." --Kelly Barth, Raven Book Store "This lovely and informative collection of essays on things from the natural world somehow manages to transcend the boundaries of the 'nature essay' genre and is itself something much more intimate with a life of its own. Beautifully done and a satisfying read." --Lauren Nopenz Fairley, Curious Iguana "Buoyant and lyrical, Aimee Nezhukumtathil weaves imagistic musings on a few of our planet's particularly mesmerizing flora and fauna with personal experiences in all sorts of places: Kansas, Arizona, Mississippi, India, Greece. The fascinating observations of plants and animals she explores--axolotls, cactus wrens, ribbon eels, cassowaries, narwhals, dragon fruit, and so on--are nuanced by her insights into her childhood, her family, herself, her fellow human creatures. A taut profusion, an effortless melding of nature writing and memoir, this joyous book begs the reader to slow down and savor its language and ideas the way one should the ripest cara cara orange." --Ben Groner, Parnassus Books "World of Wonders is a magical book with deep, subtle, resonant power. Filled with short essays accompanied by gorgeous illustrations that Nezhukumtathil uses as a springboard for often poetic reflections on her own experience. Each vignette, whether about fireflies, flamingoes, or newts; offers the reader an opportunity to pause, reflect, and truly wonder with Nezhukumtathil. A perfect book for readers of memoir, nature writing, and poetry!" --Caleb Masters, Book Marks "This gentle but brutal poetic exploration of nature and the effects of climate change on the author's life is nothing short of magical. We need more books like this." --Cristy Gross, Winchester Book Gallery "As you might expect from a writer fluent in cardinal since age six, Nezhukumtathil's essays are brimming with intimate scenes of natural life, each presented with exuberant prose that mingles scientific exactitude (the stunning pink of the dragon fruit is due to 'a rind chock full of lycopene') with unabashed whimsy (a gray cockatiel is 'about three apples tall' and a piece of quartz tastes 'like campfire smoke'). As much vivid snapshots as impeccably crafted prose, these brief pieces draw on fable, travel, and memoir to introduce plants and animals ranging from dancing frogs and the impossibly cute smiling axolotl to the more familiar monarch butterfly and flamingo. Linking each creature to the stages of her life--from her childhood as the rare brown person in overwhelmingly white communities, through the loneliness of college, her marriage (to a man who understood the charms of the foul-smelling corpse-flower), motherhood, and career as a teacher and award-winning poet--Nezhukumtathil illuminates the essential bonds between people and the beautiful, singular, awesome--wonderful--flora and fauna we share this planet with. While recognizing the troubles of this divided time, Nezhukumtathil's first foray into prose is a genuine and whole-heartedly upbeat book." --Laurie Greer, Politics and Prose Bookstore "World of Wonders is as delicate as a flower, filling us with awe and reminding us of the beauty of the world and all its people. Aimee Nezhukumtathil's book has the strength of a stone, engendering respect. How can a writer sustain these diametrically opposed conditions? She does and rewards us with joy." --Lyn Roberts, Square Books "Aimee didn't know it at the time (or maybe she did in her mystical way), but this book was written for me and all the other brown-skinned, nature-loving, quiet-questers in the world. This beautiful package asks the reader to pick-me-up and go for a walk down memory lane where you will find essays on a diversity of flora and fauna from the dragon fruit to the narwhal and the corpse flower to the axolotl; all of which are gorgeously illustrated inside. Her writing asks everyone to find beauty and connection to the wonders that are nature's stories." --Jessica Palacios, Once Upon a Time Bookstore