Herman Melville wrote his best books while living in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I grew up there a century later. The limpid leafiness of May may have come to his mind when, appalled, he saw the stony desert of Palestine in 1857.
I'm a writer in part because of the example of my uncle Peter Matthiessen. From him I learned that every sentence matters — every word counts. Nothing must be loose, and if you stray toward a cliché, you had better be ironic about it.
Here is my sketch of the young Peter in Paris. It's published in the Feb. 4 edition of The New York Times Book Review. Here is a long essay about his boyhood and his discovery of the joys of nature on Fishers Island, N.Y. It appears in the Summer issue of The American Scholar.
My book sails on like a ghost ship. Meanwhile I'm doing occasional pieces for Discover magazine, as listed on the Author page. I have a major new writing project in the works about the Mar Saba monastery in Palestine. A few readers will recall that I visited the monastery in 2011. I've been back twice more — staying in a cell, hiking the desert landscape, and recording the timeless rhythm of the monks' lives. I've begun a book on the political, environmental and spiritual issues affecting Mar Saba. The crux is that the monks are encircled by Palestinians who are in turn encircled by Israelis. The 20 or so Greek and Russian Orthodox brothers who live here believe they will prevail, for after all the monastery has functioned almost without interruption for 1500 years.
The New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by me today. It's about how fixing a sewage problem could foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Check it out here.
My book is still having a small impact. I received the following by e-mail the other day:
Journal of Heredity has published a technical
but surprisingly touching review of the book.
Better late than never, here's a video recording of my talk at UCLA's Institute for Society and Genetics last spring:
features an article by me on the aging of the
world's population. The backdrop for the story is
the retirement community of Sun City, Arizona.
Dr. Harry Ostrer, a major
figure in my book, has written a fine book of his
own. It's called
Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People.
Harry's book and mine are reviewed together in the
new issue of
My sales are becalmed. But
As It Is On Earth, the debut novel by my brother
Peter Matthiessen Wheelwright, is about to take off.
Tablet, "a daily online
magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture," has
posted an interview with me by Sara Ivry. Listen to
Vox Tablet podcast here.
At a book-signing at St. Stephen's Church in San Luis Obispo, I sold 41 copies. True, I was among friends. We also honored the late Dale Owen, who would have been 100 years old today. My book is dedicated to Dale, an artist who mastered many forms. Below is the stained-glass window that he did for St. Peter's Church in San Pedro, CA. The book tries to fragment and meld subjects the way that Dale broke up and fused colors.
The local press weighs in. Read the rousing notice in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Previously on the blog I wrote
about a genetics conference that I attended in
Herzliya, Israel. Now the website for the Atlantic
has cleaned up my report and
posted it here. I sense that Jewish readers are
beginning to discover my book. To that end my
publisher and I have decided to put me up for the
Jewish Book Council's 2012
Network Author Tours. Look for me to appear at a
synagogue or JCC near you this fall.
The freewheeling folks at KGNU radio in Denver-Boulder are offering my book as a premium during their spring pledge drive. I was interviewed by the station's How On Earth science show. Click here to listen, starting about five minutes into the podcast.
While praising the book, some
of the critics have been bothered by its structure.
They notice it's not linear. My chapters are not
seamless. Now a senior editor for the Atlantic puts
a nice spin on the matter. See her
wide-ranging interview with me here.
My appearance in Denver lifted
the book to the #4 spot on the list of
local best sellers. And though I bragged about
escaping speed traps during my road trip, a camera
in Star Chamber — er, Star Valley — Arizona
has begged to differ.
A nature photographer named Jane Isaacs sent an e-mail with nice comments about the book. However, she notes that in the last chapter, as I climb the Culebra Range with Shonnie's father, I refer to a pika as a rodent. It's actually a member of the rabbit family. Check out Jane's artful composite of pikas and mountain columbine:
Change of pace: The March issue of Discover magazine has my article about the Asian carp that are invading Midwestern waterways. Click here to read.
Here's a fact-filled review by Charles Mann in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Here's a picture I took of Mount Blanca last week as I left Culebra. Shonnie is in the mountain.
An article was published in the Denver Post today in connection with my book tour. A good review has appeared in the Seattle Times. By the time I get home I will have driven 3,000 miles, dodging a blizzard and speed traps, while absorbing gobs of Western scenery. Now the book travels on its own power.
OMG, 165 people came to my reading at the NM History Museum in Santa Fe yesterday. The books on hand all sold out. Tonight I visited with Shonnie's family at a reading in Alamosa. Gorgeous Mount Blanca is streaked with snow. Denver is next.
A radio host in Santa Fe quizzed me today. Click here to listen to the podcast.
The reviewer for Barnes & Noble has weighed in. She's read the book closely and likes it a lot.
Last summer I attended a genetics conference in Herzliya, Israel. The question of Jewish identity was a major theme of the meeting. How much was cultural and how much was biological? This issue for Jews is not new, but it has new urgency because of recognizably Jewish markers in the DNA. The discussion at times was heated. Here's the link to my report.
The official publication date for the book is January 16. A week later I take off on a book tour of the Southwest. You may attend a reading and have your book signed at the following locations. Check local websites for starting times. I'll be listed soon if I'm not already.
Discover magazine has published an excerpt from the book in its December issue. Text is drawn from several chapters. Click here to read the piece (1.3MB PDF file).
JTA, the international news service for Jewish issues, has a story about the detection of Jewish markers in the DNA of Hispanic Americans. My book gets its first pre-publication mention.
My wife and I have returned from nine days in Israel and Jerusalem. For most of our stay in the Holy Land we were tourists. I have made a picture journal of the trip, which you can read at the following links: