Monday, June 22, 2009

Caitlin O'Connell

Caitlin O’Connell is the author of The Elephant’s Secret Sense (Simon & Schuster, 2007; paperback by University of Chicago Press, 2008) and the upcoming The Boys Club (Harvard University Press, 2010) about male society from the elephant perspective. She is also co-author of a children’s nonfiction science book called The Elephant Scientist (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). Her essay in the August issue (2009) of The Writer magazine strives to assist the nature writer in “casting words in nature’s best light.”

Last week I asked O’Connell what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I teach a creative writing class for Stanford’s Continuing Studies program, I’m always on the lookout for books to recommend to my students on the craft of writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was recently recommended and it didn’t take long to see why. Part of my phobia of self-help books is the assumption that they deliver dry facts on how I should behave within the discipline of writing and inevitably make me feel like I’ve somehow failed at my craft if I’m not able to do my daily writing exercises, keep a diary and be religious about outlining prior to writing. Anne Lamott blows those fears out of the water with her wonderful and frank personal narrative about a writer’s struggles, failures and successes, while weaving in motives for trying some concrete, very accessible tools to assist writers in moving forward with their goals. I highly recommend this book to writers, would-be writers, as well as readers looking for a fun personal narrative.

In my never ending pursuit of strong character-based fiction, members of my book club recently recommended Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, which I found to be an unexpected mind-bending delight on many levels. This very slim novella is a fascinating journey that twists and turns through time, emotions and raw consciousness. An enriching experience.

A last recommended recent read is Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, a memoir about growing up in Zimbabwe in a troubled time with a troubled yet colorful family. What struck me most about this story was the unique and often breathtaking depiction of a land that is very familiar to me given my work in the neighboring Namibia on elephants, and yet made all the more rich and resonant with her lyrical prose.
Read an excerpt from The Elephant’s Secret Sense and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Elephant’s Secret Sense.

--Marshal Zeringue