Saturday, March 13, 2010

Christopher Norment

Christopher Norment is a professor of environmental science and biology at SUNY College at Brockport, where he specializes in the breeding biology and ecology of migratory birds.

In addition to numerous scientific articles, he is the author of In the North of Our Lives and Return to Warden's Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows.
I’ve just finished American Rust, by Phillipp Meyer, which is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last year. It’s a powerful story about moral choices, and human determination to persist in the face of failure and despair. American Rust is set in the coal and manufacturing country of southwestern Pennsylvania, a once-prosperous region facing desperate economic times. Meyer does a wonderful job of describing the decaying towns of the Monongahela Valley, and the contrasting beauty of a natural landscape exploding into spring. What he’s best at, though, is giving voice to the emotions and experiences of a diverse range of characters, from two twenty-year-old men, to a middle-aged mother, and the local chief of police. Meyer uses a stream of consciousness style to depict how the minds of his main characters work, and he captures the haphazard, disjointed, and ambivalent essence of this process. American Rust is great fiction because it compelled me to consider my own life - how I perceive and react to the world, deal with my history, and make the choices that I do. Phillipp Meyer has written a wonderful and very wise book, an achievement all the more remarkable because it is his first published novel.

I am also working though Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, and an expert on speciation. I need no convincing about the truth of evolution, but the book has received good reviews, and I am always looking for interesting and compelling information about evolution to impart to my students. Coyne’s book is non-technical, well-written, and entertaining. Coyne makes a compelling case for the truth of evolution, and I recommend it to anyone who feels as though they would like to develop a better understanding of the central unifying principle of biology.

Finally, I always have a collection of poems close at hand. I like to begin and end the day with a poem or two, just to settle my mind (in the evening) or get my mind going (in the morning). At the moment I am revisiting one of my favorites, B. H. Fairchild’s Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest. Fairchild is a lyrical and deeply thoughtful poet. He is very good with memory and desire, and a master at depicting the vast and empty landscapes of western Kansas, where he grew up, and the lives of working people. Two of my favorite poems in this collection are “Rave On,” and the long narrative poem “Blue Buick.”
Visit Chris Norment's faculty webpage where you will find links to excerpts and reviews of his books.

--Marshal Zeringue