by Nicole Walker and David Carlin, Published by Rose Metal Press 2019
Imagine this: two people, living on entirely different continents, meet and become colleagues and friends. They travel to each others’ home countries, meet families, share cookouts and wines. And words and ideas. They realize their dialogues, which of course emerged in Western culture only two and a half millennia ago, are not simply a way to pass the time. They share important, deeply felt ideas and views on a broad range of topics. The idea of sharing them with other people occurs. The result is this book.
I was charmed by this idea of a collaboration between Nicole Walker, who lives in the United States, and David Carlin, who lives in Australia. Having co-authored two books of nonfiction with John Gantz, my brother from another mother, I know collaboration can be a lot of fun, but it also requires infinite patience and forbearance of the innate, inescapable differences between two individuals. (Emphasis on the individual!)
These two authors, Walker and Carlin, embraced each other’s individuality and essential differences as a core value, and it shows throughout this book. What I first imagined would be a kind of point-counterpoint on the “Save the Earth” theme turned out to be much more, and for that reason so much more interesting to read. I bookmarked about half the book with remarks, thoughts, quotes, nuggets of writing. Practically no subject is overlooked, even if only touched on lightly but profoundly.
Nicole discusses loopholes in the US Constitution and realizes they are there because the founding fathers wanted them there. “There’s a reason for the ambiguity,” she writes.
David writes, “Trees use fungi to communicate with other trees . . .revealed as sophisticated networks of multispecies cooperation.”
They’ve organized the book into paired chapters that follow the alphabet, A to Z, words each selects twenty-six times to introduce their short essays. But don’t pay those titles much mind; the essay’s the thing.
In one essay where the alphabetical title is the point, Nicole takes on the word Krab, not crab, and why we need to know which we’re eating: “Krab with a K is like electing a reality TV show host for a president,” she writes.
David explains that animals, insects, diseases – all living things – are “not evil, just hungry.” He writes, “Ideas resist quarantine.” And, “Normal is all messed up.”
The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet is a collection of fifty-two essays on a changing planet. Our ever-changing planet. Our ever-changing lives on this ever-changing planet. It delivers on the promise its title makes, but those few words that comprise its subtitle do not, cannot, encompass its much more expansive message. What might at first be assumed is that it’s about the environment – and it is – but it’s a far more expansive sensibility of “the environment” than you think.
Thank goodness for Abigail and Kathleen, the publishing team at Rose Metal Press, for taking a chance on a very unique and different book. They are as rare and wonderful publishers as is this book itself.