Shelf Life

The Spanish connection

In northern Maine, Canada lynx - short-tailed, long-legged wildcats - depend on snowshoe hare for sustenance. In northern Maine, Canada lynx - short-tailed, long-legged wildcats - depend on snowshoe hare for sustenance. ("Golden Wings and Hairy Toes")
Email|Print| Text size + By Jan Gardner
December 9, 2007

Rafael Campo was born in New Jersey, but his first language was Spanish. Growing up in the 1970s, Campo decided that learning English and forgetting Spanish - the native language of his father, a Cuban immigrant - was the only way to become truly American. His approach helped him succeed in the United States but made it difficult to communicate with his paternal grandparents.

A doctor and poet in Boston, Campo writes eloquently about his divided loyalties in "How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life" (National Geographic), edited by Tom Miller: "Now, almost 40 years later, when I try to remember an intentionally forgotten Spanish word, what I first recall is the heartbroken expression on my [grandmother's] kind face."

Contributors to the anthology recall moments of frustration and exhilaration, yearning and accomplishment. Francisco Goldman was born in Boston and learned Spanish as a boy from his Guatemalan-born mother. At school, he was pressed to lose his accent and learn English. As an adult, he regained fluency in Spanish and has worked as a journalist in Central America. His book "The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?" was published this year.

In his essay, Goldman writes, "Once you possess another language, your sense of reality changes. . . . Suddenly the world seems twice as large, and twice as peopled, and more interesting than it did before."

Into the wild

Two new books celebrating the natural world acknowledge the effect of global warming without descending into gloom.

In "Golden Wings and Hairy Toes: Encounters With New England's Most Imperiled Wildlife" (University Press of New England), author Todd McLeish is a sharp-eyed and fearless observer in the field. He traps bats in Vermont and lynx in Maine and survives an attack by marauding roseate terns in Buzzards Bay.

"The Outside Story: Local Writers Explore the Nature of Vermont and New Hampshire" (Northern Woodlands) offers lessons about frogs that spend the winter frozen in the mud and the differences between a grasshopper's song and a cricket's, and also notes seasonal changes in plants and animals week by week.

Bear time-share

Speaking of wild things, "The Winter Visitors" (Down East), a new children's book, delivers a clever twist on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Author and illustrator Karel Hayes chronicles the antics of four bears that take over a summer cottage after the human inhabitants move out.

Coming out

  • "Copernicus' Secret: How the Scientific Revolution Began," by Jack Repcheck (Simon & Schuster)

  • "Souls of Angels," by Thomas Eidson (Random House)

  • "A Little Fruitcake: A Childhood in Holidays," by David Valdes Greenwood (Da Capo)

    Pick of the week

    Mary Cotton of Newtonville Books recommends "The Holiday Season," by Michael Knight (Grove): "In the spirit of Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory,' 'Season' is a small book that packs a large punch. The quietly powerful title novella explores the stresses of the holidays on a family struggling to hold themselves together years after the wife and mother uniting them has passed away, while the second novella follows characters searching for love and understanding on New Year's Eve."

    Jan Gardner can be reached at

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