Cleveland Comhrá: My Top Ten of 2020
by Bob Carney
Reading has always been an important part of my life. It is a habit that was developed early on, encouraged by my parents, family and teachers. A way that offered the chance to explore and travel through time.
With the help of various authors, I went to Alaska, experienced the French revolution, America’s push west and more,without leaving the safety of my childhood home. Close friends and family know the joke(?) Mary tells of me not being allowed in bookstores or music stores without adult supervision. Usually, I have a number of books on different topics that I switch back and forth to in the evening.
This past March, local musician, Brent Hopper, introduced me to Derek Warfield and we had a chance to share a pint and conversation before a show at PJ McIntyre’s. On the topic of literature, we found we were very similar in what we read.
Derek too, reads a few books at a time, switching from topic to topic. It was on his recommendation that I read one of the books on my list, “Deadliest Enemy.” When things return to what will pass for normal, I hope to sit down again with Derek for an interview to share with you.
My sister thought putting a list together for our readers might be a good idea. When she visits, she likes to see what’s new on my bookshelves and has books for me she’s read and thinks I would find of interest.
I didn’t think it would be difficult to limit the list to ten books, but after reviewing what I’ve read over the last twelve months, I knew I would need to set some guidelines. I decided not to include any of the political books that did not offer a path forward.
I rarely read fiction anymore, but this summer I ran across a copy of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild and Other Stories” and read that again, fifty plus years after the first time. It’s still good!
Some of the books on climate and conservation, while very important to me, don’t always make you hopeful for our future. I wanted the list to include books that informed me, but also made me want to pick them up.
My preliminary list had titles crossed out, added back, crossed out again and finally added back as I tried to narrow it to ten. Two of the books that were on and off multiple times are Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Accessory to War” and Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future,” both excellent.
Some books were chosen because they led to further reading on a specific topic. In no particular order here are my top ten for 2020.
“Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane 2015
A Christmas gift from my friend Micki, it covers many of my interests, languguage, environmental issues and a love of nature. It is a collection more than a dictionary of words in the languages and dialects of the British Isles, including Ireland, that are descriptive for landscape and nature.
He shares works of his favorite authors and essays as examples. It made me anxious to once again hike in the West of Ireland.
“Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs” by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker 2017
Osterholm is an epidemiologist who started his career with the unkown, at the time, HIV/AIDS epidemic. Along with explanations of transmitable viruses and diseases, such as SARS, MERS, toxic shock syndrome, ebola and others, he discusses the shortcomings in dealing with public health emergencies. In a hypothetical scenario caused by bioterrorism, he predicts all of the things we have encountered with Covid 19; shutdowns, economic hardships, and an overtaxed medical system. The book lays out a plan for dealing with these threats and stresses how unprepared we are.
“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohllebhen 2015
A forest manager in Germany, Wohllebhen’s enthusiasim for his life’s work makes you see trees differently than you might ever expect. He explains the life, death and community of the forest in a way that is usually reserved for animal life rather than plant life, but shows how one cannot survive without the other. Nonhuman consciousness is relatively new to the scientific world, but was for many ancient peoples including the Celts and Native Americans, embraced.
“Kingbird Highway the Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder” by Kenn Kaufman reprint 2006
I became aware of Ken Kaufman last year, when I read his book “A Season on the Wind,” about spring migration. It focuses on what is one of the top birding spots in the world, Lake Erie’s shoreline, in the northwest corner of our state.
Kingbird Highway is the story of his year of birding in the early seventies. At the age of sixteen, he dropped out of school and embarked on a trip to see as many species of birds that he could in the United States.
Not being anything more than an extremely casual birder myself, I didn’t know if the book would be of any interest to me. I found that I couldn’t put it down. I was captivated by the adventure, the travel by hitchhiking, sleeping where ever he could, the freedom of the road and the people he encountered. Great book, as is “Season on the Wind.”
“We Are the Change We Seek The Speeches of Barack Obama” ed. by E.J.Dionne Jr. And Joy-Ann Reid 2017
Reading speeches by American presidents, policy makers and our founding fathers has always gone hand in hand with my study of American history. The greatest asset a leader has is ablity to express himself to get his agenda clear and accepted.
“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama 2020
His personal account of his beginnings and time in the Whitehouse, he shares triumphs, conscessions and defeat with equal introspection, as he invites us into the Oval Office.
“Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World” by Fareed Zakaria 2020
Zakaria is the host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” and a columnist for the Washington Post. With the perspective of a scholar of history, literature, international affairs and political philosophy, he makes his arguments for change in our approach to dealing with global issues easily understood.
“Owls of the Eastern Ice” by Jonathan C. Slaght 2020
The Blakiston’s fish owl is the largest owl on earth, and lives in one of the most extreme habitats on the planet. Slaght, over a period of years, returned to Primorye Province in the far east of Russia, bordering the Sea of Japan, to study these giant birds of prey and the environment that supports them. The book is less scientific study and more travel adventure as he relates encounters with some of the people that make this place their home along with other creatures, like the Amur tiger and bears.
“The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf 2015
This is a biography of the most famous scientist most Americans have never heard of Alexander Von Humboldt. Homboldt’s exploration of South America and the approach he had in his work has laid the ground work for everyone that followed in his footsteps, incuding Darwin, who expanded on Homboldt’s theories in his “Origin of Species.” This is not a dry science book, but an adventure that reads more like a novel.
“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer 2013
My favorite book of the year! I read this book back in August, but have returned to it so often it has become rather dog-eared. The book is a collection of essays that stand on their own about language, history, nature and motherhood.
Kimmerer is a scientist, a professor, and a native American; at times I was reminded of the writings of John O’Donohue, as she explains the relationship that her ancestors had with the earth. As we deal with climate change and all that it is inflicting, perhaps a change in our mindset is all that will help us. I cannot recommend this book enough.
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs orginizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Morrighán and Rían and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at email@example.com