Book Review: The Home Place – Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

The Home Place
Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

J. Drew Lanham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The best way to describe this book is to begin with the author. J. Drew Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist. He’s also an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University. Lanham’s essays and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. The Home Place is his memoir is about growing up in rural South Carolina and how he fell in love with nature, especially birding. Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk, says it best when she describes the book as “A groundbreaking work about race and the American landscape.”

Lanham talks about growing up with his three siblings in Edgefield during the 1970s. In addition to teaching high school, his parents ran a produce farm to make ends meet. Lanham and his brother and sisters were all expected to help on the farm and it was during these times that Lanham grew to love nature and the outdoors. “All that and the land were mine back then. I was the richest boy in the word, a prince living right there in backwoods Edgefield,” he writes.

Family relationships shaped Lanham in complex ways, from a commanding father who insisted on obedience and respect, to his widowed grandmother, Mamatha, who lived in a ramshackle house on their property and where Lanham spent many of his days and nights. Mamatha practiced both traditional black Baptist Christianity and her own form of spiritualism and herbalism. Lanham also talks about his brother and sisters. In a chapter titled, “A Field Guide to the Four,” he describes his siblings and how they each represent different birds: raven, falcon, swallow and hermit thrush.

Of equal importance are his experiences of being black in the deep south and how subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices have affected him. He talks about being a black birder, a rarity, and about feeling threatened out in the field, while observing birds in their habitats. He writes, “But my choice of career and my passion for wildness means that I will forever be the odd bird, the raven in the horde of white doves, the blackbird in a flock of snow buntings.” The impact of his prose lies in its gentle assertions, which are not argumentative, but deliver a powerful message about race in America.

Lanham writes beautifully about nature and about humans being just one part of a greater world. I like that idea and relate to both the words and the sights he describes. I attended a webinar this week where Lanham was a guest speaker and I enjoyed hearing him talk about his love of birding and nature. I highly recommend this book to those who like memoirs about nature and as a field guide to treating others without prejudice.

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How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals
Sy Montgomery


The more Sy Montgomery studies animals and nature, the more she knows that humans have a lot to learn about the creatures that share our world. In this book, she describes her unique relationships with 13 animals and what they have taught her.

Montgomery realized at a young age that her connection to animals was unique, and in fact, it has become a defining part of her personality. As a shy, only child, she related to animals more than people. Daughter of an Army general and a mother who dressed her in frills and bows, her best and only friend was her Scottish terrier, Molly. And it was Molly who introduced her to what has become her real world of animal life.

While the cover and illustrations suggest this is a children’s book, it is not. (It’s in the Young Adult section at our library.) The author describes her intense relationship with animals and explains how, in learning about and relating to them, she has overcome many challenges, including estrangement from her parents, their deaths and depression, often over the loss of a pet.

The author’s career as a researcher, naturalist and writer has enabled her to engage with many types of creatures and she shares many surprising facts. It is her curiosity and willingness to immerse herself in their habitats and lives that sustain her. In each chapter, she describes a different animal or pet, including their border collies, a sisterhood of chickens and a beloved piglet that grew to over 700 pounds. She became attached to many other animals during research trips: a Goliath tarantula, several emus, tree kangaroos and a giant Pacific octopus.

I enjoyed reading about Montgomery’s experiences, which are very different from my own. She has made it her purpose to know, honor and learn from every creature she encounters.

Montgomery is the author of 28 books for children and adults and her New York Times Best Seller, The Soul of an Octopus, was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction. I’ve already put a hold on it at the library because her octopus chapter was my favorite. I recommend How to Be a Good Creature to anyone who is interested in animals, from those in the wild to the ones curled up in your lap or at your feet.

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Who’s That Blogger? Jan M. Flynn


Blogmaster:  Jan M. Flynn

Blog name:

Type of blog: writing and life in general (plus horses)

Where in the world?  Napa Valley, California

Blogging since when?  March, 2016

What’s your story? One of my favorite quotes is, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I love the exchange of ideas possible through blogging, my fave form of social media. And since I’m a writer (historical and speculative fiction as well as middle grade and I loves me some good short stories), naturally I want to connect with readers as well as other writers.

What types of blogs do you follow?  As with my writing, my tastes are eclectic. Of course I follow book blogs, but if someone writes with a clever or fresh or inspiring viewpoint on almost any topic, I’m in. Plus, horses.

Early bird or night owl? A weekend without blogging is like . . . well, I can’t remember since I haven’t had one for over a year.

Coffee or tea? Coffeecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee. Then wine. Then tea.

Most recent binge watch or other obsession: Do I have to choose just one? Because, “The Last Kingdom” + “Handmaid’s Tale” + “The Son” . . . and now there’s “Glow”!

Check out these recent blog posts by Jan M. Flynn:

Buffalo Gal – Animals and Nature
Horse Sense – Horses and What They’ve Taught Me
No Comparison – Life, the Universe, and Everything

Hey bloggers!  Are you interested in expanding your blogging world?  Email to be featured on Who’s That Blogger!

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A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light
Garth Stein


There’s a hidden stairway, Trevor, and if you find it and strike a match, you will see an apparition in the sudden flash of light. The Ghost of Riddell House.

I really enjoyed reading A Sudden Light, Garth Stein’s latest book. It’s a story about a nearly broken family that is trapped in generations of dysfunction, haunted by unsettled ghosts and spirits. Trevor Riddell is fourteen in 1990 when he travels to Seattle, Washington with his father, Jones. It’s a trial separation for Trevor’s parents. Their finances have collapsed and they’ve lost their home in Connecticut. His mother, Rachel has moved back to England for the summer, she says. And besides his crumbling marriage, something else is not right with Jones. He’s shaky and preoccupied and driven by some unnamed thing.

Jones is there to help sell Riddell House, a deteriorating mansion built by his great grandfather, Elijah Riddell, a prosperous logger and shrewd businessman. Jones hopes the money will save their family. But first he must confront his father, Samuel, who sent him away at sixteen, and his sister, Serena, who was just a girl when he left. Easier said than done. Samuel is often confused, Serena is a little bit creepy and there are noises in the house at night.

Trevor believes that the only way he can save his parents’ marriage is to discover the secrets of both the Riddell mansion and his strange family. As he searches the house for clues, his discoveries only lead to more questions about the relationships between Jones, his mother, Samuel and Serena, and between Elijah and his two sons, Benjamin and Abraham, and about Benjamin’s sudden death. And then there’s Ben’s secret relationship, the one that tears him apart. There are plenty of twists, but it all comes to a head in the mansion’s ballroom, a place where Jones’s mother loved to dance.

I learned the difference between ghosts and spirits in this story. Spirits have already passed through the light, but ghosts are trapped. To help me understand, I found an interesting article entitled “The Differences Between a Spirit and a Ghost.” Check it out if you want to know more about these different forms of afterlife.

Elijah Riddell built his fortune in Seattle logging, a business that destroyed thousands of acres of forests. Stein’s story questions the ethics of actual businessmen like Elijah, who made their millions off Washington’s resources at the turn of the century.

I like the themes and ideas Stein presents in this story. The importance of touch, between people and between people and nature. The feeling of life and the spiritual energy we get from nature, and the idea that we are all connected, through generations. It’s a peaceful idea.

It’s hard to categorize A Sudden Light. I’d describe it as modern, Gothic, paranormal, popular, dysfunctional family fiction. It reminds me a little bit of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontё. Why? No spoilers here!

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