Rich Like Good Soil: The Great Lakes

great lakesI have been plugging away at this book for a number of weeks now. There is something about reading non-fiction that keeps me from building up a head of steam. Perhaps it is the lack of narrative momentum, or it might be a case of information overload when I’m seeking to escape from work. Anyways, Wayne Grady’s The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region is a magnificent book. It is a coffee table book with great photography of the Great Lakes throughout. However, unlike some coffee table books, I found the text quite meaningful. In it, Grady lays out the natural history of the five Great Lakes in an accessible yet informative manner. This is no easy task as learning about geology can be as dry as eating a handful of dust. Grady makes it work here, and I would highly recommend his work in general as he manages to keep his work interesting while not cutting on the science.

I had picked up this volume as part of my research on urban nature in Ontario. I was hoping that this book would give me a better handle on the ecosystems and natural history of the area and it certainly has. It also reminded me how much I love this landscape. I’ve spent most of my life in the Great Lakes region (the other portion out in Alberta), so the photos and stories were compelling. I will be moving to Saskatchewan come August this year and Grady’s book is making me miss the region before I’ve left it. One of the things that Grady does really well is lay out all the challenges facing the reason without sinking into a litany of misery as some environmental writers do. There are a lot of problems in this area, largely because of human activity, and Grady does great work introducing them. If you did not know it, this region is changing greatly and the scientific community is unsure what is going to happen in it over the next 20 – 30 years.

The Great Lakes also reminded me how I lack the skills to properly review non-fiction. Give me a narrative or poetry, even film, and I’m fine. With facts and stats, not so much. This might be because most of my training is in the humanities, so I lack the expertise to engage with the science Grady uses. But it could also be the difficulty of reading non-fiction generally. If it does not interest a reader, it is not going to be read. I can get myself through a a less than stellar novel if it does things I have not encountered before or engages with me on an intellectual level. With non-fiction books, particularly science writing, I find myself unable to drag my way through most of them. Maybe there are readers who live for science writing and non-fiction and I just have not met them yet. It could be the content, a lot of Grady’s book is quite dense and takes time to digest, it could be the writing style, I don’t know. However, I am glad that I did put some books like The Great Lakes on my list because they are rewarding reads even if they do take longer.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone in or from the Great Lakes region. It also looks good on the coffee table.

Grady, Wayne. The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2007. Print.


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