Thunder and Lightning/Lauren Redniss: reflections

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Not long ago, my husband and I escaped to Frenchtown, NJ. I taught memoir on a Sunday, then spoke, the next day, to an assembly of high school students. My husband walked the banks of the Delaware and found, he said, great peace. Quietude. The occasional passerby. Fish that seemed to come when called.

Peace. I search for it, too. Shield myself from incipient interruptions, step away from active unkindness, shrink from noise, read deep into the news with a hope for understanding.

And, always, books. Over the last few days, during a storm of work, I've reached repeatedly for Lauren Redniss's glorious Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future—an illustrated (Adam Gopnik rightly calls it illuminated) collage of odd facts, hard science, and Redniss's signature way of seeing.

This is a book so unto itself that it comes to its readers utterly undefended. No introduction. A simmering table of contents. Facts lassoed from a multitude of unexpected sources. We meet the managers of a cemetery who are left with the sweep of dislocated bones, post storm. The secret keepers of the Farmers Almanac. A company called Planalytics, which is apparently right down the road from me and is designed to help companies plan for weather incursions, the spiking needs wrought by heat and hurricane. Weaponized weather experts. The inventors of cloudbusters. The mad-scientist brain of Nathan Myhrvold (now at work on, among other things, solar radiation management), the long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad (who is popping up in many things I've read lately), and the seeds that burst to life every eight years ago in the desert.

What binds it all is erudition, curiosity, and appetite for the alluringly strange. What makes it so peaceful to hold, to sit with, to ponder is how much it teaches through story, ink saturation, and hieroglyphics.

We see so many books that are "just like" books—books that are, indeed, marketed that way. Peace, though, is the original mind set free. I'll wake at 4 AM for this. I'll read it by a lamp in the lonesome dark.


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