Book Review: A California Bestiary

by on October 01, 2010

 
 

 

by Rebecca Solnit and Mona Caron, Heyday, 2010, 64 pages, $12.95

You can read this book in full in about an hour. That actually turns out to be a good thing, because it means you can return to it every so often and read it again, like a favorite trail you return to in all seasons. Rebecca Solnit’s text and Mona Caron’s illustrations invite that sort of repeat attention, a settling in to the rhythms of Solnit’s peripatetic and discursive takes on a dozen California animals, including the iconic California condor (and even the absent grizzly) and the wonderfully familiar ground squirrel and western fence lizard (on whose behalf Solnit makes a plea for the name blue-belly, given that the lizard was around long before fences showed up).

Caron, a muralist known for work in San Francisco and elsewhere, here shrinks her canvas to about the size of a postcard. She compresses a lot of color and motion into those small spaces, one for each of the dozen species in the book. Some, like her elephant seals, are simply charming and accurate portrayals of wildlife. Others, like her coho salmon and Mission blue butterfly, are more pointed, capturing in a single frame the animal’s beauty and its will to survive despite the seemingly impassable barriers we throw in the way. Like Solnit’s text, these illustrations bear repeat attention, so this is a small book that amply earns its slim spot on your shelf. Or in your pocket, on that favorite trail.

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