Califauna: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Terry Beers and Emily Elrod, Heyday Books, 2007, 293 pages, $21.95
The bookworm interested in a true literary field guide to California wildlife need look no further than Califauna. Part anthology, part field guide, this Califaunal compendium spans a wide breadth of California writers whose subject matter explores “the relationship between animal and human in the Golden State.” As an anthology, Califauna draws from a diverse palette of authors: T.C. Boyle (The Tortilla Curtain), Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Two Years Before the Mast), Jessie Benton Fremont (John C. Fremont’s wife), and frequent Bay Nature contributor David Rains Wallace. These authors point their pens at everything from grizzly bears to Steller’s jays, giant octopi to stink beetles. There are no surprises in selections like Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (the quintessential tall tale of California’s red-legged frog), but other excerpts are poetic, fantastic, or quirky. While this guide does not limit itself to California natives, the transgressions are amusing, as in the case of William K. McGrew’s account of all-too-sentient rats in Sacramento: “I awoke early one morning and saw from my bunk a dozen rats sitting in a circle around [my double-barreled shotgun]. They appeared to take a deep interest in the thing.” By tapping into the literary core of California’s human and natural history, Califauna should please the armchair naturalist in us all. [Matthew Bettelheim]
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