If you're not from Southern California, you might assume the only wild animals in our sunny environs are paparazzi.
Tell that to the coyotes, possums, and pigeons that inhabit the streets here in San Diego. Not to mention rats, squirrels, and dog-spraying skunks. (Pro tip: Don't holler in surprise and run away when you see a skunk. Never mind how I know this.)
Few of these creatures are popular. We worry that coyotes will carry off our chihuahuas, that squirrels carry disease, that nefarious crows are plotting to gather on our front lawns like in "The Birds." Okay, that's probably just me, but you get the idea.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a Seattle-area writer, says there's plenty to appreciate about the animals that inhabit cities from coast to coast and beyond. She chronicles their lives in her fascinating new book The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild.
In an interview, Haupt talked about misunderstood urban animals, the conflicts between our domesticated pets and wild critters, and the character of the coyote.
Q: Why do you think so many people fail to understand the wild world that lurks outside our doorsteps in cities?
A: One of the reasons is that we think we live a city, that it's not nature. We don't expect wildlife beyond the usual crows and pigeons, and we're not looking for it.
They're also not all that easy to see. There are birds, but if you don't have binoculars, you may not see them up in the trees. As far as mammals go, other than squirrels, they're wary and nocturnal.
If they see us coming, they're not going to let us see them. They're hiding around the edges. It's like the illustrations in a children's book when a character walks by the woods and these little eyes peer out.
But if you're still and put yourself in their path, more emerges.
Q: Do you think people are more afraid of wild animals in the city than they should be?
A: One of the reasons this book is important is because wild animals are so misunderstood. There's all this hype about harms and fears, and there's very little information to counter it.
The more we know about the wild animals among us, the more we can coexist in safety with them.
Q: You live in the very urban city of West Seattle, but you found plenty of wildlife in your own backyard. How did that happen?
A: We decided to sleep outside in one of the family experiments we undertook. It was unexpectedly crazy out there with animals running around all night long like raccoons and possums. We even heard owls.
Q: You worked outside, too. What did you see?
A: I decided to write most of the book outside, as it made sense to put myself in the path of my subject matter.
I'd be writing a chapter about coyotes and look in my yard and see the earth was moving – a molehill bubbling up.
Another time when I was writing about moles, I looked up out to see turkey vultures rising in the warm air. I might see them once a year when this one group moved through while migrating. Within 20 seconds, they lifted and drifted so far away that if I hadn't looked up, I wouldn't have seen them.
Q: Is there a urban animal that's most misunderstood?
A: Most urban animals are misunderstood. In my research, what surprised me more than just about anything was people's opinions about possums.
People strongly dislike them. I think it's largely because they of the way they look: They have a lot of teeth, and look myopic. We see them at their worst at the side of the road or when they're cornered and scared of us. They're worried that we'll kill them and start making ferocious sounds.
But in fact they're very smart, gentle, and placid. I don't think everybody has to like possums, but maybe there's time for a pause in how we think about them.
Q: What about squirrels?
A: People either hate them or love them. I've read wildlife surveys that say they're the most hated and annoying urban animals and the most loved.
Q: Squirrels are unusual because they're can be so unafraid of humans. I remember visiting a park next to the state capitol building in Boston when a squirrel ran up to a friend and me. I'm extremely tall and my friend isn't. But the squirrel chose to run up to her!
What's behind their fearlessness?
State capitals and the nation's capital have the biggest, baddest squirrel populations in the country. We joke that they have government-subsidized lunches.
The feeding of squirrels is what makes them aggressive, and it's what leads to trouble.
Q: On to birds. Is there any reason to think of pigeons as anything but flying rats?
A: They're not my favorite bird, but there are a lot of nice things about them. They're very calming and they are gentle, although sometimes when they're arguing among themselves for food, we'll see them fighting. And they're smarter than we think.
Q: Is there any unredeemable urban animal?
A: The animal that will be forever unredeemable is the rat. But it's not for any good reason. They've been officially determined not pose a health hazard, although you do have to clean up after them.
There's no really good reason that rats should be unredeemable. They're smart and sociable, they're friendly, they're interactive and fun to watch. They play and they're altruistic; they'll release another rat they don't even know even when there's no reward, just to help.
If you're ever caught in a small box with a lock on it, you can hope there's a female rat around.
But we can't get past those scaly, hairless tails that they sort of drag along behind them.
Q: What about the conflicts between our pet dogs and cats and the wild animals in our cities?
A: It's a conflict we've introduced.
It's a weird tangle in the urban wilderness. We have native wild animals like crows and coyotes and introduced mammals like rats. All these native and introduced animals are mixed together with humans and our domesticated pets.
The difficulty with pets runs in different directions. Our dogs and cats can really open our eyes to animal consciousness. They can be kind of a bridge. If our dog can be smart, what about this coyote? It allows us to think of the consciousness and intelligence of individual animals.
But the harms from domestic animals to wild animals far outweigh the opposite. Cats kill millions of birds, dogs kill thousands of possums. The harms from domestic animals are huge.
As far as coyotes are killing our cats or chihuahuas, that's a real possibility. But that's where our responsibility comes in as co-inhabitants in these wild neighborhoods.
Q: What about coyotes? Why is there such a mystique surrounding them, especially in the Southwest?
A: There's a mystique across cultures.
I think it's because they're so scrappy and so intelligent. They're so adaptable to any situation. They're beautiful, and they're up to wonderful things and they're up to no good.
We have everything the way we want it and the coyote comes through and messes it up – our sheep yard or our urban environment. They're this perfect trickster figure.
Q: What's up with the trickster motif?
A: Tricksters are not necessarily sneaky. In literature, tricksters live in this self-made amoral world that's neither good or bad.
A modern trickster is Bugs Bunny. He'll get the best of you, yet you love Bugs Bunny.
The classic trickster in literature is the one who turns out preconceived societal notions on their head.
We know that bears and cougars can't live in cities. It's not safe for them or us. But a coyote might be small and smart enough to slip in under the edges and widen our perception of what cities can be.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
As the movie adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” begins filming, more news has filtered in about who’s taking on roles.
As previously announced, after “Sons of Anarchy” actor Charlie Hunnam left the project, Jamie Dornan of “Once Upon a Time” took on the role of billionaire Christian Grey, while “Ben and Kate” actress Dakota Johnson is portraying protagonist Anastasia Steele. News had also broken previously that “Zero Dark Thirty” actress Jennifer Ehle will be portraying Anastasia’s mother, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, it’s been announced that actress Marcia Gay Harden will be playing Christian’s mother.
Meanwhile, actress Eloise Mumford of “The River” will be portraying Anastasia’s roommate Kate, while “Being Flynn” actor Victor Rasuk will play Anastasia’s friend Jose, singer Rita Ora will portray Christian’s sister Mia, “Taken 2” actor Luke Grimes will play Christian’s brother Elliot, and “Pacific Rim” actor Max Martini will take on the role of the head of Christian’s security team.
Dornan recently spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the movie, saying that he “certainly [doesn’t] fear” the part of Christian Grey, while Johnson told EW, “I just really understand [the books]. I think it’s an incredible love story and that’s why it’s affected so many people.”
The movie is set to open on Feb. 13, 2015.
A new trailer has arrived for a French film version of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." (France is believed to be the country of origin for the popular fairy tale.)
The newest movie take on the story stars "Blue Is the Warmest Color" actress Léa Seydoux as Belle and actor Vincent Cassel – probably best known in the US for his role in the 2010 movie "Black Swan" as the director of a ballet company – as the Beast.
The trailer for the film is in French but shows some of the visuals of the film as well as "Silent Hill" director Christophe Gans' adaptation of the narrative. The movie appears to be a more traditional take on the original fairy tale, with Belle's two sisters appearing in the story.
The most well-known movie versions of the fairy tale are the 1991 animated take on the story by Disney, titled "Beauty and the Beast," and the 1946 Jean Cocteau film of the same name, which is still praised today for its special effects and beautiful visuals.
Check out the full trailer for the new adaptation.
The movie opens in France this February, but a US release date has not yet been scheduled.
Each year, there are a certain number of "consensus" books that seem to land on almost everybody's year-end, best-of lists. One of the novels that ranks high among 2013 consensus titles is Anthony Marra's The Constellation of Vital Phenomena, the story of two doctors and an eight-year-old girl, navigating five difficult days in an abandoned hospital during what is sometimes called "the Second Chechen War".
Marra – who received a National Book Award nomination for his book – recently answered some questions for the Monitor.
Q. One of the most common maxims of writing seems to be: “Write what you know.” What made you brave enough to ignore this?
For the years I spent working on it, "Constellation" was the only novel I knew how to write, so maybe I still abided by the maxim? Regardless, I prefer the maxim: Write what you want to know, rather than what you already know. A novel can enlarge the empathy and imagination of both its author and its reader, and my experience, that sense of enlargement is most intense when I’m transported beyond the narrow limits of my daily life. The stories I’d read, heard, and much later saw for myself in Chechnya, resounded in me in a way that I could only articulate through fiction.
Q. Do you think that the great success of your novel this year has helped US readers to better know and appreciate Chechnya and Chechens? Was that a goal of yours?
To be honest, when I was working on the book I wasn’t entirely sure a novel about Chechnya would find a publisher, much less a readership. It’s been enormously gratifying to hear that the novel has helped some readers gain a deeper awareness of Chechnya, but my first and most important goal was to tell a good story.
Q. Was Russian lit a fascination of yours? Other literary influences?
I took a 19th-century Russian novel class in college and have been smitten with Russian literature ever since. Writers like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Grossman, and Solzhenitsyn tackle the great questions of morality, politics, love, and death. Their names have become cultural shorthand for the kind of ambition and scope I seek as a reader and admire as a writer.
Q. Do you think you will write about the region again or was this a one-time experience for you?
I had assumed I’d pack my bags and head elsewhere after Constellation, but Chechnya is creeping its way into the margins of my second book.
Q. Where did the pair of doctors at the heart of the novel come from? Why were you drawn to doctors as protagonists and why such a mixed pair?
I knew early on that though the novel was set against a backdrop of war, it would be a book about recovery rather than destruction, about surgeons rather than soldiers. Sonja, who single-handedly runs a dilapidated hospital, is incredibly tough, assertive, unsentimental and ambitious, while her partner in crime, Akhmed, is an thoroughly incompetent doctor but a decent man. Each challenges and ultimately changes the other.
Q. 2013 must have been a very busy year for you. But did you have time to read other 2013 books? Any you especially enjoyed or would recommend?
It’s been an amazing year for fiction, but four I particularly enjoyed are "The Infatuations" by Javier Marias, "We Need New Names" by NoViolet Bulawayo, "A Marker to Measure Drift" by Alexander Maksik, and "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" by Bob Shacochis.
His paintings depict such a warm American utopia replete with sweet small-town scenes, tender moments, and flawless family vignettes that Norman Rockwell illustrations have become something of a paragon of perfect domestic happiness.
But the man behind those blissful scenes lived a far darker life, fraught with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. He was a twice-divorced, thrice-married repressed homosexual who gravitated toward men and boys.
So says Deborah Solomon, author of a new – and very controversial – biography of the famous family man, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.”
The allegations in Solomon’s daring new book have been drawing intense speculation about the man Americans thought they knew. After all, who can resist dark revelations about an icon of American idealism?
They are also drawing objection from Rockwell’s family, who cooperated with Solomon on the book and are calling her claims “false” and “unsubstantiated.”
First, the facts: Rockwell did, indeed, marry three times and father three sons. His first wife left Rockwell for another man, his second suffered from depression and died at age 51, possibly by suicide.
Unlike the paradigm of familial bliss he depicted in his paintings, Rockwell’s relationships with his family members, including his mother, wives, and sons, appeared to have been fraught with difficulty.
Solomon says Rockwell was married to his work at the expense of his family.
He was also a hypochondriac (hence the frequent image of doctors in his art, says Solomon) who later formed a close friendship with his psychiatrist, the famous Freud follower Erik Erikson.
He was an obsessive-compulsive neat freak who rinsed his paintbrushes multiple times a day, washed his paintings with Ivory soap, and scrubbed his studio floors.
The assertions: Solomon says Rockwell “prefer[ed] male company,” and that “it’s possible to discern enormous homoeroticism as well as a desire to distance himself from his own desires.”
She recounted an episode in which Rockwell went camping in the Adirondacks and shared a bed with his assistant Fred Hildebrandt. The next morning he wrote in his journal, “Fred looked fetching in his pajamas.”
“He was very comfortable around men and he loved male bodies,” Solomon told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, in which she adds that there is no evidence Rockwell actually had physical relationships with men or boys.
Solomon notes that of 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, only three of Rockwell’s illustrations depict a traditional portrait of family of parents and at least two children. The majority, she says, feature men and boys.
As the New York Times notes, she points to homoerotic undertones in paintings like “Sailor Dreaming of a Girlfriend,” “Before the Shot,” and “The Runaway,” which depict two sailors seated close together with one gazing at the other, the bare bottom of a young boy at a doctor’s office, and a beefy policeman seated beside a young boy at a diner counter, respectively.
Solomon told the WSJ that sexual repression fueled Rockwell’s art. “Repression does wonders for your art,” she said. “I think a canvas doesn't lie, and I think art does not lie, and whatever was on the canvas was the true Rockwell.”
Solomon also speculates that Rockwell contemplated suicide and threatened to kill himself on at least one occasion.
Still, there are doubts about Solomon’s assertions.
As USA Today points out, this isn’t the first time a “famous dead person” has “retrospectively [been] labeled gay by modern gender theorists.”
Rockwell’s family, which cooperated with Solomon on the book, says her assertions are largely false.
“Ms. Solomon's book does not give a scholarly or factual account of Norman Rockwell's life and work,” the Norman Rockwell Family Agency said in a statement. “Rather she concocts a fictionalized life. In doing so, she attempts to falsify all that the Family and the world know about him. In unfounded claims of homosexuality, Ms. Solomon obsessively attempts to demonstrate her 'logical' evolution to pedophilia with not a shred of evidence apart from her unsupportable conjectures. She consistently pretends to know how Norman Rockwell 'felt' and what 'impulses' he harbored when there is no basis for such speculation, in her book or elsewhere.”
It continued, “The Rockwell Family fully cooperated with Ms. Solomon with complete transparency and trust in her quest to create the authoritative work on Norman Rockwell. Chronologically and factually, she seriously misinterprets, omits important material, makes many factual errors, and fictionalizes incidents…. The Family now feels that her purpose in befriending us and writing this fictionalized account was publicity, financial gain and self-aggrandizement.”
The Rockwell are certainly not the first family to be dismayed by a biographic portrayal of their loved one. In fact the Rockwell story is somewhat reminiscent of the controversy over "Schulz and Peanuts," David Michaelis's 2007 biography of cartoonist Charles Schulz. The Schulz's children initially cooperated with Michaelis – offering Michaelis access to private papers, as did the Rockwell family with Sololmon – but were ultimately dismayed by his portrait of their father as depressed, melancholic, and a cold and absent parent.
In the case of Rockwell, it's hard to argue with Solomon's statement that "whatever was on the canvas was the true Rockwell." But it's also true that the artist himself is the only one truly equipped to give us an accurate read of his own art. All the rest of us – skilled biographers and loved family members alike – can never really do better than guess.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
A new trailer gives fans another glimpse into the third season of the BBC series “Sherlock.”
At the end of the second season, Sherlock Holmes was presumed dead after appearing to commit suicide. However, it appears that is not the case. (The storyline is based on Doyle’s short story “The Final Problem,” in which Sherlock appeared to have died after falling from a ledge while struggling with his enemy James Moriarty.)
The new, short preview begins with Sherlock’s gravestone and shows Freeman, now with a mustache, and the back of Cumberbatch’s head as he enters a building. The phones belonging to several people in a room then all ring simultaneously and the screen fills with Twitter hashtags such as “#SherlockLives.”
Check out the full trailer.
“Sherlock” returns on PBS in the US on Jan. 19.
What is the fate of Tom Clancy's book series now that their creator has died?
Clancy, who died in October, penned multiple bestsellers featuring Jack Ryan and other characters, including Ryan's son, Jack Ryan Jr., and John Clark, a Navy SEAL turned CIA operative. Clancy’s novels have been adapted into several financially successful movies. According to a statement from the author’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, the literary world may not have seen the last of Clancy’s characters.
“Tom Clancy left us an incredible group of characters and a truly phenomenal record of fictional plots that sometimes preceded world events,” Putnam president Ivan Held said in a statement, as reported by USA Today. “[Clancy’s new book] 'Command Authority' shows his characters in just the kind of dire world situation that Tom's fans came to expect. And of course we hope Jack Ryan and The Campus team can live on.”
The author had used ghost writers before, as with series such as “Tom Clancy’s Op-Center," which was created by Clancy but in fact written by author Jeff Rovin. So another author taking on Clancy’s characters wouldn’t be a totally strange concept.
No matter what happens with Clancy’s fictional universe, the next months will continue to feature works based on his characters. The last novel written by the author (and co-written with author Mark Greaney), “Command Authority,” was released yesterday, and a movie starring “Star Trek” actor Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, titled “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” is set to hit theaters on Jan. 17.
More and more bookstores are jumping on board for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is taking place on Dec. 7 this year.
The celebration was founded in 2010 by author Jenny Milchman, who writes on the event’s website that she “wanted to begin a holiday that would expose as many kids as possible to this joy” of being in a bookstore.
According to Publishers Weekly, 80 stores participated in the year of the holiday’s founding. This year, more than 600 bookstores have signed on, and Milchman told PW she plans to expand the movement in years ahead, hoping to start a nonprofit organization that will use the holiday as a jumping-off point for getting children to stores year-round.
“First, I would like to structure field trips to bookstores in at-risk areas of the country,” Milchman said. “Though many great authors are doing phenomenal work with childhood literacy, a lesser-known component is the particular joy of being in a bookstore. Such an experience not only bolsters literacy and a love of reading, it also allows the child to see how booksellers make books and reading their life’s work, and connects the child to community and the value of face time in a virtual world.”
A second holiday promoting going to a bookstore could also be added if December’s celebration continues to be successful, said Milchman.
Check out the map on the celebration’s website to see if a store near you is planning special activities for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.
Indies First, a movement started by author Sherman Alexie in which writers worked at bookstores on Small Business Saturday, was held for the first time on Nov. 30 and seems to have been a great success.
According to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, more than 400 bookstores participated in Indies First, with over 1,000 authors lending their time.
The day was also a financial success for some, with Tom Campbell, co-owner of North Carolina’s Regulator Bookshop, telling SA the store had “by far our biggest day of the year” and Joan Grenier, owner of Massachusetts’ Odyssey Bookshop, describing the store’s sales as “up considerably.”
A couple of authors shared stories from their selling day, with writer James Patterson tweeting that he had a “great time” working at Florida’s Classic Bookshop.
“Makes me wish I worked there,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” author Garth Stein worked at five bookstores in the Seattle area during the day.
“ 'Welcome to Eagle Harbor Books,' I sing out to new customers entering the store,” Stein wrote for Shelf Awareness of his time working at Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Book Company. “The people look at me like I'm deranged.”
When Stein headed to Queen Anne Book Company, where Alexie had worked at one point during the afternoon, a couple who arrived was disappointed to see Stein instead of Alexie. Stein was able to grant their wish – he called the store where Alexie had gone and sent the couple over to see the other author. Stein proclaimed himself satisfied by his day, which included recommending Cara Black novels to a customer looking for a mystery for a gift.
“My bookseller friends know I've got some chops,” Stein wrote of his day. “And they know where to find me if they need me. Until then, I've got a book of my own to finish.”
“Air Kissing on Mars” author Kim Dower worked at California’s Book Soup and said she rehearsed selling lines such as “Can I help you find something” all week before her stint as a bookstore worker.
“I did learn, however, that asking people who were browsing in a bookstore if they liked poetry was a real conversation stopper,” Dower told Shelf Awareness. “Too bad! People have been traumatized by the way they were forced to learn about poetry in school and they never got beyond those first bad experiences. It shouldn't be that way!”
Dower was happy to notice that her efforts won a few over – she spotted some customers sitting and reading poetry in the store after she talked with them.
“Bookselling is addictive,” she said.
How’s this for literary irony? The famously reclusive late author J.D. Salinger is attracting more media attention dead than alive after a trio of previously unpublished short stories were leaked online despite the attention-averse Salinger’s strict instructions forbidding publication of such works until decades after his death.
A PDF scan of a Salinger paperback entitled “Three Stories” was posted and sold on eBay UK in September, then, on Nov. 27, scanned and uploaded to other sites such as Reddit, Imgur, and MediaFire. The 41-page work included three short stories: “Birthday Boy,” “Paula,” and “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which is said to be a precursor to “Catcher in the Rye,” Salinger’s most famous work about teenage angst.
The latter is thought to be an early version of “Catcher” originally written for Harper’s Bazaar magazine and withdrawn before publication. The narrator of “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” is Kenneth Caulfield, the older brother of Holden Caulfield, the narrator of “Catcher in the Rye.”
According to the Guardian, “Three Stories” was not to be published until January 2060, half a century after Salinger’s death in 2010.
The leak has had the literary world in a tizzy as these works were not previously available to the public. And, as many stories have pointed out, Salinger was extremely opposed to the fame and interest publication would attract. He refused to publish anything after his “Catcher” success in 1965, saying he wrote only for himself, not for fame or celebrity. As such, he had issued orders for subsequent works not to be published until decades after his death, fueling conspiracy theories about his unpublished works and “assertions that his greatest masterpieces” were yet to be discovered in a safe or room “full of unpublished treasure,” as the Guardian suggested.
“The appearance of the stories would undoubtedly have enraged Salinger, who died at 91 in 2010 and worked very hard during his lifetime to prevent people from publishing anything he had written (or conceived) that he didn’t want published,” The New York Times said.
“Salinger was known to fiercely guard his writings and only allowed a relatively small number to be published before his death in 2010 at age 91,” reported CNN.
According to news reports, the leak seemed to have occurred when copies from original Salinger manuscripts held by Princeton University Library and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas were illegally copied – possibly in longhand.
It is Salinger’s very reclusiveness that has fueled strong speculation about his life and works. This summer a new biography and documentary about the author revealed five posthumous works scheduled to be published between 2015 and 2020, according to USA Today.
Oddly, however, despite the intense interest in his rare, unpublished work, Salinger’s “Three Stories” sold for a song: £67.50, or about $107.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.