Harmonious Homestead
Connecting Farms & Families In Central Ohio since 2010


News, recipes, and stories from food systems work 

Unfamiliar Fishes, Still Life {Book Hounds}

Today I want to recommend two strange, wonderful books: Unfamiliar Fishes and Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. Next week I'll share two food related texts but with our upcoming vacation and many of you perhaps looking for a quirky summer read, I offer these. sarah vowel unfamiliar fishes book reviewUnfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell is the strange story of the multicultural settling of the Hawaiian islands. In her characteristic humorous sarcastic tone, Sarah Vowel somehow makes the story of a culture co-opted by religious zealots fascinating. I learned so much in this book including why the Hawaiian language has so many vowel sounds (there are only a few allowed consonants), how Protestant sexual monogamy managed to win over native promiscuity, and how natives spent thousands of hours creating handmade textiles from native bird feathers.

Sarah Vowell immerses herself in a culture while writing about it and intersperses historical text with personal stories of visiting modern Hawaiian islands. These moments are sometimes tender, sometimes funny, and always illustrative.

When we travel to the Big Island on Saturday, I will be more sensitive to the native issues and history because of Unfamiliar Fishes.

still life book coverIn Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, author Melissa Milgrom finds herself searching after the meaning of modern and historical stuffed animals. She explores the beginnings of taxidermy when scientists attempted to recreate live animals to show them to the public and the heyday of the 'art' form when museums around the world employed teams of animal sculptors.

Milgrom continues her journey with a visit to a contemporary artist, Emily Mayer, who makes waves in the modern art world by collaborating with Damien Hirst on installations involving everything from cows to sharks preserved in various mediums.

Readers are also treated to carefully-described tours through Smithsonian labs, personal studios of those competing in the World Taxidermy Championship (yes, there is such a thing), and museums of curiousities. From descriptions of the most kitschy versions of mounted fish to conversations with those who truly believe in the art of recreating life with a dead animal's body, Milgrom pulls together a book that is full of wonder and respect for a rarely-examined field of work.

I highly recommend Unfamiliar Fishes or Still Life for readers wanting delve into something that will leave you feeling normal in comparison while entertaining and educating you along the way. Or for anyone wanting to understand a little about how my own quirky preferences work as I was thrilled by these very strange books.

Now I need your recommendations for books to read on our upcoming vacation. I tend towards oddball non-fiction, memoirs, and biographies. Ideas?


Disclosure: Book titles and covers are Amazon affiliate links.