I'm not quite finished with it yet, but I'm enamored so far with Jon Mooallem's new book Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, which surveys our historical and current attitudes toward the animals we consider "wild."
Mooallem begins by examining the polar bear's status as a grim talisman for climate change activists, and goes on to consider how popular perceptions of wild animals have changed over the years. He recounts the moment when the black bear went from feared pest to adorable children's toy; digs into the history of lepidopterists in the San Francisco area; and describes how an eccentric, racist taxidermist saved the American buffalo. It's great stuff, full of odd, fascinating historical anecdote but solidly grounded in pragmatic questions of what is worth saving, and why.
And! It's accompanied by a great piece of music: Local bluegrass act Black Prairie composed a soundtrack for the book, which you can find streaming on Spotify. In an article for Slate, Mooallem explains how the collaboration came about, and how a few of the songs were directly inspired by the book.
It's worth noting that this isn't Black Prairie's first unusual collaboration: Last year, they teamed up with Oregon Children's Theater to score the Dust Bowl-musical The Storm in the Barn. (I have it on good authority that they still haven't picked up the Drammy Award they won for that show...)
Black Prairie will join Mooallem at Powell's for his Portland reading—which is on a Tuesday. At noon. :(