Mackenzie Stream, Thetis Park, Victoria, BC
I’ve been writing books for general audiences—what the publishing industry calls trade books—since the early 1990s. So far, six of them have been published (or will soon be published) as books I created a website for each book as it was published. Links in the descriptions below will take you to these sites.
The most personal book I have ever written, Psyche’s House is part confession, part quest for a place of transparency, part struggle to find the where writers stand when they put words to paper. The narrative, framed as an 18-month journal, is carried along on concrete images and metaphors—a scarecrow protecting a garden, my struggle with Tourette’s, a tree split by lightning, a spider’s web twisting in the wind, a feral plant cultivated for its blue flowers, a lost love. Along the way, I tell about encounters with animals—a terrified hedgehog, a hungry groundhog, a knocking crow, and a pair of Canada geese. People also join and leave the narrative, a mong them St. Francis, Malcolm Muggeridge, Cervantes, Heraclitus, and Hegel.
Published in summer, 2020, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, available as a paperback or ebook.
Bone Constrictors and Witchy Boards: The Hunt for the Hundred Best Eggcorns in the English Language (2018). Eggcorns, jury-rigged words that use the pull of parallel meanings to replace legitimate words, include such novel terms as fair’s wheel, pinecomb, witchy board, blastfumy, and bodyhouse (substitutions for Ferris wheel, pinecone, Ouija board, blasphemy, and bawdy house). In this first book devoted exclusively to the new word and its development, more than six hundred eggcorns are described and dissected. Out of these emerge the top hundred, the best of the best. Some of them are poignant, others charming. Several are funny enough to damage weak ribs.
Boundary Layer (Oregon State University Press, 2016). The mosses, fungi, lichen, and plants that live along the ground—called the “stegnon” in the book—are more than just low-paid extras in their ecosystems. What plankton are to the oceans, the stegnon organisms are to the land — the precondition and foundation of biotic life. The chapters of the book take readers on a tour through the ground-hugging organisms of the Pacific Northwest, offering narrative snapshots of the fascinating people who study them. Boundary Layer, says Robin Wall Kimmerer, “takes the reader on field walks with fascinating field scientists from restored sand dune ecosystems, to salmon streams, to the lichen draped forests of British Columbia,” offering along the way “deep and thoughtful interpretation of the … organizing principles of ecological communities.”
The Next Generation Gap: The Rise of the Digitals and the Ruin of Postmodernism (2009). In the late 1960s and early 1970s the United States was rocked by a violent explosion of youth culture. Alienated young people, withdrawing from the social agenda of their parents, made “generation gap” a byword in the media. Could this kind of youth revolution happen again? This book pulls together insights from American literature, generational studies, sociology and technology to answer this question. The events of the 1960s, it turns out, was the fifth youth revolution in American history. The Next Generation Gap projects that American culture will soon be shaken to its foundations by new acts of cultural treason. During the transition, Americans of all ages will be forced to choose sides.
Cottonwood Roots (University of Nebraska Press, 1993) tells the story of my search for an ancestor. Ebenezer Luther, my great-great-grandfather, was born in the late 1700s. As a young man, he lived in central New York state, where he met Aurillia Marietta Wait. They married and had eight children. Ebenezer and Aurillia and their children after them made the typical American pioneer moves, with each new generation bringing the people in their line one step further west. The essays in the book follow the line backwards in time, toward the East, through 1500 miles and 150 years. While this may sound like Cottonwood Roots is a genealogy, it isn’t. The ancestral trail is a backbone for essays on the personal side of American history and meaning of families. “The book,” says William Least Heat Moon, “moves across the American land toward revelations that illumine all our ancestries.”
Now available in a second, revised edition.
Forthcoming in the summer of 2021: The Mushrooms of BC, a field guide to BC Mushrooms published by BC Museum Press. Co-authored with Andy MacKinnon.