The first lesson is that fireflies are not an inexhaustible resource. We need to ban their commercial harvesting as an unjustifiable activity that exploits our shared natural heritage.
The second lesson is the need for habitat protection, specifically where species of particular cultural, ecological or economic interest live. Worldwide, that includes not just the Genji fireflies of Japan, but also the congregating mangrove fireflies of Thailand and Malaysia, and the winter fireflies of Taiwan.
The best naturalist writing delivers both a secondhand thrill of obsession and a jolt of protectiveness for what's been discovered.
Down the years, I’ve read so much about Agatha Christie: too much, probably. So when I was sent a new graphic biography of the world’s most famous crime writer, I felt only the tiniest bat squeak of enthusiasm. Where would it begin, I wondered. In Torquay, where she spent her childhood, or in Harrogate, to which she famously disappeared in 1926? And how would it end? With Hercule Poirot’s last case, Curtain, which was published in 1975? Or with Christie’s own death at home in Oxfordshire, only a year later?
The new volume, with its dreamscapes, travelogues and pedagogical exercises, reflects Benjamin’s lack of interest in these questions. Or, you might say, his interest in ignoring them. He instead concerns himself with the recovery of the story, which sometimes resembles what we traditionally call fiction, like Still Story. At other times, these works look more like freeform criticism, as in the case of Fantasy Sentences, which appears to reconstruct the gibberish of an 11-year-old girl.
Whatever form it takes, the story, for Benjamin, is nearly sacred; it’s nothing less than a unit of commonality, of shared experience. And he felt that our ability to communicate a shared life had been imperiled by the first world war and its attendant technological upheaval.
I couldn’t tell whether or not I liked “Bright, Precious Days,” the new novel by Jay McInerney, until about a third of the way through, when a passage convinced me he was foreshadowing a major character’s death. It turned out I was both right and wrong: Several people die in this book, though the one I was anxious about makes it to the novel’s subdued, exhausted, bittersweet end. But the way my inner reader had flinched, the way I had hoped I was mistaken — the way I cared — made me realize I’d been caught in the novel’s slipstream. Or, to use a simile more appropriate to this author, it was like the moment you realize you’re having fun at a party you previously thought was ho-hum, the drink, the conversation, the attractiveness of the company all kicking in at once. Reader, I liked it.
When I had a real job a few years ago, my friend and coworker the food writer Peggy Grodinsky convinced me that it’s possible to read and walk at the same time. She was routinely reading and walking to and from work and exhibited no rips in her hemlines from having listed into a bush, no bruises from having confronted a lamppost. I had to try it.