The Second Nature of Things

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As the ten division headings of the book suggest, each of these broadcasts is a mini-essay on some facet of the natural world: the seasons; plants, gardens and trees; animals; birds; insects; water and aquatic life; places; human nature; planets and space; the environment and conservation. THE SECOND NATURE OF THINGS is an excellent book for dipping into at random. Each of the selections runs about five hundred words in length. The fact that they were originally written to fit the precisely allotted minutes and seconds of a radio broadcast is at once a plus and a minus. On the positive side, these pieces are breezy and engaging. On the negative side, they are too short to carry much real content. There is little time for reflection, connection, or more than a quick sprinkling of facts. Reading more than a half dozen of these pieces at once, in or out of sequence, is a dizzying experience. Just as you engage with a subject, the piece is over. These little “sound bites” of information don’t digest well when taken in quantity.

Will Curtis is more consistently interesting and entertaining in those pieces in which he sticks to facts and details (Why Does the Sap Run? White Birches: Two Varieties; A Homespun Remedy for Fleas), than he is in those pieces in which he attempts to spin something “poetic” out of a single kernel of fact (Red Osier Brings Color to March; Bless You, Old Barn Door; Christmas Eve; The Mad March Hare). For those who are intrigued by any particular thing they read and wish to know more, the author has thoughtfully provided an extensive bibliography of sources keyed to the individual essays. THE SECOND NATURE OF THINGS is pleasingly illustrated with shadowy, detailed wood engravings by Nora S. Unwin.