Poet and creative writing professor Mary Quade (Local Extinctions) won the Non/Fiction Prize from the Journal literary magazine for her third book, Zoo World. Quade explores the interconnectedness of life and conservation strategies in these 15 thoughtful nature and travel essays, which exemplify compassion for people and, particularly, animals. The collection makes a round-trip journey, beginning at Quade's Ohio farm and venturing further afield in the Americas and to Southeast Asia before returning home. The opening piece, "Hatch," juxtaposes her ducklings' fragility with the aftermath of an oil spill to pose probing questions about human responsibility. Often, alternating segments have a personal experience running in parallel to an environmental or societal issue; "In the Classroom" compares a former school in Cambodia--once a Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation center and now a genocide museum--with the spate of U.S. school shootings, including one in the author's area.
The title essay considers conditions in zoos in Vietnam and elsewhere, and ponders notions of human dominion and animals as "ambassadors." "In Harmony with Nature" examines dairy-industry marketing, and wonders what it might mean to truly live in concord with the natural world. The overall standout, "Project Monarch," investigates the species' 85% decline, contrasting outside research with Indigenous knowledge of their Mexican wintering grounds. A past vs. present structure illustrates improvement, as in "The Galápagos Shooting Gallery" (tourists now employ cameras rather than guns), or laments a lack of progress, as in "Songs of the Humpback Whale." These passionate, nuanced environmentalist essays are perfect for Barbara Kingsolver fans. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck