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Book Bag

MY BACKYARD JUNGLE: THE ADVENTURES OF AN URBAN WILDLIFE LOVER WHO TURNED HIS YARD INTO HABITAT AND LEARNED TO LIVE WITH IT

By James Barilla

Yale University Press

www.jamesbarilla.com

James Barilla, who teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing at the University of South Carolina, previously worked in varied outdoor positions, including for a land trust in England and as a wildlife researcher in the western United States. A native of western Massachusetts, Barilla has drawn on his experience to take an entertaining and thoughtful look at how wild animals and humans coexist in urban settings — including the black bears and residents of Northampton.

As he explains in his book’s opening chapter, Barilla initially seized on the idea of creating a haven for wildlife in the backyard of his family’s new home in Columbia, S.C. He imagined it as a place where his two young children could catch grasshoppers and fireflies and he could make a small stand against “the tide of bad news that arrives every day: the menace of a changing climate, bats dropping dead in their caves, frogs dying, coral reefs disappearing.”

That effort prompted him to travel to communities around the world to see how people live alongside wild critters, like the black-tufted marmosets that thrive in a municipal nature park in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In Dehli, India, one of the world’s largest megalopolises, he watches a family of macaque monkeys invade someone’s balcony, stealing clothes from a drying rack and smashing a flowerpot.

And in Northampton, he teams up with state wildlife biologists to look at a familiar story in these parts: the regular appearance of black bears in people’s yards and even downtown. They track radio-collared bears all around the city, from Hospital Hill to the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area to the Northampton Bike Path.

Along the way, Barilla unveils hilarious anecdotes, like the time wildlife officials told a city couple relaxing in their outdoor hot tub that a mother bear and three cubs were denning in a crawlspace just underneath their deck. “You’ve never seen anybody get out of a hot tub that fast,” biologist Ralph Taylor tells Barilla.

As Publisher’s Weekly says, “Barilla is a fine stylist — his writing is thoughtful, colorful, and sometimes wittily self-deprecating — who helps us better understand the unfamiliar natural world near our homes and realize how many habitats coexist on Earth.”

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN; WRITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

By Pat Schneider

Oxford University Press

www.patschneider.com

Over the years, poet and writing teacher Pat Schneider of Amherst has won praise for how she’s defined the spiritual aspects of writing, and she’s coached writers on ways to overcome self-censorship and self-doubt. In her new book, “How the Light Gets in,” she weaves memoir, personal reflection and literary analysis together to examine how her own spirituality and writing are intertwined.

“Throughout my life, as my spiritual experience and my theological understanding have developed, my experiences and understanding of writing have grown with me,” Schneider writes. “Recently I have realized that they are deeply connected and together form the path my life has taken.”

Peter Elbow, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a well-known writing guru himself, calls Schneider “the wisest teacher of writing I know.” Her main thrust is that writing about one’s experience can help bring greater clarity to the day-to-day events that make up a life — and that doing so brings about a higher level of consciousness and wisdom.

“To write about what is painful is to begin the work of healing,” Schneider also writes. “To write grief onto a page of lined paper until tears blur the ink is often the surest access to giving or receiving forgiveness.”

Schneider will celebrate the release of her new book tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Paradise Room at Smith College in Northampton.

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