In the Empire of Ice

Gretel Ehrlich, one of the far north's most prismatic eulogists, rubs woefully close to threnody in these latest dispatches from the Arctic reaches. "This is a book about genocide…This is a book about terricide." It is a book about ice -- "womb, home, and hearse for every Arctic species" -- and what happens when it melts, taking with it into the thin polar air the ecological imagination and ethnographic landscapes of entire Arctic societies, hunting societies that co-evolved with the ice, surely as they will co-evaporate with it as the climate warms. Ehrlich has found much to admire in these people -- four groups of them are portrayed here, from the Bering Sea to the Barents Sea to Baffin Bay -- including the lightness and fluidity they bring to living on the thin edge of the wedge, their generosity and fortitude and humor, their ingenious cosmologies and modesty of needs, not to forget their tailoring: emperor goose shirts, polar bear pants, bird-skin underwear.

 Now the ice is disappearing, glaciers receding, forests drunkenly tottering as the permafrost liquefies, coastal villages falling into the sea -- "a whole frozen world going soft in faint light." Ehrlich is, of course, aghast that so little is being done to counter the man-made pollution that is accelerating the destruction of these lands (the greenhouse defrosting, but radioactive lichen and oil-washed beaches, too). Though there are pockets of despair -- "I'm trying to take in the losses, but I can't. I'm filled with rage." -- more so are there feisty engagements with the forces of darkness: the polluters, the crushing demands of sovereignty and capitalism, cold war and proselytization. She also makes manifest that much of the beauty of this strange, hard place -- where the sun sometimes rises and sometimes sets, its impermanence tamed by circularity, and the cold will freeze the jelly in your eyeballs -- paradoxically lies in its fragility.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).