This Week’s Selected Media, June 30, 2024: Albatrosses

June 30, 2024 by Joshua
in Tips

This week I finished:

Albatrosses, by Diane Ackerman: I took a year off of college in 1990. I gathered all the savings I could, about $1,000, bought a one-way courier ticket to Paris for $140, and did my best to stay a year. If my savings dropped to $140, I’d have to decide either to use my last $140 to buy a flight home or commit to staying somehow.

I found a family to stay with as an au pair, rare for men, which took care of room plus some board. I taught some English and found some odd jobs, which handled living expenses, and found French classes to take at very low costs, so made it.

I was starved for English to read. My father came to visit. Knowing I wanted to read English, he brought six months of New Yorker magazines. I hadn’t been into the New Yorker before then, but met a friend there who told me of its history, the Algonquin round table, and so on.

Next thing I knew, I read every issue cover to cover, including reviews and goings on about town in New York that had already happened.

On of the articles was Albatrosses. Back then, many issues had “the long article,” usually particularly engaging. I’d start reading a piece, enjoy it, then browse ahead at how much more I had to read, and find it would go on for another twenty pages. Even then, most magazine articles went a few pages at most.

Albatrosses was a long article, stretching over twenty-two pages. Would you think albatrosses and bird watchers would fascinate or make for an interesting subject? Holy cow, I loved the story. It involved climbing cliffs at Cape Horn looking to see species, volcanoes erupting while at its edge seeking to see other species, and amazing facts like that albatrosses can go months without flapping their wings, years without touching land, and thousands of miles feeding to feed their young.

I loved the article. Of the six months’ worth of issues, it stuck with me most. A few years ago I dated a woman who subscribed to the New Yorker, giving her access to its archive. I told her about the article, we looked it up, and found it. Somehow it took me years to read it. I found it recently on my backup hard drive. I don’t know how I lost it from the computer.

At the end of the piece I found the author’s name: Diane Ackerman. It turns out she since wrote New York Times bestsellers The Zookeeper’s Wife, A Natural History of the Senses, The Human Age, and Pulitzer Prize Finalist, One Hundred Names for Love. I saw the movie of The Zookeeper’s Wife years ago. This week I also watched a few videos of her speaking on writing and nature. Apparently, I had discovered her relatively early in her career, though reaching The New Yorker must have taken some work.

In Albatrosses, Ackerman was into nature, but the main seabird watcher she trailed was Peter Harrison. I looked him up and found he remains famous for his seabird watching and illustrating in books.

I feel the story has become a part of me.

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