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World of Wonders : In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments - Aimee Nezhukumatathil

World of Wonders

In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

By: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Fumi Nakamura (Illustrator)

Hardcover | 8 September 2020

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"Hands-down one of the most beautiful books of the year." --NPR

From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction--a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us.

As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted--no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape--she was able to turn to our world's fierce and funny creatures for guidance.

"What the peacock can do," she tells us, "is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life." The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world's gifts.

Warm, lyrical, and gorgeously illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, World of Wonders is a book of sustenance and joy.

Industry Reviews
Praise for World of Wonders

"From its gorgeous illustrations to its unusual combination of lyrical nature writing and memoir, World of Wonders is hands-down one of the most beautiful books of the year." -NPR, "Best Books of 2020"


"Within two pages, nature writing feels different and fresh and new. Nezhukumatathil has written a timely story about love, identity and belonging . . . We are losing the language and the ability to see and understand the wondrous things around us. And our lives are impoverished by this process . . . This book demands we find the eyes to see and the heart to love such things once more. It is a very fine book indeed, truly full of wonder." -New York Times Book Review"

"From peacocks to eels and dragon fruit, it's immediately clear the poet is right at home in the world of the essay."-Shondaland

"It can be helpful to focus on the wonder of the natural world when so much of what is happening around us feels out of our control . . . World of Wonders urges us to take a breath and look around." -NPR Morning Edition

"This book is part nature writing, part memoir, part cultural criticism...and every bit of it is rendered in thoughtful and striking prose...There's something magical about the combination of personal storytelling and naturalist information. Essays like 'Peacock' will have you near tears on behalf of the child Nezhukumatathil, whose closed-minded teacher does such terrible damage over a simple drawing of a bird. Others, like 'Axolotl,' will immerse you in fascinating details of the unusual amphibian's wondrous abilities even as it infuriates you about the impact of racist microaggressions. And while such a culmination of ideas could easily feel contrived, World of Wonders is as natural as the amazing creatures that populate its pages."-Book Riot, "9 Unforgettable Prose Books Written By Poets"

"A truly wondrous essay collection that reminds us that when we look close enough we can see that we are surrounded by extraordinary things."-Roxane Gay

"World of Wonders, kind of like Aimee, is flabbergasted, gobsmacked, and astonished with glee by all kinds of creatures and phenomena, all kinds of kin, from flamingos to catalpas, from monsoons to corpse flowers, from dancing frogs to axolotls." -Ross Gay, Poets & Writers

"In thirty bewitching essays, Nezhukumatathil spotlights natural astonishments raining from monsoon season in India to clusters of fireflies in western New York, each one a microcosm of joy and amazement. With her ecstatic prose and her rapturous powers of insight, Nezhukumatathil proves herself a worthy spiritual successor to the likes of Mary Oliver and Annie Dillard, setting the bar high for a new generation of nature writers." -Esquire, "Best Books of Fall 2020

"The nature writing we have been exposed to has been overwhelmingly male and white, which is just one reason that Aimee Nezhukumatathil's latest essay collection, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments is a breath of fresh air . . . What makes her work shine is its joyful embrace of difference, revealing that true beauty resides only in diversity." -San Francisco Chronicle

"World of Wonders is a stunning union of biography, poetry, philosophy, and science; it is imbued with a love for her readers and for the natural world, and with a hope that people of color will feel more seen in nature writing . . . With a sense of amazement for the creatures around us, Aimee makes an ardent and artistic case for a compassionate ethics grounded in a deeper understanding-and love-of nature." -The Rumpus

"Nezhukumatathil's investigations, enhanced by Nakamura's vividly rendered full-color illustrations, range across the world, from a rapturous rendering of monsoon season in her father's native India to her formative years in Iowa, Kansas, and Arizona, where she learned from the native flora and fauna that it was common to be different . . . The writing dazzles with the marvel of being fully alive." -Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"Nezhukumatathil's essays, with vibrant illustrations from Nakamura, are in turn humorous, poignant, relatable, passionate (especially when she's bemoaning disappearing species and habitats), and always interesting." -Booklist

"A lyrical exploration of a woman finding her true home in the world, interspersed with hauntingly beautiful descriptions of the lives on the animals and plants that illuminate it, this natural history will appeal to nature lovers and readers who relish thoughtful, introspective works. Also suggest to fans of Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations." -Library Journal

"Aimee Nezhukumatathil's shimmering essay collection about fantastic creatures and plants, World of Wonders, is shot through with memories of her peripatetic life and observations about race, motherhood, and environmental issues . . . [It's] a bibliophilic and visual delight that dazzles the senses, much like Nezhukumatathil's beloved comb jellies. Her entrancing essays are a reminder to spend more time outdoors wondering at and cherishing this 'magnificent and wondrous planet.'" -Foreword Reviews, Starred Review

"Reading World of Wonders, it's clear that Nezhukumtathil is a poet. These essays sing with joy and longing-each focusing on a different natural wonder, all connected by the thread of Nezhukumtathil's curiosity and her identification with the world's beautiful oddities . . . It's a heartwarming, poignant, and often funny collection, enlivened by Fumi Nakamura's dreamy illustrations." -BuzzFeed, "Summer Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down"

"Should the wonderful David Attenborough ever retire, my hope is someone at BBC has read the work of Aimee Nezhukumatathil . . . What a lovely book this is, gentle in its pacing, well-illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, and quietly subversive in the way she channels its gusts of joy." -Literary Hub, "Best New Books to Read This Summer"

"Nezhukumatathil's 30 essays are brightly crafted microcosms of childhood, identity, belonging, parenthood, and memory. From fireflies recalling summer nights in rural western New York to touch-me-not plants sparking contemplation on closeness, the writing shines with a tactile and beautiful lyricism that reimagines the world we see every day and sparks new magic in it." -Ralph Lauren Magazine, "The Summer Reading List"

"Nezhukumatathil is the environmental writer we should be reading in schools, instead of Emerson or Thoreau." -The New Southern Fugitives

"Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is the first book to make me feel like a firefly as much as it reminds me I'm still a black boy playing in Central Mississippi woods. The book walks. It sprints. It leaps. Most importantly, the book lingers in a world where power, people, and the literal outside wrestle painfully, beautifully. This book is a world of wonders. This book is about to shake the Earth." -Kiese Laymon

"Sometimes we need teachers who remind us how to be flabbergasted and gobsmacked and flummoxed and enswooned by the wonders of this earth. How to be in stupefied and devotional love to the wonders of this earth. How to be in love with this, our beloved earth. Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders is as good and generous a teacher as one could ever ask for. This book enraptures with its own astonishments and reveries while showing us how to be enraptured, how to revere. Which, again, is showing us how to be in love. I can think of nothing more important. Or wonderful." -Ross Gay, author of The Books of Delights

"Nezhukumtathil applies her skill as a poet to a scintillating series of short essays on nature. She takes up topics that fascinate her-the bizarre-looking potoo birds of Central and South America; corpse flowers, with their rich colors and acrid odor-and connects them to her own experience of the world . . . Throughout, she vividly describes sounds, smells, and color-the myriad hues of a 'sea of saris' from India-and folds in touches of poetry. Fumi Nakamura's lush illustrations add to the book's appeal. Readers of Terry Tempest Williams and Annie Dillard will appreciate Nezhukumtathil's lyrical look at nature." -Publishers Weekly

"These are the praise songs of a poet working brilliantly in prose. Each essay compresses a great deal of art and truth into a small space, whether about fireflies or flamingos, monkeys or monsoons, childhood or motherhood, or the trials and triumphs of living with a brown skin in a dominant white world. You will not find a more elegant, exuberant braiding of natural and personal history." -Scott Russell Sanders

"World of Wonders is a mesmerizing work of essays and tender illustrations, meditations on nature, cumulative in effect; nature as memoir, nature as memoir, nature as simply and joyously itself. Each chapter captures a moment, each centered around a different natural phenomenon and charts the reverberations of the lived experience it evokes, be in family, identity, or the notion of belonging. A centering book, delightful and unexpected." -Sallye L, Barnes & Noble Book of the Year Finalist selection

"This isn't your typical dry and stuffy nature writing essayist that you were forced to read in college. No, this ecologist's take on the natural world is more akin to lyrical prose with social commentary and pop culture references laced throughout. Relevant and inspiring, Aimee Nezhukumatathil reminds us once again why nature is so absolutely amazing and beautiful." -Mike O, Barnes & Noble Book of the Year Finalist selection


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