When the Irish essayist Chris Arthur (Reading Life) first saw a hummingbird, the sight "entranced [him] so completely" that he remembered it 50 years later when he sat down to write his seventh essay collection, the thoughtful and lyrical Hummingbirds Between the Pages. The title is derived, Arthur writes, from the 18th-century American settlers' practice of capturing hummingbirds and pressing them like flowers between the pages of a heavy book. Like Arthur, they, too, were mesmerized by the small, wondrous birds and wanted to mail them to family members back in the United Kingdom.
Arthur's collection features the hummingbird as a metaphor for the small things that have made the essayist pause, reflect and reconsider. Among the highlights is a piece about Charles Darwin's brief mention of a rare Chilean fox in The Voyage of the Beagle, wherein the scientist describes killing the animal. Arthur contemplates: "How slight the probability seems of Darwin being in that exact spot at that exact time, coincident with the presence of this rare creature." He goes on to marvel at the myriad causes and effects of all that has ever happened to us and all that will ever be. Other stand-out essays focus on Egyptian shells and an ugly clock owned by the writer's dying mother.
Together these essays take on a near-cosmic view of how we got here and where we are going. It's a stunning collection that reveals a depth and nimbleness of thinking that is a joy to read. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor