Reviewers just aren’t sure what to make of award-winning author Amy Leach. And she is hard to pin down; her wry, outrageously inventive nonfiction pieces have earned her comparisons with writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Thoreau. Reading her debut book, “Things That Are,” a collection of short essays on science, philosophy, cosmology and the natural world just published by Twin Cities-based Milkweed Editions, one reviewer grouses that her quirkiness is merely “twee” and that her “extreme individuality veers into inscrutability.” Another is delighted by the sly “appreciation for absurdity and the joys of wildlife that infuses her pieces,” calling Leach’s new collection “a bonbon of a book;” but even that reviewer ultimately demurs that it “likely won’t appeal to many general readers.”
Since when is originality so off-putting to mainstream book buyers? Seuss seemed to do all right, as did Shel Siverstein – two writers who, though they tackled very different subjects than Leach, immediately came to mind as I read her assortment of unabashedly strange and marvelous short pieces. I supposed I wouldn’t know right off where to shelve “Things That Are” in the bookstore either: fiction or nonfiction? Maybe in the poetry section, or with fables and fairy tales? I don’t know — the author’s brand of creative nonfiction is a mad-happy hybrid of these forms.
She’s endowed with a naturalist’s keen eye and empathy for wild things; she’s also got an irrepressible imagination and poetic flair, not to mention a notable penchant for the just-right nonce word. The resulting body of work represented in “Things That Are” is a free-ranging literary cabinet of curiosities divided into two broad sections, “Things of Earth” and “Things of Heaven.” And so, with a spirit of genuine interrogation and an engaging, but decidedly slant point of view, she muses on everything from the madness of pea shoots and the indefatigable industry of beavers to the starry night sky and the upside of being a goat. That her ferociously smart, winsome essays are illustrated with perfectly apt pen-and-ink drawings by St. Paul artist Nate Christopherson only adds to the collection’s appeal. I loved the freshness and verve of Leach’s unorthodox storytelling sensibilities, and I have a feeling you might, too.
Amy Leach will read from her new book of essays, “Things That Are,” tonight at 7 p.m. at Micawber’s Books, 2238 Carter Ave., St. Paul. She will also be on hand with illustrator Nate Christopherson to discuss the new book at Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue So. in Minneapolis, on Thursday, July 19 at 7 p.m. Find more information about the author, upcoming readings and the new collection on Milkweed Editions’ website.