Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s book “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments” published in 2020, but in some ways it was made for this moment.
Through keen observations and reflections, The New York Times bestselling author reminds readers of the small miracles that are around us everywhere — but easy to overlook in times of strife and great conflict.
“I think the last couple of weeks have been extraordinarily difficult for anyone who wants peace and wants grace for every family,” she said. “And I just try to do my best and to try to not take anything for granted — and try to not look away and hide either.”
If you go
What: Reading and conversation with Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 9
Where: Trinity Episcopal Church
3401 Bellaire Dr. S.
Tickets: Free. Reserve yours here.
In her book, an essay titled “Octopus” combines both the wonders and woes of the world.
Nezhukumatathil was traveling in Greece, with part of her day dedicated to teaching students from around the world and the other part reserved for spending time with her family. One day, she stayed behind on the beach with her sons while the others went out on a fishing excursion.
As the group triumphantly returned, excited to show off their catch, two of her students ran over with an octopus. Holding the creature, she realized that it was dying. Despite her efforts, she couldn’t save it.
She wrote, in part: “In those moments I held it, how many things it might have felt or known about me. Could it sense the love and exhilaration I felt for it or my sheer despair once I realized it was dying in my hands? I only know that I had never been looked at, consumed, or questioned so carefully by another being.”
The essay has resonated with so many readers, the author said, but the story was one that she almost cut from the book.
“If I’m being honest, you know, here I’m supposed to be this nature lover, and I messed up. And then also, ironically, that’s exactly why I wanted to include it,” she said. “Because, hopefully it shows that you can make mistakes. You’re human, and yet you can learn from that. I have never touched an octopus since then. I’ve never taken anything living out of its home.”
As a lover of nature and essays about it, she realized that the nature genre frequently includes stories of triumph and expertise, but rarely includes writers’ mistakes.
“It rings so false to me to leave any of that out. And I found over the years that that has been such a connective essay to bringing people who don’t really, who wouldn’t normally say that they’re drawn to narratives of the outdoors.”
Her love of the outdoors and willingness to share her mistakes as she moves throughout it was a central part of a separate book of correspondences between Nezhukumatathil and fellow author Ross Gay.
What started out as garden updates between friends became a collection of letters and poetry titled “Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens.”
Gay is one of Nezhukumatathil’s few friends who still stamps and physically mails letters, she said. Taking the time to slow down and think through why a certain plant didn’t thrive and the ability to share that with a friend without fear of judgment was useful.
For Nezhukumatathil, that same openness and vulnerability aids writing as well.
“Writers … they have too much of a protective shield like, ‘Hey, here’s the finished product.’ And they’re not willing to say, ‘Hey, there were a lot of steps to get to this, (and) a lot of steps back,’” she said.
But that wasn’t an issue for the friends. They didn’t plan on making a book together but found so much joy and gratification in their mutual garden reports that they thought others might appreciate those lessons as well.
Fort Worthians will have the opportunity to hear a reading and conversation with both authors at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at Trinity Episcopal Church.
Nezhukumatathil hopes the reading can help serve as a reminder of what happens when we allow ourselves to be curious about the world and share that curiosity with others.
“When we share that delight with others, it becomes contagious,” she said. “And I think that’s a nice and meaningful way to make sense of the world these days.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.