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Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss Spiral-Bound | March 30, 2021

Margaret Renkl

★★★★☆+ from 1,001 to 10,000 ratings

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“Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world . . . It has the makings of an American classic.” —ANN PATCHETT

Named a "Best Book of the Year" by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and Washington Independent Review of Books

Southern Book Prize Finalist

From New York Times contributing opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family—and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world.

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents—her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father—and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver.

And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds—the natural one and our own—“the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s own twin.”

Gorgeously illustrated by the author’s brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.

Publisher: Ingram Publisher Services
Original Binding: Trade Paperback
Pages: 248 pages
ISBN-10: 1571313834
Item Weight: 0.98 lbs
Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.04 x 8.5 inches
Customer Reviews: 4 out of 5 stars 1,001 to 10,000 ratings
Praise for Late Migrations

A Barnes & Noble Our Monthly Pick selection for April 2021
A TODAY Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick
Winner of 2020 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Award
Finalist for the Southern Book Prize
Named a “Best Book of the Year” by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Foreword Reviews, and Washington Independent Review of Books
An Indie Next Selection, Indies Introduce Selection, and Okra Pick

“Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world, Late Migrations can claim its place alongside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Death in the Family. It has the makings of an American classic.”—Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth

“[Renkl] is the most beautiful writer! I love this book. It’s about the South, and growing up there, and about her love of nature and animals and her wonderful family.”—Reese Witherspoon

“Reflective and gorgeous . . . I have recommended this book to everybody that I know. It is a beautiful book about love, and [how] . . . to find the beauty in the little things.”—Jenna Bush Hager, the TODAY Show

“A perfect book to read in the summer . . . This is the kind of writing that makes me just want to stay put, reread and savor everything about that moment.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“Equal parts Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott with a healthy sprinkle of Tennessee dry rub thrown in.”New York Times Book Review

“A compact glory, crosscutting between consummate family memoir and keenly observed backyard natural history. Renkl’s deft juxtapositions close up the gap between humans and nonhumans and revive our lost kinship with other living things.”—Richard Powers, author of The Overstory

“Magnificent . . . Conjure your favorite place in the natural world: beach, mountain, lake, forest, porch, windowsill rooftop? Precisely there is the best place in which to savor this book.”—

“Late Migrations has echoes of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life—with grandparents, sons, dogs and birds sharing the spotlight, it’s a witty, warm and unaccountably soothing all-American story.”People

“[Renkl] guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards, and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits; as it celebrates bounty, it also mourns the profound losses we face every day.”O, the Oprah Magazine

“Graceful . . . Like a belated answer to [E.B.] White.”Wall Street Journal

“A lovely collection of essays about life, nature, and family. It will make you laugh, cry—and breathe more deeply.”Parade

“This warm, rich memoir might be the sleeper of the summer. [Renkl] grew up in the South, nursed her aging parents, and never once lost her love for life, light, and the natural world. Beautiful is the word, beautiful all the way through.”Philadelphia Inquirer

“Like the spirituality of Krista Tippett’s On Being meets the brevity of Joe Brainard . . . The miniature essays in Late Migrations approach with modesty, deliver bittersweet epiphanies, and feel like small doses of religion.”—Literary Hub

“In her poignant debut, a memoir, Renkl weaves together observations from her current home in Nashville and short vignettes of nature and growing up in the South.”Garden & Gun

“A book that will be treasured.”Minneapolis Star Tribune

“One of the best books I’ve read in a long time . . . [and] one of the most beautiful essay collections that I have ever read. It will give you chills.”—Silas House, author of Southernmost

“Renkl holds my attention with essays about plants and caterpillars in a way no other nature writer can.”—Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink

“This is the story of grief accelerated by beauty and beauty made richer by grief. . . . Like Patti Smith in Woolgathering, Renkl aligns natural history with personal history so completely that the one becomes the other. Like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Renkl makes, of a ring of suburbia, an alchemical exotica.”The Rumpus

“Renkl feels the lives and struggles of each creature that enters her yard as keenly as she feels the paths followed by her mother, grandmother, her people. Learning to accept the sometimes harsh, always lush natural world may crack open a window to acceptance of our own losses. In Late Migrations, we welcome new life, mourn its passing, and honor it along the way.”—Indie Next List (July 2019), selected by Kat Baird, The Book Bin

“[A] stunning collection of essays merging the natural landscapes of Alabama and Tennessee with generations of family history, grief and renewal. Renkl’s voice sounds very close to the reader’s ear: intimate, confiding, candid and alert.”—Shelf Awareness

“Late Migrations is a gift, and fortunate readers will steal away to a beloved nook or oasis to commune with its riches. Or they will simply dig into it, unprepared, like the mother with no gardening tools who determinedly pulls weeds until the ground blossoms. They might entrust it to fellow seekers they believe can handle its power. Consecrated, they’ll leave initiated into an art of observation lived beautifully in richness, connection, worry, and love.”The Christian Century

“How can any brief description capture this entirely original and deeply satisfying book? . . . I can’t help but compile a list of people I want to gift with Late Migrations. I want them to emerge from it, as I did, ready to apprehend the world freshly, better able to perceive its connections and absorb its lessons.”—Beth Ann Fennelly, Chapter 16

“[A] magnificent debut . . . Renkl instructs that even amid life’s most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration. Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Contemplative yet powerful . . . Renkl is so in touch with the birds and butterflies of her yard that one could mistake her for a trained naturalist.”Book Page (starred review)

“Compelling, rich, satisfying . . . The short, potent essays of Late Migrations are objects as worthy of marvel and study as the birds and other creatures they observe.”Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“Renkl captures the spirit and contemporary culture of the American South better than anyone.”Book Page, A 2019 Most Anticipated Nonfiction Book

“[Late Migrations] is shot through with deep wonder and a profound sense of loss. It is a fine feat, this book. Renkl intimately knows that ‘this life thrives on death’ and chooses to sing the glory of being alive all the same.”Booklist

“A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time. . . . [Renkl’s] narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature . . . in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures ‘the splendor of decay.’”Kirkus

“A captivating, beautifully written story of growing up, love, loss, living, and a close extended family by a talented nature writer and memoirist that will appeal to those who enjoy introspective memoirs and the natural world close to home.”Library Journal

“A beautifully written collection of essays about nature and the author's childhood.”— (Best Book of 2019)

“Compact, delicate like a work of poetry, and often gorgeous in detail, this is a refreshing read for readers interested in family as well as nature.”—Chicago Public Library

“Late Migrations is such a beautiful book, you’ll want to gift it to someone you love. Meditative and poetic, without being stuffy, Renkl gets at the meanings in life.”—Campus Circle

“A close and vigilant witness to loss and gain, Renkl wrenches meaning from the intimate moments that define us. Her work is a chronicle of being. And a challenge to cynicism. Late Migrations is flat-out brilliant and it has arrived right on time.”—John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers

“Gracefully written and closely observed, Renkl’s lovely essays are tinged with the longing for family and places now gone while rejoicing in the flutter of birds and life still alive.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams

“Here is an extraordinary mind combined with a poet’s soul to register our own old world in a way we have not quite seen before. Late Migrations is the psychological and spiritual portrait of an entire family and place presented in quick takes—snapshots—a soul’s true memoir. The dire dreams and fears of childhood, the mother’s mysterious tears, the imperfect beloved family . . . all are part of a charged and vibrant natural world also filled with rivalry, conflict, the occasional resolution, loss, and delight. Late Migrations is a continual revelation.”—Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls

“What a treasure. I was captivated by the astonishing vignettes she created in just a few short sentences; mere fragments conveyed a lifetime.”—Jenny Lyons, Vermont Bookshop (Literary Hub)

“In compact, lyrical essays, Renkl captures the fleeting brutal beauty of life. Renkl’s keen observations of suburban nature—birds, butterflies, and brambles—give depth and texture to the narratives she shares about her parents, her daily life, and her child’s clear-eyed curiosity. Like Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, Renkl’s Late Migrations reads as a grief memoir bound up with deeply attentive nature writing.”—Trista Doyle, Left Bank Books

“Late Migrations is a gorgeous, somber treasure of a book. Death and its many forms permeate Renkl’s meditative work; from the death of her father to the death of a small bird in the road, grief is a constant companion throughout these pages. But the sorrow never becomes overwhelming; in fact, each passage takes on a unique, bittersweet wisdom that can only be gained by experiencing loss. Renkl’s part memoir, part nature writing, and part essay collection is such a unique reading experience and one I will remember and recommend for many years to come.”—Caleb Masters, Bookmarks

Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear weekly. Her work has also appeared in Guernica, Literary Hub, Proximity, and River Teeth, among others. She was the founding editor of Chapter 16, the daily literary publication of Humanities Tennessee, and is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina. She lives in Nashville.