The Dangerous World of Butterflies
The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and
Lyons Press: 272 pp., $24.95
Peter Laufer was a little bit tired of writing about wars and American prisoners held against their will in foreign countries, and about neo-Nazis and Mexican immigrants. When a couple of butterfly breeders in Nicaragua invited him to visit their reserve, he said yes, unwittingly catapulting himself into a world of intrigue and slapstick, good intentions and pure greed. With a journalist's nose for discord, he plunged into the dispute between butterfly breeders and the purist breeders called "butterfly huggers."
Breeders often sell their butterflies to artists (who use the parts) and for events like weddings or graduation ceremonies, in which hundreds of butterflies are dramatically released. Scientists worry about genetic contamination and habitat loss. In the thicket of issues, Laufer finds his cast of characters: Hisayoshi Kojima, "the world's most wanted butterfly smuggler," in prison in Los Angeles, and his captor, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent.
Like "The Orchid Thief," "The Dangerous World of Butterflies" takes us deep into the dark heart of obsessed collectors and the passionate activism of people working to repopulate species like the Palos Verdes blue. Worlds within worlds: Laufer, a veteran reporter on cultural and political borders, understands how these worlds cross and collide. His book is a Venn diagram of the beautiful and bizarre.
Mona Lisa's Pajamas
Diverting Dispatches From a Roving Reporter
A. Craig Copetas
Union Square Press: 258 pp., $24.95
It's enough to make you want to become a journalist -- oops! Too late. A. Craig Copetas, a senior writer for Bloomberg News, has spent 40 years as a foreign correspondent and contributor to publications like Harper's, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and the New York Times. His beat? Humanity at its quirkiest pursuits. His dispatches are delivered in a deadpan hybrid of Robin Leach and Monty Python; Ira Glass with a little more chortle. Here is the French beret maker, the Spartan sword maker, CEO adrenaline management classes in the world's political hot spots, yacht racing and the Italian tax police, the "Mona Lisa" industry, the ranch in France where champion bulls are raised dreaming of Spain, aerobatics, monument sliding and other sports you've never heard of.
Copetas spans the globe -- and stretches the limits of credulity. He remembers the good old days, when an editor would say: "Just go there and tell me what you see."
Pieces for the Left Hand
J. Robert Lennon
Graywolf Press: 224 pp., $14
J. Robert Lennon takes long walks every day. After he was laid off from a job he doesn't regret losing, his memory and his powers of observation became keen. He began to remember events he had witnessed, stories he had heard, thoughts he had had -- things that happened to his neighbors, to his wife's colleagues. Things he read in the paper: "Every day, for many months, he sifted through the growing pile of memories, until he had begun to tell them to himself, as stories."
The result is this eerie collection of anecdotes (Graywolf also has just published his new novel, "Castle"), whose very simplicity elevates them to the status of myth. Their brevity gives off a spiritual glow, like parables or entries in the "I Ching." More prosaically, they are short stories for readers with attention deficit disorder (in other words, everyone, all of us). They begin with: "Our friend moved to the city . . . ," or "While walking, on a cool day in late spring . . . ," or "A man we know, whose friends are few and not especially close . . . ," or "An old friend disappeared for more than ten years. . . ."