Learning Life: A Memoir
by Sylvia Baer
Hardcover, 2022, Nostos Press, 252 pages
Cape May is home to many creatives, especially writers (as evidenced by the magazine you hold in your hands). Cape May’s very own—and first! —Poet Laureate, Dr. Sylvia Baer, is among this grouping. Baer, a teacher of over 50 years, explores the art of stories and poems to keep the memories of the past alive. Learning Life uses multiple formats to explore the written word.
The story begins with Baer looking at photos with her mother and grandmother and reflecting on why she celebrates two dates as her birthday. She was born in Uraguay, and birth father was nowhere to be found for two days afterward. He did not sign Baer’s birth certificate, thus labeling her a “bastarda.” She was eventually adopted by her American father, her real father, when they moved to New Jersey.
Diverse culture is a theme heavily featured throughout Learning Life. Family pictures and cherry blossom illustrations, and Emily Dickinson’s poems are present throughout the book, which enhances the beauty of the story. Baer recounts many life-altering moments, including isolation during a polio outbreak, death, religion, and a young childhood growing up in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Learning Life also delves into learning about the Holocaust through the eyes of a young girl with a Jewish lineage. Baer’s great-grandparents lived under the pogroms in Eastern Europe, and her grandparents escaped the Holocaust to Uruguay. Her grandmother teaches her that hate “tries to destroy all love, but love wins. Always. It does not die.”
Readers do not have to be familiar with Baer, or her famed Poet-Tree, which blooms each summer in Cape May with poems, to enjoy Learning Life. The lessons found in this story are transcendent of time, and best read with fond memories in mind.
Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul
by Holly Merker, Richard Crossley, and Sophie Crossley
Hardcover, 2021, Crossley Books 212 pages
Being in nature is one of the many advantages of spending time in Cape May, which is home to many beautiful animal species. Birding is a huge draw to the town. From hummingbirds to swans to egrets to pelicans to piping plovers, Cape May has an abundance of birds that are a treasure to behold. In Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul, authors Holly Merker, Richard Crossley, and Sophie Crossley discuss the benefit of connecting to nature.
Ornitherapy is defined as the “mindful observation of birds benefitting our minds, bodies, and souls.” The author trio describes birds as offering a gateway into a deep connection with nature, which in turn, research has shown, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. The book features gorgeous photography and quotes that allow the reader to develop a sense of self-awareness.
Each section guides the reader into the art of standing still and finding birds. It’s truly a reading delight to turn the page to find up-close bird photos, with questions that provoke the reader to think beyond the basics of what birds look like, but also prompts to think about movement, birds’ physical traits, and bird calls and songs.
This guide includes personal anecdotes and stories from the authors, which give the reader pause and a way to understand how nature can be healing in this world full of endless social media scrolling.
Merker and the Crossleys worked in tandem to create an incredibly accessible guide that allows for people who have no birding education to benefit from ornitherapy. The book features 58 explorations, five meditations, and a journaling section with notes from each author. Ornitherapy is best read on one of the many birding pavilions, particularly those in Cape May Point.
Thicker Than Water
A Cape May Trilogy: Book One
by Laura Quinn
Paperback, 2022, 461 pages
Cape May in the early 1900s is vastly different from Cape May in 2022. Yet, so much history and the early legacies remain intact as the town works to preserve the past for the future. Set in 1916, Thicker Than Water follows two siblings, Danny and Shannon Culligan, as the world is in the midst of the first World War.
Born only ten months apart, Danny and Shannon understand each other in ways those without siblings will never know. Danny is obsessed with Jennie, a rich cottager who visits Cape May from Philadelphia every summer. This summer is finally the one where they plan to be together in public, but Danny is crushed when Jennie walks into the Fourth of July event on another man’s arm.
Thicker Than Water is told from the four main characters’ points of view, including Danny, Shannon, Jennie, and her cousin Hugh’s perspective. The contrast between a rich family and a poor one fighting and doing what it takes to survive the world’s turmoil is evident in the characters’ behavior and actions.
Danny and Shannon live with their abusive father, whereas Jennie and Hugh are wealthy Philadelphians, summering at the shore. The story comes to a head when Danny is drafted into the Army, and Hugh enlists in the Navy. Nothing will be the same as the careless summers at the shore. One question drives the story forward: how far would you go for your family?
It’s evident that Quinn did a litany of research while writing Thicker Than Water. The historical fiction novel will appeal to a niche audience wondering about Cape May’s role during World War I. The story is best read on Sunset Beach, perhaps on a bench overlooking the Concrete Ship. ■