It’d probably take the National Security Agency or equivalent to discover how many books of which genres are being published in the United States each year. Admittedly, it’s a difficult task: There is traditional book publishing, on-demand publishing, self-publishing, plus all sorts of categories of titles from A to Z, from novels to texts to how-tos to privately printed poetry and memoirs.

My mushy conclusion is there’s an average of 700 books published every day in the U.S these days.

If you have a more accurate number, I accept it, but let’s use that.

Seven hundred books every day. Once upon a time, I probably read a book a week,  mostly nonfiction. The Muse read several books a week once, mostly fiction. Between us, not much of a dent. Nowadays, the best I can do is a precious few books a year.

(This confession will likely make it difficult for me in mere weeks, when I push my books in this column and suggest you purchase them. But I have what I consider is a good excuse just now. Do what I say, and like that.)

What I do a lot now is to read book reviews. To find out what I’m missing, I guess.

And so we have finally arrived at my inspiration for this column. It’s a quote from a review of the new book “Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,” by Gary L. Wenk, Oxford University Press, 2010. The review by Leigh Boerner in Chemical & Engineering News in September is excellent, making it clear that the book is essentially an introduction to neuroscience and covers topics from stimulants, depressants, euphoria and depression to magic and madness.

Spicing up his review, Boerner picks out one grabber in the book that alone makes a prospective reader want to march down to his or her bookstore. Wenk writes, “The drug asarone, which comes from a plant, acorus calamus (found in Asia, Europe and North America), is chemically very similar to mescaline. [Mescaline is a hallucinatory alkaloid derived from a cactus — BR.] The roots of this plant are chewed to produce a dose-dependent effect; about two inches [of root] produces a mild euphoria, whereas nearly 10 inches produces hallucinations. In some cultures, wives will chew on the roots and collect their expectorant throughout the day for their husbands to enjoy later. Nothing says ‘welcome home’ at the end of a hard day like a nice warm bowl of spit.”

200 pages; $29.95 hardcover

Field Notes: Now is a good time to clean out bird nest boxes so they’ll be ready for potential nesters come spring. It has been my recommendation for many years that the contents in a box be removed and its interior cleaned with a Clorox solution to kill any wee beasties in it. Comes now, courtesy of Lee Cutler, a newsletter from Montana, Bluebird Tales. Here’s what it says:

“Remove the box’s contents and dispose only the bottom portion, the fine, dusty, decayed material at the bottom. Return and replace the intact grasses making up the upper portion of any nest. This is supposed to be an attractant for bluebirds to use the nest.”

This attractant notion is news to me, but, hey. Experiment and find out. Worth a try.

Now then, bison. Having grown up reading about how bison just stood there as their companions fell about them, shot dead at a distance from moving trains, etc., it’s a continuing fascination and revelation that Grand Teton National Park/National Elk Refuge bison have become savvy about being hunted in a few years. Another myth destroyed?

(Probably not. It’s sooo hard to debunk a myth.)

Before enjoying Dr. Chuck Trobst’s talk at this month’s Bird Club meeting, folks reported on trumpeter swans, a Sabine’s gull, grackles, Lewis’ woodpeckers, saw-whet owls, harlequin ducks, bluebirds, dusky grouse, robins, foxes, moose, bison, wolverines tracks, black bears and bats. Good stuff.

Ernie Hirsch spotted a flock of 20 or more evening grosbeaks in Jackson on Saturday. Evening grosbeaks, often a familiar winter visitor in Jackson Hole, have been rather scarce recently. Several redpolls — another “winter wings” type — were discovered a bit ago by Bru Wicks. Huh. What does it all mean about the coming winter weather?

If you know, lemme know.

© Bert Raynes 2010

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Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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