Cover image for Waltzing the magpies : a year in Australia
Waltzing the magpies : a year in Australia
Pickering, Sam, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xii, 280 pages ; 25 cm
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE64.P53 A3 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Praise for Sam Pickering:

"The art of the essay as delivered by Mr. Pickering is the art of the front porch ramble."
--- The New York Times Book Review

"Reading Pickering . . . is like taking a walk with your oldest, wittiest friend."
--- Smithsonian

"What a joy it is to 'mess around' with Professor Sam Pickering!"
--- The Chattanooga Times

"Pickering is a barefoot observer of the quotidian who revels in the spectacle and its gift for surprise, prefers the rumpled to the starched, has raised puttering and messing about to an art form, and wrings from it more than a pennyworth of happiness and a life well lived."
--- Kirkus Reviews

The movie Dead Poets Society is where most Americans first met Sam Pickering, the University of Connecticut English professor. Robin Williams plays the lead character (loosely based on Pickering), an idiosyncratic instructor who employs some over-the-top teaching methods to keep his subjects fresh and his students learning.

Fewer know that Pickering is the author of more than 16 books and nearly 200 articles, or that he's inspired thousands of university students to think in new ways. And, while Williams may have captured Pickering's madcap classroom antics, he didn't uncover the other side of the author-Sam Pickering as one of our great American men of letters. Like the music of Mozart, the painting of Picasso, or the poetry of Emily Dickinson, you can spot Pickering's writing a mile away; there's no mistaking the Pickering pen. As an ample demonstration of the author's literary gifts, Waltzing the Magpies is his unabashedly lush and Technicolor travelogue from Down Under.

On the face of it, Waltzing is the chronicle of a sabbatical year spent with family in Australia. Yet beneath the surface Pickering's big themes-family, nature, seizing the moment-move in a powerful current that frequently bursts out in moments of ecstatic revelation and intense sensual flourish. Through it all Pickering weaves stories from his fictional Southern town of Carthage, Tennessee, especially when the goings of the outside world get rough.

Waltzing the Magpies is classic Pickering at the height of his literary powers, and places him in the company of such great American essayists as E. B. White and James Thurber, but with an irony and observational prowess that is pure Pickering.

Author Notes

A native of Nashville, Sam Pickering is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut & author of eleven previous books of essays. His most recent collections are Living to Prowl, Deprived of Unhappiness, & A Little Fling & Other Essays.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

It seems a shame to preface any introduction to Pickering by saying he was the inspiration for Robin Williams' character in Dead Poet's Society,0 but if that's what it takes to get more people to read him, then so be it. In a just world, Pickering would be better known than Williams, and at times, his wry commentary is equally amusing. This new collection of essays should go a long way in gaining him the wider audience he deserves. Like a long, newsy letter from an old friend, Pickering recounts how he packed up his life, his wife, his children, and his penchant for quiet observation and moved the whole kit and caboodle to Australia for a year's sabbatical. Adopting the persona of a Connecticut Yankee in a kangaroo court, Pickering's delight with the natural world continues unabated. The flowers and birds might have different names, but their ability to fascinate Pickering remains the same. Few writers can entertain so thoroughly; few essayists can distill the world's vagaries with as deft a hand. --Carol Haggas Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Pickering (English, Univ. of Connecticut), the acclaimed author of numerous books of essays, was the model for Robin Williams's memorable character in Dead Poets Society. These two collections of essays certainly display his erudition, but their appeal stretches far beyond the esoteric or academic. Highly autobiographical, The Best of Pickering offers more than two dozen essays that explore a wide range of his most-beloved themes (e.g., nature, student days, being a parent). His lively imagination pulls the reader from the vividly real to the imaginative as we are introduced to his make-believe world of Carthage. Although somewhat unexpected at first, this whimsical parallel to the everyday quickly becomes comforting and often very amusing. Waltzing the Magpies, which includes previously unpublished essays on a year he spent teaching in Western Australia, focuses on the familial and the natural, and of course, on the cultural differences between Australia and the United States. However, this collection is not so much a chronological travelog as a rambling account of a life broadly similar to Pickering's life as a professor in the United States. In this way, small, peculiar differences are made to stand out in colorful relief. The relaxing pace of life that Pickering enjoyed in Australia is so well conveyed that the reader is lulled into an enjoyable peace. It is evident from both collections that Pickering delights in documenting the minutiae of life. At first this may strike the reader as a little pedantic, but one soon becomes charmed by Pickering's gentle, sometimes gleeful, humor and then frequently moved by his wisdom and thoughtfulness. The writing, while carefully penned and showing great skill, is never pretentious and is entirely suited to the subject matter. Both collections should enjoy a wide interest in both public and academic libraries.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.