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Waltzing the Magpies

A Year in Australia

Sam Pickering

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-xii

Seven years ago I took a sabbatical year at half pay, and Vicki, the three children, and I lived for twelve months in Western Australia. When we returned to Connecticut...

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Bumpy Landing

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pp. 1-10

I spent much of July and June smoothing our arrival in Western Australia. For Immigration I filed a cabinet of forms. Through the University of Western Australia...

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pp. 11-13

I have talked for many suppers. I have talked for tuition, roofing, automobile parts, and home repairs. Twice corporations paid me four thousand dollars for motivational...

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pp. 14-19

The realtor who managed the apartment on Cooper Street limited our stay to a fortnight. "The day you leave," she said, "someone else is moving in." Ten days after we left...

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pp. 20-23

Once I was comfortable in the house, I read Patrick White's novel The Eye of the Storm. White's intellectual stew is thick, and I can manage only one of his books a year...

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pp. 24-31

We have been in Perth for twenty-four days and have begun to settle. In the morning I feed the staghorn fern attached to the fence in the back yard. While the body of the...

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pp. 32-48

In July Edward wrote from Queensland. "We have to visit Exmouth," he urged. "For 160 miles Ningaloo Reef runs along the North West Cape. Tourist brochures...

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pp. 49-65

In Connecticut spring begins in April. The school year wilts, and as days lengthen into flower, purpose sifts away. I slip the shackles of duty and wander field...

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pp. 66-74

Voluna Hardaker studied librarianship at David Lipscomb College in Nashville for a year. As a result when the new library opened at Cross Keys...

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pp. 75-86

"An empty chapel," Alexander Smith wrote, "is impressive; a crowded one, comparatively a commonplace affair." A fortnight ago I found Smith's collection...

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pp. 87-106

The last week in November school ended, and summer vacation began. In the United States Edward would have spent summer in Maine working at a boys' camp. Eliza...

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pp. 107-109

I didn't want to return from the Porongurups. On a trip days fold anonymously into each another, and calendar vanishes. In Perth the temperature rose into the nineties...

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New Year

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pp. 110-116

"What is the most martial day of the year?" Nigel asked, adding, "the day that urges people to press ahead." "What?" I said. "March fourth," Nigel answered, right...

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pp. 117-145

Along with hot summer January brought a second blooming to Mosman Park. Plumbago hung from walls thick as macrame. Flowers on the lemon tree sweetened...

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Man about the House

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pp. 146-163

The last day in January Vicki left Perth for Hartford and weeks of cleaning her mother's house in New Jersey. The trip was long, over forty-six hours. Vicki's ordeal dropped...

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pp. 164-171

For the first hundred years of his life, Methuselah, Boeotian story relates, slept on the ground, sand for a blanket and a rock for a pillow. At dawn on the first day of Methuselah's...

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Sweeping Days

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pp. 172-200

Vicki spent seventy-three days in the United States, most of the time in New Jersey cleaning her mother's house. Getting rid of possessions was hard, and she...

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All the Fun

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pp. 201-210

After enumerating the problems of middle age-difficulties with wife, children, and job; an aging house and prostate, the one losing shingles, dry rot undermining...

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pp. 211-216

"Daddy," Eliza said, on my declining to accompany her to the movie Moulin Rouge, "you are prissy." "Very prissy," Vicki added, going out the door. I am not prissy...

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pp. 217-218

Yesterday a reporter from the Sunday Times interviewed me at the university. Before returning home I walked to the bookstore and picked up five boxes into which...

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Affection for a Machine

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pp. 219-225

In a letter to C. F., a neighbor in Storrs, I lamented that institutions rarely rewarded loyalty or affection. "When I was twelve," C. F. responded, "I spent days on a Ford...

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On the Way

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pp. 226-237

In Western countries people solve problems. They set goals and climb ladders. At day's end, however, life seems out of joint. Achievement loses significance...

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pp. 238-250

At 7:15 in the morning on July 9, Paul picked us up at the Mirambeena. Paul worked for World Expeditions. For eight days he would guide us, the last two days...

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pp. 251-256

On our return from Kakadu we checked back into the Mirambeen a, room 48, the twin of 50. The next morning rain fell in shutters. I didn't have a raincoat...

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pp. 257-265

We stopped in Sydney because of Eliza. Seven years ago we visited, and I knew the city well. The prospect oflugging bags to and from a hotel sapped my enthusiasm...

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pp. 266-276

In May I spent two evenings studying the "Qantas Holiday Guide to Fiji." I wanted to spend a week marooned on an island. Because Vicki is conservative with money...

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pp. 277-280

We left Fiji at 11:30 at night on August 5. I am not a comfortable flyer, and to calm my nerves, I spent the morning snorkeling beyond North Beach. Because Eliza was scuba diving and Vicki kayaking, I snorkeled alone...

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024438
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113774

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Pickering, Samuel F., 1941- -- Travel -- Australia.
  • English teachers -- Australia -- Biography.
  • Australia -- Social life and customs.
  • Americans -- Australia -- Biography.
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