The last time Austin was featured in a book about the natural world, it was all about butterflies (Sue Halpern's excellent Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly, published last summer). Now there's a new book about snow geese, whose second chapter is simply titled "Austin." William Fiennes is a young nature philosopher whose first book, The Snow Geese: A Story of Home (Random House, $24.95), is causing people to compare him to Bruce Chatwin, Barry Lopez, and Thoreau. Confined at his childhood home in England while recuperating from a lengthy illness, Fiennes, whose cousins are actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, began re-reading Paul Gallico's WWII novel The Snow Goose, in which a reclusive hunchback nurses a migrating goose thrown off-course by a storm back to health. Cooped up and restless, Fiennes became intrigued by a goose that could be blown off-course. "I wondered at the mysterious signals that told a bird it was time to move, time to fly," he writes. So he decided to follow the snow geese from their winter quarters in the South back to the Arctic, taking a Greyhound bus from Austin up to South Dakota. But saying that The Snow Geese is strictly a book about geese would get this subtle, often funny, and distinctive book all wrong. In an essay about Thomas Mann, literary critic James Wood points out that "Mann sees the great, necessary, selfish convalescence that is the patient's and the artist's labor. ... The artist must be a patient," observations that apply just as well to Fiennes, who will be at BookPeople on Friday, March 15 at 7pm... Let's get this straight: Are we back to thinking that President Bush is kind of a doofus or are we still having warm, post-September 11 feelings that he's our best friend? Frank Bruni, who writes for the New York Times Magazine, will be weighing in when he comes to BookPeople on Thursday, March 21, at 7pm, to talk about his new book Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush (HarperCollins, $23.95). You can also catch the final screening of the SXSW documentary Journeys With George at the Paramount on Friday, March 15, at 10:15pm, if you really want to bone up on the subject... Christopher Paul Curtis' first book The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 was pulled from a slush pile at a publishing house and ended up winning a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. His second book, Bud, Not Buddy (Yearling Books, $5.99) won the 2000 Newbery Award and the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award, making Curtis the first African-American man in history to receive both awards. Curtis will be at Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley (5601 Brodie Ln.) on Thursday, March 20, at 7pm.

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More by Clay Smith
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