Tasmania's journal of discovery

Dancing on the Edge of the World

Dancing on the Edge of the World
Essays on Birds and the Lighter Side of Life
Donald Knowler
Published by Donald Knowler
ISBN 0 646 42882 9

Once a prominent literary form, the essay has declined in status as our collective attention span has been truncated by the quick, the slick and the superficial; the six-word sound-bite, the snarling shock-jock, the second-by-second editing that makes most television so enervating to watch and the near-universal rule, imposed by half-educated newspaper editors, that journalists should write for those with a reading age of twelve, have drowned out the quiet and the contemplative.

In such a climate, it’s little wonder that Donald Knowler had to self-publish his collection of essays; publishers, too, now shy away from the unsensational. This book is a venture that deserves to succeed because, like many of the birds Knowler writes about, it’s a rarity.

Bacon, the greatest of English essayists, described the form in 1597 as ‘grains of salt which will rather give an appetite than offend with satiety’, and that is what Knowler has given us with this collection.

He writes with a fluency and a personal, reflective informality that speaks of long practice at his craft as well as of deep knowledge and love of his subject.

Many of the essays have a comic note; Knowler is firmly in the usually irritating Gormless Dad tradition of journalistic comedy, but his style is so uncommonly good-natured that he can get away with it.

Treat the book like a bag of lollies — don’t eat them all at once, because the tenth lolly is nowhere near as good as the first three or four.

Put it aside, turn off the squawk and twitter of the media, take a walk and look for the small surprises and occasionally awesome sights Knowler can find in the most commonplace suburban setting. It’s a beautiful world and we need more books like this to remind us. I can guarantee you’ll come back for more. Fred Baker

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