Waltzing the Magpies

A Year in Australia
Sam Pickering
An unabashedly sensuous and vivid travelogue of the author's year-long family trip Down Under


Sam Pickering, best known as the inspiration for Robin Williams' character in Dead Poet's Society, seized the opportunity for a year-long sabbatical from teaching, and took his family on a trip to Australia. The result is Waltzing the Magpies , a tour de force of sensual observation.

Pickering has the curiosity of a scientist and the soul of a poet. And whether he's cataloging the cost of transferring nearly his entire family to the other side of the planet, describing the call of a lorikeet, or reveling in the beauty of a coral reef, no detail escapes his eye.

Waltzing the Magpies invites us to participate in, not just observe, the author's vision of life's gorgeous pageant. It is Sam Pickering at his finest.

From Waltzing the Magpies:

"Of the three places we snorkeled, my favorite was Turquoise Bay. . . . Here I drifted wantonly, beneath me groves and bowers, seraglios, caverns, evenings of rose red twilight, golden sunrises, and fish, looking like birds one moment, the next petals ticking through the air. Plate, cabbage, lichen, and brain coral slipped luscious beneath me, pink and blue, sometimes hard-shelled, other times downy. A green turtle paddled past. A moray eel wound through stone, its skin pale lattice. . . ."

". . . I spent much of the afternoon looking at birds. A barking owl swallowed a mouse head first. A grass owl stood motionless in a bower. Torres Strait pigeons cried 'you.' The call of a Macleary's fig parrot sounded like water spurting from a faucet. Peaceful doves bubbled, and the chatter of red-collared lorikeets smoothed into weeping. Noisy pits wore tails through brush, and bush thick-knees stood motionless in profile, single blue eyes staring. Apostle birds clustered in cup-shaped nests, feathers sticking out like slivers of decorative chocolate. Bills of long-tailed finches seemed the clearest orange I've ever seen, and the blue adorning fairy wrens was so bright the sky seemed white-washed. For a few moments I forgot cages, but then a Muir's corella stared at me, cocked his head, and said, 'Hello.'"

Sam Pickering is Professor of English at University of Connecticut in Storrs. He's the author of more than a dozen books of essays, including Trespassing, The Blue Caterpillar and Other Essays, and The Last Book. He is married and has three children.

Praise / Awards

  • "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 person 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."
  • "What a joy it is to 'mess around' with Professor Sam Pickering!"
    Chatanooga 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 writings from it more than a pennyworth of happiness and a life well lived."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • 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. . . . Pickering delights in documenting the minutiae of life. . . . [O]ne soon becomes charmed by Pickering's gentle, sometimes gleeful humor, 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."
    Library Journal
  • "The art of the essay as delivered by Mr. Pickering is the art of the front porch ramble."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "Reading Pickering . . . is like taking a walk with your oldest, wittiest friend."
  • Honorable Mention: Connecticut Center for the Book (CCB) 2005 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Service to the Library Community, biography or memoir category

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, Sam Pickering. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 5-7/8 x 9-1/4.
  • 296pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11377-4

Add to Cart
  • $31.00 U.S.

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