There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Far be it from me to tell Oliver Sacks, world-renowned neurologist and author of such extraordinary books as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, what to write about. But for God’s sake, Oliver—ferns? Oaxaca Journal is an account of Sacks’ trip with some fellow members of the American Fern Society—pity the Homeland Security officer assigned to infiltrate this group—to the fern-happy state of Oaxaca in Mexico. Though there is too much talk about ferns for this unhappy layman, Sacks’ descriptions of the group’s sidetrips into remote villages dedicated to chocolate-making and mescal distillation (the highly esteemed pechuga, Sacks learns, is flavored by raw chicken breasts) are fascinating. So too are his asides on New World hallucinogens, insect-eating, and the history of tobacco. Who knew, for example, that eating fireflies—three would seem to be the fatal dose—could kill you? Or that Spanish explorer and early tobacco enthusiast Rodrigo de Jerez spent seven years in prison, after his neighbors, seeing smoke issue from his nose and mouth, alerted the Inquisition, only to get out and find smoking all the rage? Otherwise, this is a book for pteridologists and the women who love them. My advice? Wait for the movie. Maybe this time they’ll cast Robin Williams as Pteris podophylla. Sacks appears Tuesday, June 25, at Politics and Prose, and signs Wednesday, June 26, at noon at the National Geographic Store, 1145 17th St. NW. Free. (202) 862-8629. (Michael Little)