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In Notes From the Shore (Viking), Jennifer Ackerman limns the coastal town of Lewes, Del., where she has lived both as a child and as an adult. Memories of sand dunes, the Atlantic Ocean, fiddler crabs, and ospreys inform her mild meditations on Lewes’ landscape and natural inhabitants: “It is a book about learning to see the natural life of a place, the life beneath the surface,” she says. And while her work touches on beach erosion along the Eastern Shore and indigenous birds’ DDT levels, Ackerman shies away from burdening Notes with a heavy environmental message. “I wanted to avoid the doom and gloom of many environmental books,” she says. “[Notes] doesn’t try to hit you over the head—it’s gentler, subtler.”

Ackerman isn’t the only published writer in her family; she’s married to novelist Ken Ackerman, whose The Patron Saint of Unmarried Women (just out in paperback from Griffin/St. Martin’s Press) takes place in such D.C. haunts as Adams Morgan and the National Gallery of Art. But her naturalistic, reflective style differs markedly from her husband’s urban flair, and Jennifer Ackerman doesn’t foresee a work of fiction in her future. Her next book, The Longest Thread, will stick to Notes‘ scientific theme, this time examining “the kinship between humans and all living things.” And she suggests that another “place book” may be forthcoming: “Now that I live in Charlottesville, my friends think I should write Notes From the Mountains,” she says.