On September 21, 2012, twenty-five year old David Villalobos purchased a pass for the Bronx Zoo and a ticket for a ride on the Bengali Express Monorail. Biding his time, he waited until the monorail was just near the enclosure of a four hundred pound Siberian tiger named Bashuta before leaping into it. They spent ten long minutes together in the tiger’s cage before nature took its course, with one exception: The tiger did not kill him. David’s only response: “It’s a spiritual thing. I wanted to be at one with the tiger.”One with The Tiger: On Savagery and Intimacy uses David’s story, and other moments of violent encounters between humans and predators, to explore the line between human and animal. Exposing what the author defines as the “shared liminal space between peace and violence,” Church posits that the animal is always encroaching on the civilization –and those seeking its wildness are in fact searching for an ecstatic moment that can define what it means to be human. Using examples from Timothy Treadwell to Mike Tyson, or such television icons as Grizzly Adams and The Incredible Hulk, Church shows how this ecstasy can seep its way into the less natural world of popular culture, proving time and again that each of us can be our own worst predator.
[An] insightful exploration of human infatuation with nonhuman animals.
Church does well in connecting the human fascination with apex predator behavior and its potential relation to our own animal instincts...[a] captivating study.
One With the Tiger explores the deep human need to participate in an atavistic ecstasy; to be, as Church puts it "absorbed but not destroyed." Church’s approach is not clinical, moralizing, or gee-whiz superficial; it is, to our benefit, essayistic. By circling rather than simplifying, he illuminates the taboo, ever-shifting boundaries between man and animal. Church is the rare author who knows what’s interesting-- which is to say, uncomfortable--about his chosen subject.
From the iron of a zoo cage’s bars to the expanse of our nation’s national parks, One With the Tiger examines the spaces in which humans contain animals, and how those acts of containment often fail. Church is a classically essayistic observer--curious, haunted, self-deprecating--and it’s through this lens that we’re confronted with stories of infamous animal attacks, pop culture icons, and the author’s own longing to inch forward as a bear approaches. In this marvelous collection, Church seems to write his consciousness directly onto the page, and in it we can see an entire civilization’s clumsy, sometimes desperate, attempts to understand our relationship to the wild.
Church has written a funny, smart, and terrifying book that explores the invisible boundaries between human and animal. This sensitive and thoughtful writer allows the reader to hear the siren call of the wild and step deep into the existential anxiety of what it means to be human.
One With the Tiger, Steven Church stalks the entire genre of nature writing, rips it down to the raw bone, then reassembles the parts into something totally new and utterly compelling. Like the best of John Krakauer or Rebecca Solnit, the narrative pulls you in and absolutely refuses to let you go--or forget. Church is writing at the very apex of his game, and One with the Tiger is likely the most innovative, disturbing, and brilliant book you’ll read all year.
Some of us are born with a lust for the ledges, for any chance to make the leap. In this mesmerizing collection, Steven Church proves, once again, that he is a master of evaporating lines between fact and fiction, imagination and memory. ’It’s strange how a subject overtakes you, ’ Church tells us. This book overtook me.
Muscular, vulnerable, twitchy, and relentlessly curious, Steven Church’s awesome One With the Tiger stalks some of our most absurd, sometimes-violent, and uncontainable compulsions for communion and self-destruction, and finds, lurking within them, such a fragile, funny, and heartbreaking humanity that it’s all we can do as readers to leap and leap into the exhilarating zoo pit of this book, and to emerge as better, more baffling, and more beautiful mutants. Church’s interrogation of our cockeyed innateness braids evisceration with assurance, bite with whisper. This book tears us open by way of acceptance, the drive to assuage, the electric and desperate urge to unearth the secrets fueling the shadowy back-alleys of our hearts. I never wanted Church’s wild and bemused treatises on absorption, collision, truth, family, ecstasy, strange spiritual yearning and--ultimately--even stranger empathy to ever stop.
Church’s essays do what only the best essays can -- they hold countless tensions in a single paragraph. One with the Tiger is as funny as it is rigorous, as curious as it is vulnerable, an ecstatic combination of hope and doom.
The further Church leads us through the explorations in One with the Tiger, the richer they become. His own excitement is contagious and you soon find yourself as obsessed as the author himself. Truly intoxicating.
If you liked Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering, try Steven Church’s latest collection, Ultrasonic, a group of essays brought together by the theme of sound. Church at times seems to say, I make noise, therefore I am. He dissects the nature of sound waves in a racquetball court, counts the seconds between lightning and thunder, and listens for signs of life from trapped miners--and his digressions invariably come back around to sucker punch you. Church uses sound to explore notions of masculinity and fatherhood, love and death.
Steven Church seems to get better with every book he writes, but it’s hard to fathom how he is going to top this one. Ultrasonic, in which his intellect is overshadowed only by his humanity, is the best so far.
What makes Church’s Ultrasonic so invigorating is the incendiary alchemy at work on these pages, a churning, visceral process that demands attention and response. This is what the best writing accomplishes. Beyond just making the personal relatable, or universal--noble achievements in themselves--the best writing sparks a conflagration of memories, welds itself to our psyche and becomes a part of our emotional-intellectual-creative forge. And this in turn is the amalgamation of culture itself, how we ingest, interpret, appropriate and re-mix the art of others into our own offering, our own limb of the cultural sculpture.
Church’s Ultrasonic essays don’t just stop time, they romp through it.
All of the essays in Ultrasonic that require historical inquiry feel thoroughly and affectionately researched, and all the moments that don’t require formal research--those which draw on significant moments in Church’s own life--manage to strike an effective balance between tenderness and bitterness. The moves Church makes "sound right" because they feel (and are) part of a larger networ
The essay at its best has a modal quality to it, moving from description to exposition to meditation, and that modal quality is on display throughout Church’s essay
Grand and active listening requires real engagement and unexpected risks. In Steven Church’s thoroughly alive compendium, the act of listening itself has the power to create identity, lead inward towards irrevocable grief and awe, and outward into the ever-curious world. How "ultra" in its sonic musings can a mind be? Church’s intense soundscape considers subjects as ranging as racquetball, idleness, and firefighting, as poetic as word-origins, and as ancient as birth, love, and loss."
Each beautifully crafted essay in Steven Church’s Ultrasonic invites the reader into an intriguing new world. From Elvis playing racquetball to the drumming heartbeat of an infant to prehistoric bottom feeders, Church’s endless curiosity and wildly intelligent prose pierce the literary bull’s-eye, spot on.
Steven Church has spent the past decade quietly becoming one of our best essayists, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the book containing these deeply resonant essays. By turns humorous, reflective, curious, mischievous, and profound, Ultrasonic gives booming confirmation: Church’s is a voice we should all listen to.
If Montaigne were a mad cartographer driven to find the true unnamable intersection of earth and human body, with a heart the size of the sun, he would have looked something like Steven Church. The collection begins as a meditation on the ways in which we use sound to draw chalk outlines around the things we can see only incompletely, and then becomes so much more than that--one of the oddest and loveliest meditations on parenthood I’ve ever read. I love this book beyond reason, and I love it beyond whatever reason’s opposite is too."
Steven Church writes with the virtuosic intelligence and digressive curiosity of Montaigne, but beneath the desk his feet are planted firmly on a double bass kick drum. These essays rumble and crack with percussive thunder; they thrum with music and rhythm; like the best heavy metal or rap, they kickstart the heart muscle. With equal parts tenderness and rage, Church tunnels through our noise-laden culture to locate a clear signal: it’s empathy--for our children, our neighbors, our fellow humans. I can’t think of another collection that has moved me so deeply on both sensory and emotional levels. Ultrasonic is a tale told by a literary mastermind, full of sound and fury, signifying everything."
Like Elvis Presley’s legendarily fierce final match on the Graceland racquetball court, these essays ricochet, they zing, they demand our attention. Steven Church’s spinning insights often come with lightning quickness--surprise attacks buried in graceful delivery--but his approach is so welcoming I found myself rising back to my feet for return service at every paragraph. Readers who fancy a bout of lively and uncompromising nonfiction will find a worthy opponent in these nimble inquiries about sound, tricks of memory, limitations of the body, and the varied perils of American manhood.
--Elena Passarello, author of Let Me Clear My Throat "[One With The Tiger] is exactly what literary nonfiction should be: imaginative, formally elastic, emotionally engrossing, and deeply intelligent.