Sand, by Michael Welland

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: 'The Never-Ending Story'? Seriously?

The Long Version: Sand is a beautiful book: set in Adobe Garamond, it's on quality matte paper and is an easy size to hold, carry, and read. And it's a good thing, because the contents are fascinating.

Sand seems like a small subject, and hardly worth reading a 300-page book about. But Mr. Welland draws on an enormous breadth of material, from the formation of the Earth to our favourite of Saturn's moons, Titan. Mummification, milpatjunanyi, and the shape of Manhattan's skyline is all within the scope of the book. The text itself is extremely approachable; it reads with the appeal of a novel. I tend to gloss over figures like "1500x magnification", but when it's explained as "would make your thumbnail the size of a tennis court" it's a different impression altogether.

Sand is one of the books that has changed how I think about things. I'm now absolutely fascinated by sand. I can see differences between the sand from the shore of Lake Ontario and that from other nearby lakes. I can't pour anything granular without looking at how it sits and how it flows. I now keep little tubs of sand, and some of very small rocks, to use as props for product photography. And I never, ever, would have thought of pushing the magnification of my best macro lens to take photos of plain 'unremarkable' sand if I hadn't read this book.

When I travel to somewhere with beaches, I know I'll be taking a closer look, even if it means a special trip. Now that the city's locked in the grips of winter, I'll be taking the ferry to the Toronto Islands to visit Hanlan's Point, which is both the location of the only sand dunes near the city as well as our only clothing-optional beach. I may bring a camera, but really I'd just be going for the sake of going. While I'm currently re-reading Sand for only the first time, I know it won't be my last.

The only off note that the book hits is a prominent one: a bold, black, 'The Never-Ending Story' written on the front cover. The book would be cheapened by any subtitle: a simple "SAND" would be a powerful stroke of brevity, matching the deceptively diminutive subject. Having any subtitle feels like a publisher's attempt to increase the books' sales appeal, which is even more strikingly out of tune because otherwise Sand feels very well edited. But picking this specific subtitle is particularly painful, as it's already taken by an excellent book and a bad movie franchise. Michael Welland does mention the tale of Fantasia when discussing the 'world in a grain of sand' meme in popular culture, but that's still no excuse.

With the dust jacket removed, there's no reason for me not to recommend this book to anyone with a technical, scientific, or geological interests. It's not just for the arenophiles on your gift list. It's worth adding to your book-buying list for the next time you're trying to hit the free shipping threshold, or even looking for in your local library, should you have one. It's a deceptively fascinating book.

Sand- Amazon.com


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