Our Town Books Reviews: The Cloud Collector’s Handbook

Cloud Collector's HandbookThe Cloud Collector’s Handbook
By Gavin Pretor-Pinney
Photographs. 143 pp. Chronicle Books. $14.95.

I found it difficult to be a Cloud Collector before we moved to Jacksonville. Where we used to live, the sky was crisscrossed with vapor trails from jets which, while they sometimes made interesting patterns, were nothing like the clouds in The Cloud Collector’s Handbook–or in Jacksonville.

In fact, there’s a small gathering of Cirrus clouds passing above the white pine in our back yard right now—probably at about 35,000 feet. I know that because the endpapers of The Cloud Collector’s Handbook show the ten most common types of clouds—and their general altitudes—all floating together in a stunning blue sky.

But Jacksonville has more than the top ten clouds. Just the other day, we saw rainbows shining through a Sundog (Parhelia) above the downtown square.

Once on a drive across 72 from Springfield, I saw a cloud that looked a lot like a huge standing rib roast. To my surprise, I found it pictured right there on page 30, a gorgeous double-page spread. Turns out, it wasn’t a standing rib roast at all, but a Cumulonimbus, also known as the King of Clouds. Sorry, King.

Now, here’s what’s especially nice about The Cloud Collector’s Handbook:

  • Alongside paragraphs of accurate and interesting facts about each cloud, the author includes smaller captioned photos. For the King Cloud he shows a “…bad hair day for a Cumulonimbus capillatus.”
  • There’s a box listing and describing the species of each cloud collected. Did you know clouds have species? And varieties? They do.
  • But here’s what makes this small book a true collector’s guide: a checklist and point system. I got 40 points for just seeing my King cloud. But if it had also been producing thunder and lightning, I would have gotten a 15 point bonus. Darn.
  • You can record the date, time, location, etc. for each cloud collected. If you’ve taken a digital picture, there’s even a line to record its image file name.

What I like best of all, though, is that a book filled with glorious photographs of clouds is a reminder that the sky is always right there, just waiting for us to look up.

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