Professor Peter Laufer of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication discussed his latest book, “Dreaming in Turtle,” on Thursday afternoon in the Knight Library.
“Dreaming in Turtle” details Laufer’s exploration of the place turtles have in cultures around the world, as well as the extensive threats they face due to their perceived value as both a medicine and a delicacy. It also prominently features a box turtle named Fred, whom Laufer adopted and bonded with while writing the book.
The discussion included brief readings from “Dreaming in Turtle,” followed by a question and answer session. Introducing Laufer was his friend Dan Morrison, a photojournalism instructor in the SOJC, who remarked on the extensive traveling Laufer did in order to research turtles, which took him to every continent but Antarctica.
Laufer opened the discussion in a jovial tone, joking about the odd layout of the room and saying he planned to “parade à la Mick Jagger” to better engage with the audience.
He went on to talk about how his inspiration for “Dreaming in Turtle” came from learning and writing about the unique plight of the Philippine forest turtle for a previous book, “The Dangerous World of Butterflies.”
Laufer said when he approached his editor with a proposal for a book about turtles, her response was, “No — nobody cares about turtles,” which she attributed largely to their lack of charisma. His literary agent expressed similar disapproval of his proposal, which prompted Laufer to seek out a new agent who shared his belief in the importance of turtles.
“There is the reality that across time and across cultures, turtles have had this celebrated and venerated role as being a harbinger of wisdom and fertility and longevity,” said Laufer.
According to Laufer, this celebrated role is unfortunately contributing to sharp declines in turtle populations, particularly in Asia, where rising incomes are driving a growing demand for turtles, many of which are captured and smuggled across borders illegally.
Laufer read a book excerpt about the Canadian turtle smuggler Kai Xu, who in 2014 was arrested for trying to smuggle 51 turtles in his pants across the U.S.-Canada border with plans to later ship them to China.
“Kai Xu got a five-year sentence, which was unheard of at the time, and it’s indicative of the growing understanding that there is a problem here that needs to be addressed,” said Laufer.
One line that recurs throughout “Dreaming in Turtle” is, “Everyone has a turtle story,” and Laufer invited a few audience members to share their turtle stories. One of these audience members was Kisa Clark, who’s pursuing a Ph.D. in media studies at UO. She talked about her father’s love for turtles and how her family had an alligator snapping turtle when she was a kid.
“It’s a cool turtle that has on its tongue this little thing that looks like a worm and lures fish in. So that was some of my entertainment as a kid,” said Clark.
At the conclusion of the discussion, audience members were able to meet with Laufer and have their copies of “Dreaming in Turtle” signed.
“Dreaming in Turtle” was published by St. Martins Press on Nov. 20 and is available for purchase online in hardcover, e-book and audiobook formats.