I search the web for others' takes on nature writing, so why not offer my own? I hope you'll respond. Here's more on the blog philosophy.

March 22, 2007

Why a nature writing blog?

When I identify myself as a nature writer I get one of three reactions. Most commonly, I get a vaguely affectionate, "Aw," which I take to mean that my acquaintance has no interest in reading nature writing but supposes it benign, sweet, and mildly virtuous. Frequently, I get a blank response, which I take to mean that the acquaintance considers nature writing a respectable but boring, monotonous, pointless and over-pious genre. If my acquaintance loves nature writing, of course, I see a flash of excitement. This has happened one or two times. Those who love nature writing make up a small church. Sometimes I hide behind the respectability and anonymity of the genre. What I most crave, however, is not respect but engagement.

Before I read widely in the genre, I supposed that books on nature were similar--ecstatic and meditative descriptions of the mysteries and wonders of the natural world, ultimately inspired by Thoreau. But nature writing varies a good deal more than that. It often evokes worshipful awe, but this would quickly pall if it didn't also pull me in with intellectual challenge and with intimacy. I am drawn to the peculiar voices of the writers, from the rascally Edward Abbey to the wise woman Terry Tempest Williams to the erudite, shamanistic Barry Lopez.

A sentence by the critic Ben Yagoda has stayed with me as a cornerstone of my own critical aspirations. He claims that the New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani's "main weakness is her evaluation fixation. This may seem an odd complaint—the job is called critic, after all—but in fact, whether a work is good or bad is just one of the many things to be said about it, and usually far from the most important or compelling." A blog is a good place to explore rather than evaluate. I imagine that my likes and dislikes, however well substantiated, will not prove as interesting as the questions and observations about what distinguishes a text. I ask how a book affects me, what its qualities are, where its energy lies, and what it implies about nature, the self, and American culture. As a fledgling nature writer, it is this kind of open-hearted, honest, curious response I most hope for when I write. If readers are trying to decide whether or not to buy the book, they will get a flavor of it, not just a yes or no vote they have no reason to trust. Such a response treats a book as a being with its own mysterious life to be respected and investigated. If we approach condors, mosquitos, and icebergs in this spirit of inquiry, we can approach the literature of nature with similar rapt and inquisitive attention.

6 comments:

rbarenblat said...

Such a response treats a book as a being with its own mysterious life to be respected and investigated. If we approach condors, mosquitos, and icebergs in this spirit of inquiry, we can approach the literature of nature with similar rapt and inquisitive attention.

What a lovely way to tie these things together. Brava.

Owlfarmer said...

Anna: I've finally had time to look at your blog, and it's a treasure. Our tastes are awfully similar (which is refreshing to someone of my age because so few younger people seem to find this stuff interesting or compelling), and I'm going to enjoy perusing your comments. I also look forward to your own contributions to the field of nature writing.

Thanks for the effort! Candace

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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