(An ecologist contemplates and celebrates the land, and recommends an expansion of our moral world.)
Aldo Leopold in Mexico, 1938. Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Archives at the University of Wisconsin.
Today it is routine in courses on ecology, forestry, conservation, environmental philosophy or land use, to introduce three personalities as the fathers of modern concern for nature, the three voices that first and most strongly urged us to enlarge our conception of what in this world is a proper object of moral consideration: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. Contemporary American (and to some extent world) culture has been impacted by A Sand County Almanac, as by Thoreau’s Walden, to such an extent that we cannot yet begin to assess it. Nevertheless, I would argue that we as a culture have still not attended to the two main lessons A Sand County Almanac would teach us.
(Vivid tales from the deeply rooted McCaslin family of Mississippi explore the human desire to dominate others.)
Faulkner raises a novel, especially Go Down, Moses, like a mountain range. A small peak here, another one some indefinite distance to the side but nearer to the viewer, another apparently between them but actually much further in the distance. The slopes are irregular in grade, no shape is symmetrical, no sequence predictable. The greatest of the mountains has flanking foothills—here at least is order and intelligibility! One is prepared for the most gigantic landforms. Actually all of them, though apparently haphazardly arranged, are obviously part of a single landscape, each part depending on those around it for its qualities and significance. The suggestion that each mountain be viewed as an isolated individual, despite distinctions of personality and structure, is ridiculous. One best realizes this, perhaps, by receding somewhat from the view. For when close to it, when stumbling over craggy outcrops and struggling to circumvent gorges, the scene seems hopelessly chaotic and fragmented. Such is Go Down, Moses, a challenging and awesome range of tales.
J. D. Salinger
(He may not know what he wants to be in life, but he sure knows one thing he doesn’t want to be—phony! Unfortunately, the world doesn’t seem to agree with him).
Crop of The Catcher in the Rye by edwardaaronart on DeviantArt.
Holden Caulfield is a unique and precious personality in literature. Although I surely would not want to be subjected in all my reading to the starkness of The Catcher in the Rye, the book is curiously invigorating and liberating. Despite what one might call the main character’s cynicism, almost paradoxically the strongest draw of the novel for me is that he is refreshing. Holden is thoughtful, genuine, unsettled, and uninhibited, and these qualities allow the author to portray our secret thoughts and the culture of our time, in the evident hope that we can be enlightened by them.
(Seven pilots scale the ziggurat of manliness on the quest to be America’s space heroes.)
Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket launching Alan Shepard in 1961 to become the first American in space. Courtesy of NASA.
Tom Wolfe probably awoke one morning and thought to himself, wouldn’t it be great if reading about current events were as fun as reading novels? And with as simple an idea as that, he kicked off the movement known as New Journalism. And Wolfe sure is fun to read!
(The exercise of a young author’s pen creates images of the New England landscape and its people.)
The Berkshires in winter, near Lenox, Massachusetts. Courtesy of BerkshireStyle.com.
Mrs. Sophia Hawthorne, after the death of her husband in 1864, respected his wish that no biography be written of him. However, in lieu of this, she released to an eager public three successive volleys of Passages from his journals. Those written in America were published first, and are perhaps the most interesting in that they focus on his home state of Massachusetts and the early years of his literary career (his thirties).
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