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About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory Paperback – April 27, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679754474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679754473
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar." This advice, given to a father whose daughter wants to learn to write, is the organizing principle behind Barry Lopez's latest collection of essays and also the central theme behind his life as a writer. Author of 12 acclaimed books of nature writing, including the National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams, Lopez is one of our most eloquent masters of the nearly lost art of paying attention. In this volume, a travelogue of journeys both inward and outward, he brings the same careful scrutiny to bear on the mystery of his own life and its interactions with the natural world.

Lopez has always been interested in tearing down artificial divides between nature and culture, landscape and identity, and nowhere does he do so more powerfully than in About This Life. These essays cover ground from the remote (in the group of travel essays entitled "Out of Country") to the familiar ("Indwelling"), the personal to the archetypal ("Remembrance" and "An Opening Quartet"). Whether he's joyriding around the world with air cargo, performing burials for animals found dead by the side of the road, or lamenting the commodification of the American landscape, Lopez writes with a surgeon's precision, a musician's ear, and a painter's eye for beauty found in unexpected places. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Contemplating forces physical and metaphysical within the natural landscape, veteran author and National Book Award-winner Lopez (Arctic Dreams, etc.) here taps personal and collective memory to create an intimate history of man and place. In these 13 essays, most of which have appeared in periodicals like Harper's (where Lopez is a contributing editor) and the Geogia Review, he reveals a mind that is energetically curious, repeatedly making a 10-hour round-trip to kiln-fire pottery in a tradition that catches his interest, or taking a marathon trip involving 40 consecutive air-freight flights in order to explore worldwide exporting and importing. But, on the latter trip, he stops for a sunrise walk in Seoul to see "things that could not be purchased," and, in another essay, quietly meditates on the power of hands. This dichotomy reflects the world traveler who is nevertheless rooted to a particular piece of land in western Oregon, someone whose mind encompasses the grand and the truly particular. To really understand a specific geography, he notes, takes time. Lopez has the kind of intimacy, of immersion, that makes the most ordinary encounter extraordinary. He deciphers nature's enigmatic intimations, as when he compares two proximate but distinct environments, saying: "The shock to the senses comes from a different shape to the silence, a difference in the very quality of light, in the weight of the air." For Lopez, the world's topography is memory made manifest; it stimulates Lopez's own recall and that, in turn, forces us to really think.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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This collection of his essays is my favorite.
Craig Caddell
This is reading to awaken and open one's mind to see, feel, and hear what we are surrounded by as we live our days.
K. Fischer
For me, Mr. Lopez always provides a cerebral and emotional journey with his amazing use of the written word.
John Shields

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 10, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Lopez redefines memoir by arranging a number of previously published essays with new ones to tell us about his life. We are taken from what are current interests back to his childhood where we discover how he learned to look at the world. Initially he was fortunate to have been given a mother who, though she was left by her husband with two young boys, was a woman interesting to interesting men. The mother continues to weave in and out of the essays, including the one about her death. We sit in the cold in Hokkaido, Japan, with three naturalists, who communicate from the soul (yes, maybe that is it!) because they have so little of each others' language. We find the Galapagos more volcanic than imagined, the coral reef in Bonaire more damaged than expected, and marvel that here is someone who stops his car and gently carries animals killed by drivers to grassy areas off the road. Lopez used to be a photographer so sees the earth and all in it illuminated by varying kinds and angles of light. He discusses the power of memory. And we enjoy the elegance of his prose. We watch the almost mystical work of a potter called Jack and hear how necessary it is to walk in the river sometimes. Yet all is not romance from this naturalist who insists we look at nature straight on. It is not a theme park and cannot be made to behave as one. This is a strong, beautiful book. Many vicarious journeys to be taken here with the expert.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
I understand some people like this book very much, but I have a dissenting opinion. I did have the pleasure of hearing him read in person and he is indeed very captivating. But keep in mind what this book is about. It is basically a set of essays about places he has been and his insights and knowledge of those places. When it works, it works brilliantly. The essays I liked I could read several times over--he does some fascinating things (traveling on a cargo plane for several weeks comes to mind, or staying with a pottery community also comes to mind). However, when it doesn't work, you realize that not much is really happening and it feels very slow, maybe even unreadable. I just had to stop reading some of the essays after awhile. So it was really hit and miss with me.
What the other reviewers say about his attitude towards life and nature is right. He is very concerned with geography, not just the physical geography of a place, but also the emotional geography of a place. In a time when we don't always feel very connected to places, reading this book could help you feel connected again, to glimmer what it is like to really feel a part of the place in which you live.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on April 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book covers a wide range of subjects that cross the threshold of memory and stop the reader in her tracks. A whole chapter on the wonder of hands - A Passage of the Hands - causes the reader to consider their own hands and those of a young child with a sense of their history and their possibility.

I recommeded the chapter on wood firing of pottery - Effleurage: The Stroke of Fire- to friends who are potters. The world of anagama kilns was opened to me.

About traveling , Lopez states:"If I were to now visit another country,I would ask my local companion, before I saw any museum or library, any factory or fabled town, to walk me in the country of his or her youth, to tell me the name of things and how, traditionally, they have been fitted together in a community. I would ask for the stories, the voice of memory over the land. I would ask to taste the wild nuts and fruits, to see their fishing lures, their bouquets, their fences. I would ask about the history of storms there, the age of trees, the winter color of the hills. Only then would I ask to see the museums."

Read this book and enjoy the journey.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Allan Stellar on October 7, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Most books of essays don't keep every reader captivated. With a writer of a grand reputation (like Lopez), I assume that the fault for this lies in the reader--and not the writer. And so this reader is now the reviewer. Me. With all my faults. As such, I've been bored to tears by Annie Dillard, Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry--even Thoreau can make me yawn here and there.

So, when I pick up a book of essays, my expectations are generally low; if I find two or three pieces that made me think, or awakened an emotion or two in me, then the book is a success. I don't think a writer should suffer a bad review just because I'm not bright enough to grasp what he/she is writing. Or whether I'm interested in the subject matter.

And so four essays in this book jumped that personal hurtle of mine: the 747 piece is masterful; the essay on picking up road kill made me sad; the personal piece on the woman who jumped into his car was haunting; and the honest autobiograhical piece at the beginning (where he goes to camp with John Steinbeck's kids) is good in that it gives a glimpse as to what access to, what recently has been called, the one percent can mean to a young man. The hurdle was leaped. A success in my book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is full of beautiful imagry, a must for people who crave to go places and see things. His essays/memoirs excell above all others. The writing reflects his thoughts so vividly you would swear you were there. If you like reading about far away places and the experiences and adventures of a very cultrued and passionate writer, than this is the book for you.
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