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Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape Hardcover – September 15, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. How to define an arroyo, badlands, eddy, a muskeg? What is a desire path, a kiss tank, a nubble? These words, many forgotten today, refer to various aspects of a landscape to which many of us have lost our connection. Drawing on the polyglot richness of American English, National Book Award–winning author Lopez (Arctic Dreams) assembles 45 writers, known for their intimate connection to particular places, to collectively create a unique American dictionary. Barbara Kingsolver, William Kittredge, Arturo Longoria, Jon Krakauer, Bill McKibben, Antonya Nelson, Luis Alberto Urrea and Joy Williams, among others, vividly describe land and water forms. What is a cofferdam? "Imagine a decorative wishing well, then imagine that well writ large," notes Antonya Nelson. And Patricia Hampl tells us that the Dutch word vly (marshy headwaters of a stream) "may have occasioned the name of New York's rowdy Fly Market" in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Many entries quote American explorers and writers such as Herman Melville, Willa Cather, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, as they uncover layers of etymology and American regional difference. Line drawings enhance geographic understanding; marginal quotations further evoke period and place. This marvelous book enlivens readers to the rich diversity of Americans' complex relationship to the land. (Oct. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Edited by National Book Award winner Lopez and Gwartney and offering contributions by 45 writers, this unique addition to the literature of ecology and the environment presents a series of definitions, arranged alphabetically, of "landscape terms and terms for the forms that water takes." These definitions average a dozen lines apiece, with some entries longer and others shorter. But every definition is at once comprehensive and to the point. To learn what a graded shoreline is and how creek is actually defined and to never have to guess again the meaning of revetment are the distinct pleasures afforded by this large-format but comfortable-to-handle book. It can be used for reference, but its practicality and applicability extend much further. Anyone with an interest in nature, even on a casual basis (one doesn't have to go camping and hiking every weekend to qualify as "interested"), will experience many edifying hours opening a page here or a page there and slowly appreciating the expertise expressed and the knowledge offered. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Trinity University Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595340246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595340245
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Anna Mills on October 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I took Home Ground home and set it on the dining room table two weeks ago. I open it over breakfast and feel a visceral pleasure--the robin's egg blue sky on the cover, the ample space on each page, the quotes lining the margins, the sketches of landforms. But the sensual reality of the book wouldn't do much for me if the definitions were boring. They're exquisite. This is more than a dictionary--no one else has tried such a project, so it's hard to describe. I tell people about it, but I don't know if I convey how much fun it is to read the definitions, and how lyrical and evocative and often playful they are. I can read them just for pleasure, but I am also learning those words I've always glossed over, the words I vaguely knew but which I thought belonged to the experts, words like "playa," "swale," "gooseneck," and "glade." The more technical phrases are explained in lucid, simple terms. And then there are the ones that are pure fun, like "thank you ma'am," "looking-glass prairie," "hoodoo," "painted desert," "milk gap," and "chickenhead."

The definitions make me want to get out and notice the country. They make me believe in the beauty and specificity and continuing power of the American landscape. I feel a sense of loss for all the local folk knowledge that is now obscure. But it's also heartening to think that Americans have not only been looters; we've known the ins and outs of the land, paid attention, made it come to life in our words. And we can still reach for those words and for that clear-eyed, delighted way of seeing the land around us.

This is a book to give and a book to keep in the family. I may not take it off my dining room table for a while. It's a good companion.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Amy L. Jenkins on October 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first got my hands on this beautiful book, I'd barely read a page before I started to cry. Barry Lopez, Debra Gwartney, and more of the best writers of our day have saved what I didn't even realize I was losing. I've often felt, when near an exotic Asian or spicy islander that being an American, especially a Midwesterner, meant I had no culture. The United States was developed under the influence of a vast wild land, a land to conquer. We tore down and built up, paying little attention to what we destroyed. I wonder if that accounts for empty Americans trying to fill themselves up with stuff? But the U. S. isn't only about development and acquisition. Home Ground preserves the culture and language of our landscape.

"we will conserve only what we love

we will love only what we understand

we will understand only what we're taught"

Baba Dioum, Senegal

The marginalia literature quotations and the descriptive entries bind place to culture. Because I do feel a connection to the landscapes I have known, this book reminds me that I am a part of a culture that has a language. A language we might have lost.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By G. Furmark on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting book and should be in every bookcase along with an encyclopedia, dictionary and atlas.

The brilliant idea of having great writers briefly define geological and geographic terms works beautifully.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nico Brusso VINE VOICE on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Quite a big book, with much in it. All sorts of geographic terms for many parts of the country.
Most enjoyable to get into.

The design is like an expanded dictionary: terms listed alphabetically, with brief encyclopedic descriptions by writers from many states and areas. Including from Maine to the San Francisco Bay area, from New York City to New Mexico, and more.

Every Marine (myself being an ex-) has spent a few marches in the "boondocks" (p43), which I always thought somehow came from Dan'l Boone. Not quite: "Boondocks is an American adaptation of the Tagalog word bundok, meaning "mountain." Okay, if they say so!

"Eye" (p129) is one phenomenon I happen never to have seen: "The point where an underground spring suddenly bursts to the surface . . . a place of mystery, where dry ground becomes soaked with life-giving water, and nature gives us a glimpse of all that happens out of the realm of human vision." On second thought, there is an "Eye of Water" at famous Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia, but next time I visit I'll have to check whether it's a spring.

The Dutch word kill (p199) in English is literally brook, which applies also to other streams and rivers. Hence, Catskill (Cats Creek) in New York State and "the mighty Schuylkill River (or `Hidden Channel River')" in Philadelphia. Having lived for many years in New Jersey across the Delaware River from there, I have long known the name Schuylkill, but for me the meaning was hidden. Now, for the pronunciation, you'll have to get help from the locals.

You'll probably find insights for your own "neck of the woods" (Oh, see p144). Enjoy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Loves to Hike on January 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'd recommend this book to anyone who reads widely and loves to discover the derivation of geographical terms pertainig to nature. What is unique about this book is the input from 45 well known writers to define unique American landscape terms. I ordered 3 copies for all my family located in the Pacific Northwest and they agree that this book is a great resource.
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