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Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton (P.S.) Paperback – April 19, 2011

2.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“What an invigorating way to be reminded of the depth of America’s literary and natural heritage!” (Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet)

“Horan goes to find the trees, and we have the good luck to accompany him. The pleasures of travel, literature, and history are all richly present in this rare and engaging book. Horan comes to us as a friend, not a teacher, and wins our hearts.” (William Bryan Logan, author of Oak: The Frame of Civilization)

Seeds is more than a book: this sashay across literary America plants a literal sacred grove. Horan sees the cloud floating inside every work of literature. He helps redeem every tree that ever died for our solace and delight.” (David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why)

Seeds reads like a talk between John Muir and Bill Bryson. Horan takes an unlikely premise and takes a journey that’s poignant, insightful and unexpectedly humorous. More than a book about seeds—it’s about literary heroes, forensic forestry and self-discovery.” (Spike Carlsen, author of A Splintered History of Wood)

“In Seeds, Horan pays homage to famous American writers and the trees of their youth. Horan is a terrific writer, and very funny at times!” (Amy Goldman, naturalist and author of 3 books on heirloom seeds)

“Once in a decade a book as good as Seeds appears to astonish and delight us. Some of his tales are full of interesting lore, others are touching, more than a few are funny as hell.” (Thomas Powers)

From the Back Cover

From the wooded road made of golden hemlock running past L. Frank Baum's childhood home to the lonely stump of Scout's oak in Harper Lee's Alabama, author Richard Horan gathers tree seeds—and stories—from the homes of America's most treasured authors. At once a heartfelt paean to literature and a wise, funny, and uplifting account of one man's reconnection with nature, Seeds celebrates Horan's triumphs and calamities on his quest to link trees with great writers—a delightfully original meditation on the nature of inspiration and a one-of-a-kind adventure into literature.

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061861685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061861680
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,726,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Horan is an award-winning fiction writer and educator, as well as a book reviewer and nature writer. Horan has had a colorful career, traveling as a professional middleweight boxer, teaching English overseas in Italy, Belgium, South Korea, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. One of his jobs was as a nurse's aide in a Wisconsin mental hospital. It was this experience that led to his first novel, Life in the Rainbow (Steerforth Press, 1996). Larry McMurtry lauded the novel, blurbing: "Life in the Rainbow is a moving book and Richard Horan is an original voice, one to listen for." Alan Cheuse of "All Things Considered" reviewed it on April 3, 1996. Life in the Rainbow also received rave reviews from The New York Times, The Boston Book Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Publisher's Weekly, The Kirkus Review, and more. Mr. Horan's second novel, Goose Music (Steerforth Press, 2001), was again enthusiastically endorsed by Larry McMurtry who opined: "Goose Music is funny, moving, convincing, original. Richard Horan is only getting better." It was reviewed favorably by The San Francisco Chronicle, Publisher's Weekly, The Milwaukee Journal, and others. It won numerous literary awards. His first non-fiction book, SEEDS: One Man's Journey to Find America's Literary Trees, was published by Harper Collins in 2011. His most recent work, Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farms, was released in September 2012. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Ted Morgan, had this to say about Harvest: "Richard Horan has brought us a welcome view of America to defy the prevailing political and financial nastiness. This is a timely and important book."

Awards received: Barnes and Noble "New Voices" recipient for Life in the Rainbow 1996. Book Sense 76 top-ten selection July/August 2001, Goose Music; Foreword Magazine "Book of the Year," Bronze Award Winner, Goose Music; Great Lakes "Book of the Year" Award, Finalist, Goose Music; 2001 Council for Wisconsin Writer's Ann Powers Book-Length Fiction Award, First Place, Goose Music; 2001 Wisconsin Library Association "Outstanding Achievement" Goose Music; 2002 Southeastern Wisconsin Educator of the year award, First Place.

He and his wife, Mary, a professional jazz vocalist, have two grown daughters and live and teach in the Dominican Republic. Horan continues to write fiction and non-fiction works.

Education: B.A. Boston University M.A.T. University of Pittsburgh.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The author had a good idea; to visit the homes where some pretty great people have lived, and collect seeds from the trees near those homes. The people he chooses to investigate are often, but not always, best known as writers. His exploration leads him to the homes of Rachel Carson and Robert Frost, but also George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, even to historic civil war battle sites. So the "Famous American Writers" of the title is a bit muddied. That quibble aside, this should have been a terrific book. Once he decides to write it though, he involves the reader in his continuing indecision over whether it is a book worth writing. Several chapters have him pondering whether this book is a good idea. Get over it, write it, do not involve the reader in your angst. As other reviewers have pointed out, he seems to head off on these trips with no knowledge of trees at all. He arrives at places eager to collect seeds, completely out of season for this effort and is terribly disappointed. The book makes sketchy outlines of the sites he visits, the people who inspired his journey, his family life, and his complete bafflement as to what to do with the seedlings that inevitably sprout when he plants his harvested seeds. More focus would have helped this book tremendously.
The most disappointing element to me though, was each famous person presented (sketchily) is hardly linked to the trees at all. There is a list of nice quotations by people in the back of the book, but it is more of an appendix, separated from any description of the trees themselves. Why did these people value trees? For their economic value, aesthetics, scientific curiosity? We have no idea. I am certain there are powerful quotations from each of these people about their appreciation of some kind of flora.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Horan has taken a GREAT idea (really, it's amazing that nobody thought of this before!) and written a book that leaves you feeling a real connection to the writers he explores. It's always a treat to discover an artist's inspiration, but the fact that it's right there in the trees they grew up with is simply enchanting. My favorite chapter was the one on Thomas Wolfe, but really, all of the seed-collecting adventures are a good mix of anecdote, information, and charm. I'm one of those people who is always amazed that spring manages to come every year, and reading this book was a wonderful way to celebrate all things that grow and otherwise prosper. You don't have to be a "nature lover" to love this book, just a small appreciation for the outdoors will do just fine!
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Format: Paperback
This book is a fun travelogue in a most unusual way. The author visits the homes of his favorite American writers and with an open mind, looks for what trees are there that may have influenced their life and writings. Sometimes the visits are a bust (which is part of the serendipity of this entire venture), but most of the time there are revelations to be found, both in the trees and the people who join him along the way. From the park ranger almost scaring the author out of his boots, to skinny-dipping in Walden Pond, to confronting his own childhood fears, SEEDS is a very, very entertaining road trip.

Fans of Bill Bryson will dig this, as well as fans of the authors featured in the book: Cather, Welty, Melville, Frost, Kerouac, Wharton, Muir, Kesey, Faulkner, and more - as well as some unusual non-literary but equally poignant stops on the way. Just enough look into each author's work without being pedantic; quite the opposite. I wanted more, and the author says at the end he could've kept going, save for the book deadline and the bags and boxes of tree seeds and dirt piling up in his house, which is a part of this story all its own. Spoiler alert: there's a happy ending.

There are laugh-out-loud moments here, a-ha moments, and very touching moments. You will make your own list of favorite visits in this wonderful book. I loved it!
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book at a locally owned bookstore, in great anticipation of a good read. I, too, collect seeds from famous places, and wanted to see what a fellow seed saver would have to say.
Unfortunately, the tone is often smug and disagreeable. The author seems to have an ax to grind with the museums he visits and the docents that staff them. I'm not talking about the few monumental tourist traps (the Mohammed Ali museum comes to mind) with which he rightly had concerns, but the small house museums of the majority. These are usually run by locals, often on a minimal budget with volunteers, and strive just to preserve what is left. Mr. Horan repeatedly criticizes the smell, the interior decor and the style in which they are presented. The staff are portrayed as rigid, boring and sometimes plain ignorant because they are not in tune with the pony-tailed Mr. Horan's mission. I get that he wanted to contrast the interior of old houses to the "Great Outdoors" and the trees he wanted to collect, but it got old after a few examples. You can see it coming as he mentions a visit to yet another museum and/or "expert" that it won't bode well for the museum and/or staffer involved.
Another issue is the fact that he would arrive at a site in the early spring and then scratch his head because there were no seeds to collect. After several instances of this, I wondered if he was purposely trying to emphasize the "serendipity" in the title of the book or if he was simply ignorant of the life cycles of trees.
Mr. Horan must have had some run-ins with the legal departments of publishing houses, as he constantly footnoted his references from every book, song,and field guide, even down to the road map he was using.
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Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton (P.S.)
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