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The Bones of the Earth Hardcover – September 30, 2004

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In these measured and moving laments for bygone forms of New England life, historical essayist Mansfield (Skylark; Cosmopolis) traces the loss of local landmarks and customs in an age of increased urbanization. He opens with an account of the ceremonial rite that originated as a marketing ploy of the Boston Post, which offered towns a cane made of African ebony with a gold-plated head for the town's oldest male citizen. He next takes a wry look at the mythology surrounding the "Washington Elm" that once stood in Cambridge, Mass., and goes on to explore, with a local expert, the beautiful stonework of New Hampshire's granite bridges. In perhaps his strongest and most anthropological essay, Mansfield delves into the rules that cemeteries insist on in order to constrain the excesses of mourners' grief, while taking time to reflect on the contemporary ritual of roadside shrines (the flowers and messages of mourning that mark the sites of fatal accidents). The most personal and sentimental essay in the collection celebrates the life of a late friend, a hunter-trapper turned naturalist named John Kulish, whose death represents for Mansfield the passing of a world of intimate knowledge of wildlife. Carefully researched and exuding unassuming integrity, this collection will have special appeal for New Englanders who share the author's mournful approach to modernity.
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From Booklist

In The Same Ax, Twice (2000), Mansfield queried the multiple meanings of the popular practice of restoring historical objects, an impetus of concern with the past that carries into this volume. Instead of considering restoration, however, Mansfield plays his thoughts off objects of place as disparate as presentation walking canes; regulations on impromptu cemetery memorials; the geology beneath Keene, New Hampshire; the commercial strip outside Nashua, New Hampshire; and the auction of his neighbor's house. The Granite State is the setting for all but a few of Mansfield's ruminations, and there is where the author finds his dominant theme of the yearning to center the world, to create an axis mundi. His antithetical theme within the essays is time's encroachment on the human desire to fix the past in place. Mansfield so observantly develops the antagonism in quite different contexts that expectations ride high from essay to essay; connoisseurs of seeing the world in an oyster, or even a small state, will savor Mansfield's style. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; English and Revised ed. edition (September 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159376040X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593760403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,229,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Howard Mansfield's The Bones of the Earth will make you see your surroundings in a whole different way. At a time that much of humankind stands at the verge of forgetting who and where we are, this book reminds us to honor the oldest landmarks, the sticks and stones by which we know home.

The Bones of The Earth is a book about landmarks, but of the oldest kind--sticks and stones. For millennia this is all there was: sticks and stones, dirt and trees, animals and people, the sky by day and night. The Lord spoke through burning bushes, through lightning and oaks. Trees and rocks and water were holy. They are commodities today and that is part of our disquiet.

In Part One of The Bones of the Earth, "Axis Mundi," Howard Mansfield writes about how we choose the landmarks of our home place. He explores our allegiance to stone in the monuments of grief, and in unusual old bridges on back roads, which were built without mortar: "One part ancient engineering, one part farmer's wall." He visits monuments minor (prized walking canes), unexpected (radio telescopes), and famous (the Washington Elm, whose story is wrong about the facts, but right about the truth).

Part Two, "Flaneurs," teaches us to be tourists of the near-at-hand, looking close to home at changes in the land both man-made and natural. And in Part Three, "Rpm," Mansfield describes the forces that topple our original axis mundi, unsettling us and the land as building booms and asphalt connect people in unexpected ways.

Howard Mansfield explores the loss of cultural memory, asking: What is the past? How do we construct that past? Is it possible to preserve the past as a vital force for the future? Eloquently written, The Bones of the Earth is a stunning call for reinventing our view of the future.
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Format: Paperback
The Bones of the Earth is a treasure of historical stories unique to New England that could be lost without writers like Howard Mansfield to keep them alive. His thoughtful account of traditions, landmarks and history reminds us all to document our own stories for future generations. Mansfield's humor and sense of irony in showing the strange contrasts we often don't see makes this a delightful book to read.
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