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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
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“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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Top customer reviews
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. To have this begin each chapter would have linked the person much more with the trees the chose to have near their homes.
This book is an outline for a very good book indeed. But that book remains to be written.
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. It was distracting going from page to page burdened with this addenda, and it added nothing to the narrative.
I also agree with the other 3-star reviewer Sarah that his narrative style jumped around and was difficult to follow, as were the trivial details and petty ( often petulant) disgruntled remarks that followed.
One last quibble. The author often used quotes from selected authors to round out a chapter, and while this device worked in some cases, in others, it felt shoe-horned, out of context and contrived.
This all said,the chapter entitled "Gettysburg Redux" is one of the most eloquently written pieces I've ever read, full of humor and pathos,including an elegiac commentary on the misguided Park Service tree removal program. Mr Horan approached his mission with single-minded dedication and was able to research and visit the sites associated with outstanding examples of American literati, and take home a living reminder of their great lives. This inspires me to be more diligent in my own endeavors in seed collecting from famous sites.
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!