- Paperback: 550 pages
- Publisher: Bedford/st Martins (January 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312103913
- ISBN-13: 978-0312103910
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,190,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Writing Nature: An Ecological Reader for Writers 0th Edition
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The conversation runs broad and deep. Names and influences from poetry to fiction; theology to philosophy; science to ethics fly about the room. You finally notice someone sitting in the corner with a dazed but euphoric look on their face, a smoking tape recorder and spilling notebook on their lap. It must be the editor of the volume here reviewed.
For that is what Carolyn Ross has tried to do in this textbook. All of the writers and types of thinking mentioned above are included in this large volume (over 700 pages for the Instructor's Edition.) The purpose - and you'd be tempted to ask what more purpose than sheer collection you would need - is to analyse and dissect the ways in which these writers write. It is aimed at students and teachers of writing, with special emphasis on nature writing. "The goal . . . is to encourage students to understand their individual relationships to nature within a wider social context", writes Ross in the preface.
The structure of the book is generally that writers are given their say via generous excerpts. The editor then asks students to analyse and interact with that writing through a series of questions and exercises. It is here that some learner-writers may suffer a "paralysis of analysis". Getting the "right people" to come to your party doesn't guarantee it runs smoothly. If too much earnest analysis gets in the way of real conversation, a party may bog down.
Put another way, the book is at times too "right-brained". It tends to favour the "rules of writing" ahead of poetry; rhetoric ahead of contemplation. The encouragement to sit and look and smell and just soak up our subject, is usually outweighed by attention to rules. For instance, we are given the self-evident "rule" that "the most fundamental point the writer makes is an essay's central idea" (p. 82). This is then watered down when we're told that this central idea can be "implied through a dominant impression or mood" (p.83). It makes you wonder how useful the rule is in the first place. I tried it out on this piece by Karel Capek (not from this collection).
"Storms murmur on the horizon, wind saturated with moisture springs up, and here it is: strings of rain hiss on the pavement, the earth almost breathes aloud, water gurgles, drums, pats, and rattles against the windows, tiptaps with a thousand fingers in the spouts, runs in rivulets, and splashes in puddles, and one would like to scream with joy, one sticks one's head out of the window to cool it in the dew from heaven, one whistles, shouts, and would like to stand barefoot in the yellow streams rushing down the streets." (from "The Gardener's Year", 1931, Allen & Unwin. p. 73). Whether the "central idea" is the rain or the writer's delight in it seems irrelevant. Such writing doesn't depend on neat rules for its appeal.
Our example of Czech writer Capek leads to one other minor criticism, and that is the relative absence of non-North American writers. Since it can be argued that the nature writing tradition began with the English (such as Rev. Gilbert White and Izaak Walton) it would have been good to see some past or present UK or European writers (unless of course we count John Muir as a Scottish writer!) Being Australian I am parochially pleased to see Peter Singer included, but he is one of few "foreigners" to make the cut. The claim on the dust cover that the book is "culturally diverse" applies only to North American culture.
Another potential problem with a book of this nature, is that the writing of the editor, standing in such esteemed company, may suffer by comparison. While at times Ross's writing verges on the prosaic, she can also mix it with fine company, as the following quote indicates.
"If you examine a subject long enough, and carefully enough, it will speak to you. It will tell you a truth - probably not the only truth, but a truth nonetheless." (p. 70)
These quibbles aside, this is a uniquely valuable book. We can be grateful to the editor not only for gathering such company into one place, but also for being a genial didactic host. It has encouraged me to broaden my influences and look more closely at my technique. But above all it has encouraged me to get on with the writing.