Home Ground, edited by Barry Lopez (Trinity University Press, $29.95)
ome Ground: Language for an American Landscape brings together a collection of over 800 words that if you read much nature writing you may have stumbled over and wondered about their origins. Here's just a taste: beheaded stream, browse line, kiss tank, biscuit board, basket-of-eggs relief, and ait. Even if you're familiar with the basic meaning of a featured phrase or word, these definitions will still enrich your understanding. In many cases they are miniature works of art themselves. Almost like the notes that a writer might keep in a private revery. 45 poets and writers have contributed including Charles Frazier, Robert Hass, Linda Hogan, Kim Stafford, and Gretel Ehrlich. Sometimes its nice to have a book that you can read in short interludes. This is just such a book and will probably be a great reference for years to come as well. If you like Barry Lopez, he writes the intro and has a number of entries. For those days when you can't get out to your favorite woods, fen, prairie, or stream—this book provides a little solace. – Mark

Conversations With Jim Harrison, edited by Robert DeMott (University Press of Mississippi)

Reading Jim Harrison is like having a bear loose in your head. Suddenly, you think about things differently. Everything gets rooted through and pulled out of the drawers and sniffed. Stuff you never thought of as edible, as good for you, seems like it might not be so bad afterall. Blake’s admonition—that you never know what is enough until you know what is too much—comes to mind. You realize how foreign some human standards are to all the other inhabitants of the planet. It dawns on you: the presence of wildness.

This new book, “Conversations with Jim Harrison,” is no exception. Harrison’s talk is as accomplished, eventful and far ranging as his fiction, essays and poetry. Spanning nearly 30 years, the interviews offer a glimpse of Harrison in the company of others. His openness and responsiveness to often the same questions is wonderful. One spoof literary interview is included that Harrison conducted with writer friend, Tom McGuane, that is hilarious. Harrison probes with insightful questions like: “Why have you never mentioned the Budweiser Clydesdales in your work?”

Here’s a few other quotes just to give a feel of the book’s breadth. On inclusiveness: “You have to think of reality in terms as an aggregate of the perceptions of all creatures.” On Native Americans: “they got even with us by allowing us to invent television.” The sexiest reading material: “Finnegan’s Wake.... Vogue is better than Hustler.” On religion: “So I think all my religious passions adapted themselves to art as religion.” On the love of food: “Only in the Midwest is overeating still considered an act of heroism.” On having a literary reputation: “I’m not interested in any reputation that has to be sought.” On living: “I have to constantly forgive myself for not being as good as I’d hoped to be.” On Shakespeare and Dostoevsky: “Nothing human is alien to them. There is nothing that can’t be explored.”

Somebody has said that whereas art used to spin around nature, now the orbit is around culture. Which reminds me of a question I heard posed on NPR recently: “Is the economy part of nature or is nature part of the economy?” Harrison reassures us of the order of things. He gets it right. As Robert DeMott, the editor of this collection, writes in his introduction: “What Gertrude Stein once said of Paris applies to Harrison—it isn’t what he gives you, so much as what he doesn’t take away.” —Mark


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