Earth Works: Selected Essays

Overview

In the hands of award-winning writer Scott Russell Sanders, the essay becomes an inquisitive and revelatory form of art. In 30 of his finest essays—nine never before collected—Sanders examines his Midwestern background, his father's drinking, his opposition to war, his literary inheritance, and his feeling for wildness. He also tackles such vital issues as the disruption of Earth's climate, the impact of technology, the mystique of money, the ideology of consumerism, and the meaning of sustainability. Throughout,...

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Earth Works: Selected Essays

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Overview

In the hands of award-winning writer Scott Russell Sanders, the essay becomes an inquisitive and revelatory form of art. In 30 of his finest essays—nine never before collected—Sanders examines his Midwestern background, his father's drinking, his opposition to war, his literary inheritance, and his feeling for wildness. He also tackles such vital issues as the disruption of Earth's climate, the impact of technology, the mystique of money, the ideology of consumerism, and the meaning of sustainability. Throughout, he asks perennial questions: What is a good life? How do family and culture shape a person's character? How should we treat one another and the Earth? What is our role in the cosmos? Readers and writers alike will find wisdom and inspiration in Sanders's luminous and thought-provoking prose.

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Editorial Reviews

NUVO

"In language that's patient, probing and precise, Sanders... has, over the past 30 years or so, built a body of work articulating what it means to live during this time on planet Earth and, particularly, that part of the planet called the American Midwest." —NUVO

The Indianapolis Star

"By turns somber and snap-out-of-it buoyant, these elegant artifacts of restless inquiry cover subjects as intimate as the author's sexual awakening and his father's alcoholism, as broad as the origins of the universe and the disarray of contemporary hyper-urban society." —The Indianapolis Star

Englewood Review of Books

"[T]he essays of Earth Works are full of energy, hope and life." —Englewood Review of Books

Bloom

"Nature, in all of its manifestations—physical, spiritual, geographical—runs through everything that Sanders writes and supplies the materials for much of his vivid and compelling imagery, as well as his inpiration and concern." —Bloom

Kathleen Dean Moore

"Like the building stones of his beloved limestone country, Scott Russell Sanders’s enduring essays are beautifully carved from the material of the Earth and its layered lives. The reach of Sanders’s incandescent mind will remind readers of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The fierce eloquence of his defense of what is right will remind them of Thoreau. The warmth of his open heart is signature Scott Russell Sanders. This collection of Sanders’s finest work will become a classic of American thought." —Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

author of The Gift and Common as Air - Lewis Hyde

"The many things that Scott Russell Sanders cares about--social justice, family, our place in nature, the ways in which culture and place reflect one another--are all woven together wonderfully in this collection of essays. Here is a voice to dispel confusion and keep us well rooted." —Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift and Common as Air

Orion - H. Emerson Blake

"More than any other writer of his generation, Scott Russell Sanders has consistently, and insistently, asked his readers to consider what it means to be a citizen of the Earth." —H. Emerson Blake, Orion

indianalivinggreen.com

"It's hard to think of a writer today who is better at finding and expressing the profound nature discovered in such simple gifts as a shared meal or a walk in the woods." —indianalivinggreen.com

Terrain.org

"[The essays in Earth Works are... a rich mix of beautifully crafted and progressive pieces that engage the reader in a long conversation. They are best read slowly, providing time to consider Sanders’ propositions, his keen insight and lessons, his critical questioning." —Terrain.org

The Fourth River

"Among the thirty essays it contains, Earth Works offers a thought-provoking mix of old and new. The nine new pieces included in the back of Earth Works... are themselves worth the sticker price." —The Fourth River

From the Publisher
"Among the thirty essays it contains, Earth Works offers a thought-provoking mix of old and new. The nine new pieces included in the back of Earth Works... are themselves worth the sticker price." —The Fourth River

"By turns somber and snap-out-of-it buoyant, these elegant artifacts of restless inquiry cover subjects as intimate as the author's sexual awakening and his father's alcoholism, as broad as the origins of the universe and the disarray of contemporary hyper-urban society." —The Indianapolis Star

"It's hard to think of a writer today who is better at finding and expressing the profound nature discovered in such simple gifts as a shared meal or a walk in the woods." —indianalivinggreen.com

"Nature, in all of its manifestations—physical, spiritual, geographical—runs through everything that Sanders writes and supplies the materials for much of his vivid and compelling imagery, as well as his inpiration and concern." —Bloom

"Collectively, these essays invite the reader to gaze more clearly at the world outside his own window—a reminder, as Sanders puts it, that all there is to see 'can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look... '" —Barnes & Noble Review

"The many things that Scott Russell Sanders cares about—social justice, family, our place in nature, the ways in which culture and place reflect one another—are all woven together wonderfully in this collection of essays. Here is a voice to dispel confusion and keep us well rooted." —Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift and Common as Air

"More than any other writer of his generation, Scott Russell Sanders has consistently, and insistently, asked his readers to consider what it means to be a citizen of the Earth." —H. Emerson Blake, Orion

Barnes & Noble Review

"Collectively, these essays invite the reader to gaze more clearly at the world outside his own window—a reminder, as Sanders puts it, that all there is to see 'can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look... '" —Barnes & Noble Review

The Barnes & Noble Review

"Collectively, these essays invite the reader to gaze more clearly at the world outside his own window—a reminder, as Sanders puts it, that all there is to see 'can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look... '" —The Barnes & Noble Review

www.indianalivinggreen.com
"It's hard to think of a writer today who is better at finding and expressing the profound nature discovered in such simple gifts as a shared meal or a walk in the woods." —indianalivinggreen.com
Orion
"More than any other writer of his generation, Scott Russell Sanders has consistently, and insistently, asked his readers to consider what it means to be a citizen of the Earth." —H. Emerson Blake, Orion

— H. Emerson Blake

The Barnes & Noble Review

As E. B. White once memorably observed, essayists must content themselves to be second-class citizens. While the author of the Great American Novel can expect fame and fortune, few writers will achieve much celebrity by penning the Great American Essay.

Consider Scott Russell Sanders, who has crafted, over the past three decades, some of the most sensitively expressed essays of his generation. Sanders's work has routinely landed in important anthologies and won numerous national awards. Although respected as a "writer's writer" among his peers and admired by a small but faithful following of readers, Sanders is far from a household name. Earth Works, which collects twenty-one of Sanders's essays from previous books and adds nine others that haven't appeared in book form, is a chance for newcomers to see what they've been missing — and for longtime admirers of the writer to reconnect with a favorite voice.

Sanders, all too familiar with the modest stature of the personal essay in American letters, begins Earth Works with an essay on the essay itself, noting that the genre is "a brash and foolhardy form, this one-man or one-woman circus, which relies on the tricks of anecdote, conjecture, memory, and wit to enthrall us." Because the essay is so tied to personality, Sanders suggests, its appeal often boils down to whether the voice behind it is one we wish to hear.

Take Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sanders gives a mixed assessment of the writer — one whose influence looms over nearly every American essayist of a philosophical bent — acknowledging Emerson's genius but conceding that the paragon of Transcendentalist thought can seem, at first reading, coldly oracular. Sanders eventually finds a more appealing strain in Emerson's prose, but the cautionary lesson of Emerson's sometimes airily cerebral tone doesn't seem lost on Sanders, who's always careful to ground his own reflections in the rich soil of daily experience.

A touch of the Transcendental style also runs through Sanders's prose, and he has a gift for cosmic insight that shakes the reader awake, as in his rejoinder to those who ask him why he lives in the so-called "backwater" of Indiana: "I tell them there are no backwaters. There is only one river, and we are all in it. Wave your arm, and the ripples will eventually reach me." Where one lives, Sanders adds, "is less important than how devotedly and perceptively you inhabit that place."

"The Inheritance of Tools," perhaps Sanders's most celebrated and achingly beautiful essay, answers Emerson's directive to "fasten words again to visible things," using an heirloom hammer to reflect on the nature of memory, the complications of father-son relationships, the ideals of craft, and resilience in the face of grief. Reflecting a sensibility that informs all of his work, Sanders's account of the hand-me-down tool passed from grandfather to father to son deploys his eye for detail to lovely effect:

The head is scratched and pockmarked, like an old plowshare that has been working rocky fields, and it gives off the sort of dull sheen you see on fast creek water in the shade. It is a finishing hammer, about the weight of a bread loaf, too light really for framing walls, too heavy for cabinetwork, with a curved claw for pulling nails, a rounded head for pounding, a fluted neck for looks, and a hickory handle for strength.
As the title, Earth Works, indicates, nature is a prominent character in these essays, not as a stagily presented tableau but as a "force of spirit" that animates the workings of forests, suburbs, and cities alike. Sanders asserts that the natural world should interest everyone, arguing that by paying attention to birds and plants, trees and water, "we feel the pressure of the sacred, and that alone deserves our devotion." That presence calls him to remain alert to the mysteries of the planet, where "meadows are thick with flowers, and butterflies waft over the blossoms like petals torn loose by wind," but he points to humanity, with its alternating capacity for affection and cruelty, as the most vexing riddle of creation. That contradiction lives most vividly in "At Play in the Paradise of Bombs," Sanders's moving reminiscence of his childhood home, where deer grazed in the shadow of a military arsenal.

Although it includes perhaps a bit too much authorial shop talk, with several essays on favorite writers as well as writing itself, Earth Works ultimately connects readers of these "familiar" essays with the terms' origin in "family." With his own Indiana household as his lodestar, Sanders considers the larger family of connections that gives meaning to human experience, "from communities to nations and nature, and on out to the farthest reaches of imagination." Collectively, these essays invite the reader to gaze more clearly at the world outside his own window — a reminder, as Sanders puts it, that all there is to see "can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look?"

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate and a frequent essayist for national publications, is the author of A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.

Reviewer: Danny Heitman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253000958
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2012
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 380,462
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Russell Sanders, Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Indiana University Bloomington, is author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction,
including A Private History of Awe, Writing from the Center (IUP, 1995), and A Conservationist Manifesto (IUP, 2009). Among his honors are the Lannan Literary Award, the John Burroughs Essay Award, and the Mark Twain Award.

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Table of Contents

Preface The Singular First Person At Play in the Paradise of Bombs The Men We Carry in Our Minds Doing Time in the Thirteenth Chair The Inheritance of Tools Under the Influence Looking at Women Reasons of the Body After the Flood House and Home Staying Put Wayland Letter to a Reader Buckeye The Common Life Voyageurs Mountain Music Wildness Beauty Silence The Force of Spirit The Uses of Muscle A Private History of Awe A Road into Chaos and Old Night Words Addressed to Our Condition Exactly Honoring the Ordinary Speaking for the Land The Mystique of Money Buffalo Eddy Mind in the Forest Notes and Acknowledgements

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Preface

Works serves here as both noun and verb. Like all works of art, my essays are products of Earth, as are you, as am I, and we are able to wonder and sing, to spend our brief time under the sun, only because Earth works miraculously well,
providing us a benign habitation in the void of space.Scott Russell Sanders, from the Preface

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