Sex and the River Styx

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Overview

Called the best essayist of his time by luminaries like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland brings readers his ultimate collection. In Sex and the River Styx, the author's sharp eye and intense curiosity shine through in essays that span his childhood exploring the woods in his rural Connecticut, his days as a circus worker, and his travels the world over in his later years.

Here, we meet Hoagland at his best: traveling to Kampala, Uganda, to meet a ...

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Overview

Called the best essayist of his time by luminaries like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland brings readers his ultimate collection. In Sex and the River Styx, the author's sharp eye and intense curiosity shine through in essays that span his childhood exploring the woods in his rural Connecticut, his days as a circus worker, and his travels the world over in his later years.

Here, we meet Hoagland at his best: traveling to Kampala, Uganda, to meet a family he'd been helping support only to find a divide far greater than he could have ever imagined; reflecting on aging, love, and sex in a deeply personal, often surprising way; and bringing us the wonder of wild places, alongside the disparity of losing them, and always with a twist that brings the genre of nature writing to vastly new heights. His keen dissection of social realities and the human spirit will both startle and lure readers as they meet African matriarchs, Tibetan yak herders, circus aerialists, and the strippers who entertained college boys in 1950s Boston. Says Howard Frank Mosher in his foreword, the self-described rhapsodist "could fairly be considered our last, great transcendentalist."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Huntington News-
If you're an omnivorous reader, you've probably noticed a shortage of essay collections at the library or bookstore. One of our best essayists -- his output fills nine books -- John Updike, died in January 2009. I haven't seen much output from Gore Vidal these days. He's still active, I believe, and -- although I don't agree with a lot of his views, he's one of our literary lions and a major essayist. Norman Mailer: gone, died in 2007.Take heart, there is still Edward Hoagland, represented in his new collection, with an introduction by Howard Frank Mosher, Sex and the River Styx. Often typecast as a nature essayist -- a modern incarnation of Henry David Thoreau -- Hoagland's range is much wider, with the collection containing thirteen linked essays exploring his childhood wandering in the woods in rural connecticut, his days as a circus worker, chronicled in detail in "Cat Man," one of his more than twenty books; his experience visiting the Ugandan family he has been assisting with monthly cash contributions, and, of course, the experience of growing old.The title essay, "Sex and the River Styx," comes at the end of the book and will shock and amaze you, as it did me, with its frank exploration of dirty old men, "old scamps and leches" as Hoagland calls them. What a wonderful look at aging, something I now can appreciate since I was born in the same decade as Hoagland, only six years later. Hoagland also explores aging in "A Country for Old Men," a nice spin on Cormac McCarthy's novel "No Country for Old Men."How old is Hoagland? He was born Dec. 21, 1932 in New York City, so he's 78. He's of the generation of Updike, also born in 1932, and Philip Roth, born in 1933. Like Paul Theroux, born in 1941, Hoagland is also a travel writer, but like Theroux one with a difference. Hoagland focuses on the disappearance of wild spaces, in Vermont and in the African veldt and in other parts of Africa, including the Congo, the site of perhaps the most unreported war. Some five million people have been killed in what has been called "the Great War" of Africa since it began in the mid-1990s. Next month, I'll be reviewing a book on this vastly underreported conflict, "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters."To read Hoagland's account of his visit to Kampala, Uganda, titled "Visiting Norah," is to experience the country fully, much as we do when we read Paul Theroux. You get a view of the city and the nation and the people who are barely hanging on in a country that has been devastated by misrule for generations. It's unsurpassed. If you like Theroux -- and Thoreau -- you'll love Hoagland.In the opening essay, "Small Silences," which occupies 31 pages, gives us a autobiographical peek at Hoagland. In this relatively small amount of space, the reader gets a surprisingly detailed portrait of the author, who moved, at the age of eight, from New York City to rural Connecticut where he enjoyed a childhood straight out of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn." He also reveals his experiences as a stutterer, his sexual awakening as a pre-teen and his experiences of racism as he observed his Missouri-born father reacting to the African-American women employed by the family.Perhaps more than any other literary form, essays can be reread with pleasure. This is certainly true of the essays in "Sex and the River Styx," collected magazines as diverse as Harper's Magazine, Outside, Worth, and The American Scholar.Stop mourning the disappearance of essays and their authors and pick up "Sex and the River Styx." You'll be surprised and pleased to find a great practitioner of the art of the essay. I'll leave it for you the reader to decide if Hoagland is, as Howard Frank Mosher in his foreword calls him, "our last, great transcendentalist." After all, labels are for whiskey bottles and soup cans.

Kirkus Reviews-
From the acclaimed essayist, novelist and travel writer, more deeply profound essays on the conditions of the natural world.In this outstanding collection, 78-year-old Hoagland (Early in the Season, 2008, etc.) culls 13 years of magazine writing, published in stalwarts like Harper's and Outside, for a result that, again, will draw comparisons to Thoreau. Another great naturalist, John Muir, once wrote, "I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." There might not be a more apropos line to describe this book, which not only finds Hoagland reminiscing on his many widespread adventures exploring the globe in years past, but also on the connectedness between the destruction of the planet, his mortality and aging, failed love relationships and his impassioned, sometimes polemical but always articulate, brilliant thoughts on humans' abdication of responsibility to protect nature. Citing an unwavering allegiance to what's alive, Hoagland believes that "heaven is here and the only heaven we have." The author is less concerned with his own demise than with the larger unraveling of the world, and these glimmering essays avoid nostalgia or self-pity by focusing on his various entanglements, with past lovers and wives, Tibetan yak herders, a Ugandan family and the circus aerialists with whom he worked 60 years ago. Hoagland possesses the rare quality of being both thirsty to absorb knowledge and experiences and also, organically, to want to pass along what he's discovered. It's a wonder, too, that these writings, never pedagogical, allow for the world he's witnessed to stand as the star of the show.Eloquent musings from a master.

Publishers Weekly-
Naturalist, novelist, and prolific essayist, Hoagland (Cat Man) describes his love affair with nature, given a fresh twist by his conviction that "human nature is interstitial with nature, and not to be shunned by a naturalist." Thus he describes his travels to Uganda, China, India; summers while young working with the circus or when older sitting in the senior center, all in the same keen, graphic detail with which he observes cedar waxwings passing a wild cherry tree. Hoag-land's range is capacious--political dissent, Tibetan barley, his stutter, overpopulation, his wives, his pique at becoming "a dirty old man" exciting his intellect and eliciting frank, deeply felt confessions. While rarely aphoristic or witty, Hoagland's prose sings. Extensive in range, intensive in passion, the direction of these 13 essays is inexorably toward the River Styx of the title--lament and a perverse satisfaction. In a world where "fish become a factory for omega oil. Fowl for 'buffalo wings,' " only "death will save me from witnessing the drowned polar bears, smashed elephant herds, wilting frog populations, squashed primate refuges."

"A masterwork on aging in men [from] America's most intelligent and wide-ranging essayist-naturalist."--Philip Roth

"A superb collection - and more than that, a powerful narrative of the life of the man himself."--Paul Theroux

"Hoagland is our wild world's literary virtuoso."--Annie Proulx

"'The seething underpinnings of life's flash and filigree..." Those words from Edward Hoagland's new book of essays, Sex and the River Styx, are an apt description of all of his work. His eloquence frees readers from nostalgia for the "old days" as he writes of life's variety--from elephants' toes to the red of a rooster's comb."--Paula Fox, author of News From the World

Publishers Weekly
Naturalist, novelist, and prolific essayist, Hoagland (Cat Man) describes his love affair with nature, given a fresh twist by his conviction that "human nature is interstitial with nature, and not to be shunned by a naturalist." Thus he describes his travels to Uganda, China, India; summers while young working with the circus or when older sitting in the senior center, all in the same keen, graphic detail with which he observes cedar waxwings passing a wild cherry tree. Hoag-land's range is capacious—political dissent, Tibetan barley, his stutter, overpopulation, his wives, his pique at becoming "a dirty old man" exciting his intellect and eliciting frank, deeply felt confessions. While rarely aphoristic or witty, Hoagland's prose sings. Extensive in range, intensive in passion, the direction of these 13 essays is inexorably toward the River Styx of the title—lament and a perverse satisfaction. In a world where "fish become a factory for omega oil. Fowl for ‘buffalo wings,'" only "death will save me from witnessing the drowned polar bears, smashed elephant herds, wilting frog populations, squashed primate refuges." (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews

From the acclaimed essayist, novelist and travel writer, more deeply profound essays on the conditions of the natural world.

In this outstanding collection, 78-year-old Hoagland (Early in the Season, 2008, etc.) culls 13 years of magazine writing, published in stalwarts like Harper's and Outside, for a result that, again, will draw comparisons to Thoreau. Another great naturalist, John Muir, once wrote, "I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." There might not be a more apropos line to describe this book, which not only finds Hoagland reminiscing on his many widespread adventures exploring the globe in years past, but also on the connectedness between the destruction of the planet, his mortality and aging, failed love relationships and his impassioned, sometimes polemical but always articulate, brilliant thoughts on humans' abdication of responsibility to protect nature. Citing an unwavering allegiance to what's alive, Hoagland believes that "heaven is here and the only heaven we have." The author is less concerned with his own demise than with the larger unraveling of the world, and these glimmering essays avoid nostalgia or self-pity by focusing on his various entanglements, with past lovers and wives, Tibetan yak herders, a Ugandan family and the circus aerialists with whom he worked 60 years ago. Hoagland possesses the rare quality of being both thirsty to absorb knowledge and experiences and also, organically, to want to pass along what he's discovered. It's a wonder, too, that these writings, never pedagogical, allow for the world he's witnessed to stand as the star of the show.

Eloquent musings from a master.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781603583374
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/7/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 391,394
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Widely celebrated for his essays on travel and nature, Edward Hoagland has written more than twenty books. Both fiction and nonfiction, his works include Cat Man (his first book, which won the 1954 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship), Walking the Dead Diamond River (a 1974 National Book Award nominee), African Calliope (a 1980 American Book Award nominee), and The Tugman's Passage (a 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee). He worked at the Barnum & Bailey Circus while attending Harvard in the early 1950s and later traveled around the world writing for Harper's, National Geographic, and other magazines. He received two Guggenheim Fellowships and in 1982 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hoagland was the editor of The Best American Essays 1999, and taught at The New School, Rutgers, Sarah Lawrence, CUNY, the University of Iowa, UC Davis, Columbia University, Beloit College, and Brown University. In 2005, he retired from a teaching position at Bennington College in Vermont. He lives in northern Vermont.
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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Small Silences 1

Visiting Norah 32

Last Call 61

Circus Music 78

A Last Look Around 91

Curtain Calls 103

Endgame 124

The Glue Is Gone 143

A Country for Old Men 156

The American Dissident 165

East of Everest 183

Barley and Yaks 201

Sex and the River Styx 216

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  • Posted September 8, 2012

    I first came across Edward Hoagland's work in The Atlantic years

    I first came across Edward Hoagland's work in The Atlantic years ago, specifically his title essay "Sex and the River Styx." I was stunned, and not just by his fluency and intelligence, but by his incredible bravery. He is a fearless thinker. Perhaps it has to do with his being older and at a kind of "summing up" moment in his life, but the honesty with which he looks back at his life is truly inspring. The book is by no means a light read--it is heady stuff, and set me to some deep and occasionally dark thoughts. That said, it is without a doubt worth a read, if only for the magnificent title essay (which I have since reread twice!).

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