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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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 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

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.

From the Publisher

Booklist Starred Review-

Naturalist and essayist extraordinaire Hoagland does write about sex and death, as the title to his new, reverberating autobiographical collection promises. But nature is his overarching, enrapturing, and heartbreaking focus. In his foreword, Howard Frank Mosher dubs Hoagland “our last great Transcendentalist,” a designation earned in the first of 13 vigorous and bracing essays as Hoagland portrays himself as a book-loving, solitude-thriving, avidly attentive boy with a stutter who finds bliss and enlightenment in the woods just beyond his Connecticut home. Not only do the specificity of Hoagland’s memories and the rapture of his descriptions attest to the transforming powers of nature, this evocation of a lush lost world also reveals how drastically life has changed during Hoagland’s seven decades on earth. Self-described “rhapsodist” Hoagland mourns the decimation of ecosystems, calling out the names of fallen species as casualties in our wars “against the splendid diversity of nature.” He also recounts with flinty humor and candor his adventures with the circus, his travels in Africa and India, his love life, and the struggles and revelations of age. An astute social critic, Hoagland sharply contrasts the pallid cyber realm with life’s glorious hurly-burly. Fueled by zest, zeal, mischief, awe, and compassion, master writer Hoagland is exacting, gritty, and exalting.

ForeWord Reviews-

Literature is one of the few places left for savoring the gifts of maturity; in this vein, the musings and conclusions of Edward Hoagland, long-time essayist, must not be missed. Hoagland has traveled widely—the essays in this book take the reader to Africa, Asia, and the American West—but he is also the kind of observer who dives deep into a moment, observing in minute and ecstatic detail the life around him.

For Hoagland, now nearly eighty, aging "is not a serene occupation." In this collection he reflects on his life and loves, principal among them his great love for nature, and his perspective on the technological, environmental, and human problems the world faces. His vision is not optimistic: he anticipates "the widespread death of nature, the approaching holocaust of famines, while Westerners retreat in veiled panic into what they prefer to regard as the realer world of cyberspace." He's frank about his own mortality: he'd rather not be around for the world's demise, but he's not without humor either. When death comes, "The politics will be less rancid, my dentistry at an end, and the TV off."

The ecstasy that Hoagland observes in nature is here in large measure, in both the delightful content of his observations, and the rich, multi-layered, half-wild quality of his prose. While he claims to be tired of elegy, these essays are nothing if not finely wrought examples that linger on the beauty of the beloved. Hoagland himself, happy, modest, and affectionate, is a companionable guide, and his worries are humanely articulated. Nature is a source of such joy and empathy, he notes, that surely humans are meant to be part of a larger community. When birds "arrow overhead…part of us exults, much as marbling of a moonlit sky or the scent of cedar trees uplifts our mood. This wider span of responsiveness indicates affinities we haven't catalogued." His honest and sympathetic voice rambles over politics, too, in a remarkable essay on "The American Dissident," and, as the collection's title indicates, sex and death.

Accomplished and prolific—with over twenty books to his name—Hoagland provides a view both historical and wise. This book will be a fitting addition to any public or private collection of his work, or a good place to start reading him. His considered and considerable gifts are an important facet of American thought, poised as we are on the verge of further loss.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781603583367
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/7/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (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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