Monday, February 23, 2009

New Book from Favorite Writer

One of my all-time favorite writers -- and all-around great guy -- is John Daniel: poet and writer of essays and memoirs. Two of his books I'm particularly fond of are Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone, which blends the story of his 4-1/2 month experiment in solitude in a remote Rogue River cabin with a memoir of his father (an early labor union organizer) and their relationship and his own growing up and coming of age, and Looking After: A Son's Memoir, which tells this story of his caring for his mother in the last years of her life as she declined with Alzheimer's. In both of these terrific books I love both his writing style -- the way he strings words together with nary a wasted word -- and his ability to lay himself open and explore feelings and behaviors even if doing so don't always portray him in the most positive light.

Now I -- and all the other John Daniel fans out there -- will soon have a new book to treasure. The Far Corner: Northwestern Views on Land, Life, and Literature, a collection of personal essays, will be published by Counterpoint Press later this spring. And I'm happy to announce that John will be doing a reading at Broadway Books (watch this blog for details to come). The Far Corner extends the work he collected in a book of essays, The Trail Home, published in 1992 and winner of the 1993 Oregon Book Award for literary nonfiction. The essays in the new collection are diverse in focus, various in length, and inventive in form, spinning narratives that seek to define how he belongs to the land and to the wholeness of life itself, exploring both external and internal landscapes.

John was born in South Carolina and raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC, but he moved to the Northwest in 1966 and instantly realized he was home. As he says in this new collection, "I never considered living in the East again. I didn't know much for sure in my early twenties, but I knew I had corrected the mistake of having been born and raised on the wrong coast." He originally came to Portland to attend Reed College, but the beauty of our state soon derailed that intent: "It was Oregon, wild and lovely and violent Oregon, that ruined my academic career. How could I keep my nose in Herodotus, my ears in windy seminars, my spirit in dolorous, fluourescent classrooms, while outside swarmed a green paradise of mountains and rivers and seacoast and forests of gargantuan trees?" Home for John now is in the Coast Range foothills west of Eugene.

His essays hit such topics as becoming a writer, clear-cutting, the mythic resonance of rivers, the writers Ken Kesey and Wallace Stegner, the literary genre of creative nonfiction, and even the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001. In his introduction, John acknowledges that some people might be reluctant to tackle a book of essays: "The reputation of essay has been more or less ruined by dry exercises of that label assigned too often over the years in schools...but the contemporary personal essay is not the trussed and embalmed critter you have rightly learned to despise." Rather, he says, "to find an essayist who interests you is to go for a walk with a friendly (if sometimes contentious) stranger with whom you enjoy conversing on a variety of subjects, sometimes debating, sometimes agreeing, a companion whose reflections may stir you to reflect on your own experience and the questions most important to you and to your place on Earth."

I can't wait to go for a walk with John again! We'd be happy to hold a copy of The Far Corner for you -- just give us a holler.

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