Writer Profile

Books & Essays

  • Book Cover

    About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory

    Date Published:
    The Harvill Press 1999

    In About This Life Lopez turns, for the first time, to autobiographical reflections. Whether travelling to Hokkaido or the Gal?pagos, Antarctica or Bonaire, or remembering the California and New York of his childhood, Lopez writes brilliantly of the mysterious connections among landscape, memory and imagination. Hauntingly lyrical, these pieces represent Barry Lopez's most personal work to date, and will be read as classics of the essay for years to come.

    Book Review #1:
    "Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar." This advice, given to a father whose daughter wants to learn to write, is the organizing principle behind Barry Lopez's latest collection of essays and also the central theme behind his life as a writer. Author of 12 acclaimed books of nature writing, including the National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams, Lopez is one of our most eloquent masters of the nearly lost art of paying attention. In this volume, a travelogue of journeys both inward and outward, he brings the same careful scrutiny to bear on the mystery of his own life and its interactions with the natural world. Lopez has always been interested in tearing down artificial divides between nature and culture, landscape and identity, and nowhere does he do so more powerfully than in About This Life. These essays cover ground from the remote (in the group of travel essays entitled "Out of Country") to the familiar ("Indwelling"), the personal to the archetypal ("Remembrance" and "An Opening Quartet"). Whether he's joyriding around the world with air cargo, performing burials for animals found dead by the side of the road, or lamenting the commodification of the American landscape, Lopez writes with a surgeon's precision, a musician's ear, and a painter's eye for beauty found in unexpected places

    Book Review #2:
    Contemplating forces physical and metaphysical within the natural landscape, veteran author and National Book Award-winner Lopez (Arctic Dreams, etc.) here taps personal and collective memory to create an intimate history of man and place. In these 13 essays, most of which have appeared in periodicals like Harper's (where Lopez is a contributing editor) and the Geogia Review, he reveals a mind that is energetically curious, repeatedly making a 10-hour round-trip to kiln-fire pottery in a tradition that catches his interest, or taking a marathon trip involving 40 consecutive air-freight flights in order to explore worldwide exporting and importing. But, on the latter trip, he stops for a sunrise walk in Seoul to see "things that could not be purchased," and, in another essay, quietly meditates on the power of hands. This dichotomy reflects the world traveler who is nevertheless rooted to a particular piece of land in western Oregon, someone whose mind encompasses the grand and the truly particular. To really understand a specific geography, he notes, takes time. Lopez has the kind of intimacy, of immersion, that makes the most ordinary encounter extraordinary. He deciphers nature's enigmatic intimations, as when he compares two proximate but distinct environments, saying: "The shock to the senses comes from a different shape to the silence, a difference in the very quality of light, in the weight of the air." For Lopez, the world's topography is memory made manifest; it stimulates Lopez's own recall and that, in turn, forces us to really think. Publishers Weekly

    Book Review #3:
    National Book Award winner Lopez (Field Notes, 1994, etc.) explores the vivid edges of the world, beyond intellection, where memory takes hold and guides: ``It is memory that carries the place, that allows it to grow in depth and complexity.'' There are 18 essays here (a number of them previously published), creative nonfictions that range all over--Antarctica to northern Alaska, Hokkaido to southern California--for this is a collection of traveler's tales. It is in the unfamiliar, where Lopez is kept attentive and off-balance and enchanted, open to having his perceptions altered, that he likes to be. On the other hand, he also recognizes, and in his wanderings seeks to tap into, the intuitive geographical genius of ``men and women more or less sworn to a place, who abide there, who have a feel for the soil and history, for the turn of leaves and night sounds.'' Lopez's own particular genius--for discerning patterns and connections that eschew orthodoxy, that embrace the metaphorical clues about wild animals and landscapes captured in the local stories--is in full flourish throughout these pages, a natural flair for association that pings and pongs between flying tricksters and Blackfeet men with white ermine woven in their hair. There are also numerous forays back into his youth, to his mother's death and his brief infatuation with automotive speed and being propositioned to murder an unfaithful lover--force fields in his own psychogeography--all swarming with beauty and darkness and mystery, the same elements he so respects in nature. Never far from hand is the certitude, and attendant quandaries, of a need for ethical leanings, social responsibility, a keen moral intelligence. The writing is, as ever, susurrous. Lopez ventures forth, hunts and gathers the sacred twinings of humanity and nature, and returns with stories as venerable as the best folktales. Kirkus Reviews

  • Book Cover

    The Woods Stretched for Miles: New Nature Writing from the South

    Date Published:
    University of Georgia Press 1999