The Important Work of Daydreaming

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A Good Place to Daydream? Buffalo Peaks Ranch in South Park, Colorado. photo by Jay Halsey

In 2013, author Neil Gaiman delivered a speech at the Barbican Centre in London. The second annual Reading Agency Lecture was titled Reading and Obligation. Neil Gaiman’s words on the power of books, libraries, and reading has guided the Rocky Mountain Land Library ever since.

Here’s just a short passage that we especially love!

“We all — adults and children, writers and readers — have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair….This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city exists because, over and over and over, people imagined things. They daydreamed, they pondered….

And then, in time, they succeeded. Political movements, personal movements, all began with people imagining another way of existing.” — Neil Gaiman, from his Reading Agency Lecture, October 14, 2013

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Author Neil Gaiman at his writing desk

The Land Library at Buffalo Peaks Ranch will always be a place to ponder, to daydream and, of course, to read.  As Neil Gaiman writes: “Books are the way we communicate with the dead. The way we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over.

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“They daydreamed, they pondered…”  Buffalo Peaks Ranch with Reinecker Ridge in the distance.  photo by Carl Young

Two Weeks to Go and 51% Funded!

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Dawn breaks the darkness at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. photo by Sarah McLaughlin

We saw a sizable boost in Kickstarter pledges last week and we’re extremely thankful for the press coverage we continue to receive. Special thanks to all of you who have shared our project with your friends and contacts.  Everyone’s support and enthusiasm has energized our team and we’re excited for what is in store over the next 14 days.

Another big THANK YOU to everyone who tuned in and viewed our Kickstarter Live stream last Tuesday night. We hope to thank and converse with ALL of our backers at some point, ideally around a table in the Cook’s House, and at the workshops and events coming up this summer!

We have a mini-goal for the next few days. Join us to spread the word and get our campaign over 600 backers by next Tuesday

Kickstarter is an ALL-OR-NOTHING effort, and with the incredible support we’ve received thus far, we know we can make it! Who would you want to know about this project? Message our project link below to anyone else you know and follow up with those who you may have already shared our project with.

Project Link:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1402759381/buffalo-peaks-ranch-a-literary-home-on-the-range?ref=8744wr

Inspiration can be born in an instant when we’re all working together!

In closing, we’d like to share a favorite book passage from Rocky Mountain Land Library Director and Co-founder Jeff Lee. The passage is taken from The Bottom of the Harbor by late legendary author, Joseph Mitchell.

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Mitchell, who died in 1996, was the great wandering and listening soul of New York City. True, you won’t find any of his titles at local Nature Centers, but his sketches of the urban scene shows us a writer immersed in his home landscape. From Fulton Fish Market to McSorley’s Saloon, Joseph Mitchell observed his given plot of land keenly and compassionately, like the ideal naturalist that he was. Back in 1992, his work, long out of print, was resurrected in a wonderful anthology, Up in the Old Hotel.

The following passage, The Rivermen, from Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor touches on one’s relationship to the river and the city he inhabits. Cities around the world were founded on the banks of rivers and streams allowing humans to naturally network with one another along and with the river itself. This unstoppable, steady, yet often gentle flow can sculpt any landscape and has certainly shaped our thinking at the Land Library. The South Platte River has inspired the Headwaters to Plains network settling Land Library sites at Buffalo Peaks Ranch, Waterton Canyon, and in inner-city Denver.

Rivers and books each share the power to bring people together.

“I often feel drawn to the Hudson River, and I have spent a lot of time through the years poking around the part of it that flows past the city. I never get tired of looking at it; it hypnotizes me. I like to look at it in midsummer, when it is warm and dirty and drowsy, and I like to look at it in January, when it is carrying ice. I like to look at it when it is stirred up, when a northeast wind is blowing and a strong tide is running — a new-moon tide or a full-moon tide — and I like to look at it when it is slack. It is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft, but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays, when there are lulls as long as a half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.”

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The South Platte River slowly ripples by, with Buffalo Peaks Ranch in the distance.

From the Hudson River to the South Platte, please SUPPORT all things global and local at the Rocky Mountain Land Library! 

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Help bring books, people & programs to Colorado’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch. With your support we will transform a historic high mountain ranch into a residential library devoted to land, community, and the many positive ways we can all move forward together.

But first, CLICK HERE and you’ll find out much more. Learn how you can be an important part of this land-inspired, book-loving grassroots project!

PLEASE DONATE & PLEASE SHARE!

 

Touching Words

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Here are two inspiring books on absolutely brilliant projects that celebrate both words and nature. The Language of Nature : Poetry in Library and Zoo Collaborations sprang from a project conceived by the Poets House of New York City. In select cities across the country poetry installations were discreetly added to local zoos — all in the hopes of raising people’s awareness of the natural world.

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In Beauty May I Walk — Navajo

Or, in other words, poetry was being used as a catalyst for building vital communities, to borrow Sandra Alcosser’s phrase. Along with Alcosser, The Language of Conservation features essays from poets such as Joseph Bruchac, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Mark Doty, and Pattiann Rogers, along with many practical hints on how to launch similar projects in your own community.

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Elk Song — Linda Hogan

Lee Briccetti, Executive Director of Poets House, captured the true genius of this project:

“Millions of people throughout the country encountered the poems at zoos — fragments; full texts; poems in translation from all over the world, often from the place of origin of the animals. In exit interviews, we learned that visitors could remember many of the lines of poetry and that their conservation IQ was actually raised….but that they did not always know that what they liked was poetry.

This confirmed what Poets House had learned from years of work with public libraries and their communities: when people experience poetry, they are often surprised and delighted. But if you tell them that it is coming, they get nervous.” — from Lee Briccetti’s foreword to The Poetic Species : A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Robert Hass

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“The arts somehow remind us of our kinship with all other life, and with the mortality of other life — the ephemeral, precious nature of every other form of life.” — W.S. Merwin, foreword to The Language of Conservation
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Back in 2012, a kindred project began in England’s Pennine Mountains. Poet Simon Armitage was commissioned by the Ilkley Literary Festival to write six poems based on his Pennine walks. Simon didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the start of what would become the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail.

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Inspired by the ancient landscape, Simon Armitage (pictured above) would eventually collaborate with a master letter carver, Pip Hall, to create a trail of poems sited across the moors, and carved into existing or introduced stones. As Armitage explains, people have visited this region for many thousands of years “to offer their prayers and express their desires in the form of carved stones and man-made formations.” If done right, the chiseled poems should fit in to this storied landscape.

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“The stones could be thought of as sites in their own right, literal landmarks, places to visit. Or they could be marker posts along the invisible route of the watershed.” — Simon Armitage

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At first, the subject of the poems alluded Simon Armitage, but then the project gained a real focus. Armitage writes: “After another visit to the hills, this time in lashing rain, I came back with a different idea and a single purpose. To let water be the overall subject: the water that sculpted the valleys, the water that powered the industries, the water we take for granted.” And so, the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail is made up of six poems, and six sites spread over 47 miles of the Pennine highlands: Snow, Rain, Mist, Dew, Puddle, Beck (a mountain stream).

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“Streams, reservoirs and waterfalls punctuate the journey, reminding the walker of how water shapes and animates the whole South Pennines.” — Tom Lonsdale, landscape architect, and adviser to the Stanza Stones project
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“Especially surprising and delightful to me is the colour of the cut rock, and its contrast with the weathered surface, which varies from pale honey in peaty chocolate, and silver in mottled blue-grey, to a glowing rufous gold in purple umber.” — Pip Hall, master letter carver

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For more on the Stanza Stones Project, and to read all six of Simon Armitage’s poems, look for a copy of Stanza Stones (pictured at the top of this post). And, not to be missed, we hope you enjoy this short film clip!

Assume the Stillness of a Tree

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J.A. Baker spent ten years observing the peregrines along the east coast of England. His obsession yielded a mountain of field notes and this classic study of a most elusive bird. The Peregrine is also one of the most unusual (and memorable) books we have on our shelves. Barry Lopez sums it up perfectly when he wrote that Baker’s book was “one of the most beautifully written, carefully observed, and evocative wildlife accounts I have ever read.”

As you read The Peregrine it’s almost impossible not to slow down, re-read, and copy down passages. Here’s one of our favorites, on the simple art of watching:

“To be recognized and accepted by a peregrine you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds it fears the unpredictable. Enter and leave the same fields at the same time each day, soothe the hawk from its wildness by a ritual of behavior as invariable as its own. Hood the glare of your eye, hide the white tremor of the hands, shade the stark reflecting face, assume the stillness of a tree.” Advice a young George Schaller or Jane Goodall would appreciate!

also pictured above: A peregrine painting by C.F. Tunnicliffe, from his book The Peregrine Sketchbook , one of our all-time favorite sketchbooks:

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And here’s three more books on the peregrine falcon, from the Land Library’s raptor shelves:

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The Peregrine Falcon by Derek A. Ratcliffe, Return of the Peregrine: A North American Saga of Tenacity and Teamwork by Tom J. Cade & William Burnham, In Pursuit of the Peregrine by R.B. Treleaven

Zora Neale Hurston & The Power of Books

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Inspired by books and stories, Zora Neale Hurston eventually found a way to stretch her limbs:

“In that box were Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dick Whittington, Greek and Roman Myths, and best of all, Norse Tales. Why did the Norse tales strike so deeply into my soul? I do not know, but they did. I seemed to remember seeing Thor swing his mighty short-handled hammer as he spread across the sky in rumbling thunder, lightning flashing from the tread of his steeds and the wheels of his chariot….That held majesty for me….

In a way this early reading gave me great anguish through all my childhood and early adolescence. My soul was with the gods and my body in the village. People just would not act like gods. Stew beef, fried fat-back and morning grits were no ambrosia from Valhalla. Raking back yards and carrying out chamber pots were not the tasks of Thor. I wanted to be away from drabness and to stretch my limbs in some mighty struggle.”

Always in search of inspiration, the Land Library will continue to return to a central theme over the next few weeks: the intrinsic value of reading, the power of books, and those first moments — our childhood encounters with the printed page. Our continued source of inspiration for these posts will be Maria Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters: the Power of Stories in Childhood (pictured above), a wonderful blend of scholarly insight and personal memoir. Maria Tatar has also included an invaluable appendix which records writer’s recollections of how books changed their lives — writers such as Zora Neale Hurston.

Next Week — Chet Raymo & the Roots of Wonder

The Black Arts Shouldn’t be So Much Fun

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When we read Galway Kinnell’s poetry, we often come back to one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ odd phrases: There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. Both poets live in a “world charged“, and both find great joy in the sensuous feel of words. Here’s Galway Kinnell at his most sensuous — and seemingly having enormous fun:

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched or broughamed,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell, from A New Selected Poems

For more on Galway Kinnell (& Gerard Manley Hopkins), here’s a few volumes from the Land Library’s poetry shelves!

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A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, Strong is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell, Mortal Beauty, God’s Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

The City Alive

mcsorleys'Up in the Old Hotel

The New York Times just reported some truly exciting and unexpected news. The New Yorker‘s next issue will feature a new essay by the legendary author Joseph Mitchell. The newly discovered “Street Life” is the first published work by Mitchell since 1964.

Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996, was the great wandering and listening soul of New York City. True, you won’t find any of his titles at local Nature Centers, but his sketches of the urban scene shows us a writer immersed in his home landscape. From Fulton Fish Market to McSorley’s Saloon, Joseph Mitchell observed his given plot of land keenly and compassionately, like the ideal naturalist that he was. Back in 1992, his work, long out of print, was resurrected in a wonderful anthology, Up in the Old Hotel.

There are too many to choose from, but here’s one of our favorite passages from that collection:

The Rivermen, from Joseph Mitchell’s The Bottom of the Harbor

I often feel drawn to the Hudson River, and I have spent a lot of time through the years poking around the part of it that flows past the city. I never get tired of looking at it; it hypnotizes me. I like to look at it in midsummer, when it is warm and dirty and drowsy, and I like to look at it in January, when it is carrying ice. I like to look at it when it is stirred up, when a northeast wind is blowing and a strong tide is running — a new-moon tide or a full-moon tide — and I like to look at it when it is slack. It is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft, but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays, when there are lulls as long as a half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.

The success of Up in the Old Hotel led many publishers to reprint Mitchell’s earlier books:

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My Ears Are Bent, a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s earliest (pre-New Yorker) pieces, mostly from the 1930’s. Old Mr. Flood, a slim volume centered on the comings and goings of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market.

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And two of his all-time classic collections: The Bottom of the Harbor, and McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library will always have these books on our shelves, for the simple fact that Joseph Mitchell is one of the greatest writers of people and place that we know!

In the last few days, New Yorker editor David Remnick commented on the exciting find of new writings from Mitchell’s pen: “What’s so poignant about [the excerpts] is the sadness of the incompletion but the brilliance of the voice. There’s an ambition in the voice; the voice is becoming more Joycean. He’s looking outward, but all of these pieces are very interior. He’s at the center of it.

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When things get too much for me, I put a wild-flower book and a couple of sandwiches in my pockets and go down to the South Shore of Staten Island and wander around awhile in one of the old cemeteries down there.” the opening passage of the classic Mr. Hunter’s Grave, from The Bottom of the Harbor.

This Cold World

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Shivering at the bus stop this morning put us in mind of a memorable passage from Bill Streever’s Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places (a past favorite of the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s Book Club):

The world warms, awash in greenhouse gases, but forty below remains forty below. Thirty degrees with sleet blowing sideways is still thirty degrees with sleet blowing sideways. Cold is a part of day-to-day life, but we often isolate ourselves from it, hiding in overheated houses and retreating to overheated climates, all without understanding what we so eagerly avoid.

We fail to see cold for what it is: the absence of heat, the slowing of molecular motion, a sensation, a perception, a driving force. Cold freezes the nostrils and assaults the lungs. Its presence shapes landscapes. It sculpts forests and herds animals along migration routes or forces them to dig in for the winter or evolve fur and heat-conserving networks of veins….

Imagine July water temperatures of thirty-five degrees. Imagine Frederic Tudor of Boston shipping ice from Walden Pond to India on sailing ships in 1833. Imagine Apsley Cherry-Garrard on his search for penguin eggs at seventy below zero in 1911. Imagine a dahurian larch forest that looks like a stand of Christmas trees on Russia’s Taymyr Peninsula at sixty below or a ground squirrel hibernating until its blood starts to freeze and then shivering itself back to life.

But none of this is imaginary. Our world warms, but cold remains.

And whether you’re burrowed inside your warm house, or tucked away underground, here’s two excellent books from the Land Library’s shelves to help you appreciate the cold winter days!

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Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich, This Cold House: The Simple Science of Energy Efficiency by Colin Smith

There will be a way, there will be a light

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One of the most moving parts of Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on the National Parks, focused on the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata, and his life long devotion to Yosemite and the High Sierra. Obata’s first trip to Yosemite in 1927 marked the rest of his life’s work. If you have five minutes to spare please take a look at the PBS clip posted below. It swept us up with feelings of hope and a real admiration for people who fall head-over-heels for a particular landscape.
Seeing Ken Burns’ sensitive portrait had us reaching for a few books off the Land Library’s shelves. For more on Chiura Obata, an excellent volume (full of his sumi ink paintings, watercolors, and woodblock prints) is Obata’s Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from his trip to the High Sierra in 1927.

In some ways, perhaps even more remarkable is the following book, which tells the story of the Obata family’s internment during World War II. Not to be undone, Obata organized Art Schools in each camp he was sent to, and personally produced a remarkable body of work:

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Chiura Obata’s alien registration card, Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment, edited by Kimi Kodani Hill, Moonlight over Topaz, 1942.

And here’s a very special book, from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

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Evening Glow of Yosemite Falls, 1930, Nature Art with Chiura Obata by Michael Elsohn Ross, Death’s Grave Pass & Tenaya Peak, 1930

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Obata teaching a children’s art class, Tanforan Detention Center, California, August 1942.

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Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, Lake Basin in the High Sierra.

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Chiura Obata sketching in the High Sierra, along with untitled painting.

It’s hard not to be inspired by Obata’s life story, and the work he produced. We also love what he wrote in 1965: “You must always see with a big vision, and if you keep your mind calm there will be a way, there will be a light.

Please enjoy this wonderful clip!

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Haruko & Chiura Obata, San Francisco, 1912.

Through the Door Into the Writing Room

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What a treat! We just spent the past weekend reading through the latest book from one of the Land Library’s all-time favorite authors! Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing draws on his years of being a writer, and being a teacher of writing. His prose is simple, concise, and crystal clear. He also makes you look at reading and writing in fresh new ways: “There’s no gospel here, no orthodoxy, no dogma. Part of the struggle in learning to write is learning to ignore what isn’t useful to you and pay attention to what is. If that means arguing with me as you read this book, so be it.

Richard Ford has described Verlyn Klinkenborg’s new book as “Modest. Learned. Good-natured. Direct and sympathetic to its readers. You don’t even have to read it from front to back….You can just open it anywhere — as I did — and take away something useful.” Ford is so right about the inherent good-nature of this book. It’s very enjoyable to read. But it’s also hard to pick just one passage to share. Here’s our pick:

“In school, we’re taught — or we absorb the idea — that
writing
Flows out of the creative writer like lava down the
slope of a volcano.
An uninterruptible stream.
And yet we study the work itself as if its molten fire
had hardened into rock.

But the work isn’t an eruption from the author’s brain,
It doesn’t merely flow.
And it remains more dynamic, as written — on the
page — than we let ourselves imagine.

We forget something fundamental as we read:
Every sentence could have been otherwise but isn’t.
We can’t see all the decisions that led to the final shape
of the sentence.
But we can see the residue of those decisions.

If you look at the manuscripts of writers —
Handwritten drafts preserved in museums and
libraries —
You can often see the changes they made scribbled
between the lines.
What you can’t see are the changes they made in their
heads before those sentences were ever inscribed.

If you could look through the spaces between the
sentences,
Through the door into the writing room, into that
writer’s head,
You’d see that every word was different once
And that the writer was contemplating
An incalculable number of differences,
Feeling her way among the alternatives that presented
themselves,
Until settling upon words that were finally written
down,
Then revised over and over again —
Before they were printed, published, reprinted in
anthologies,
And treated as though they were carved in stone.

It was all change until the very last second.

Every work of literature is the result of thousands and
thousands of decisions.
Intricate, minute decisions — this word or that, here or
where, now of later, again and again.
It’s the living tissue of a writer’s choices,
Not the fossil record of an ancient, inspired race.
Interrogate those choices.

Imagine the reason behind each sentence.
Why is it shaped just this way and not some other
way?
Why that choice of words?
Why that phrasing?
Why that rhythm?”

And here’s a few other favorites from the Land Library’s shelves:

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The Rural Life, drawn from Verlyn Klinkenborg’s column in The New York Times, and Making Hay, an earlier book that beautifully describes the everyday life of farms in the upper midwest, and Montana.

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Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile — a novel told through the words of a real-life tortoise made famous in Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne (1789) The Land Library Book Club read this book a few years back, and we still refer back to it. In fact, it will no doubt be the first book we read and discuss a second time!