Published by Indiana
University Press in 2012, Earth
Works gathers thirty essays that best represent what I've tried to do in this versatile, inquisitive, and revelatory art form over the past three decades. Twenty-one of the essays have appeared in my previous books; nine are collected here for the first time.
All of us ponder our lives, more or less often, more or less deeply, and all of us likewise reflect on the larger webs in which our lives are enmeshed, from families and communities to nations and nature, and on out to the farthest reaches of imagination. Essayists choose to do such reflecting, remembering, and imagining in public, on the page. They differ from scholars in claiming no expertise, from journalists in disclosing their opinions, and from novelists in refusing to make things up.
The writing of an essay usually begins for me in a state of strong emotion and equally strong puzzlement. Some event, recollection, journey, or notion bewilders me, distresses me, fascinates me, or otherwise provokes me, and sets me asking questions that drive the writing forward. Such answers as I come up with are always partial and tentative, subject to rethinking in light of new knowledge or further reflection--just like the findings of science, my first intellectual love.
Although the subject matter varies from essay to essay, certain questions have preoccupied me over the years. Some of them pertain to my own life--my Midwestern background, my father's drinking, my resistance to war, my literary debts, my feeling for wildness. But most of the questions that drive my essays are impersonal, for they must occur to every inquisitive soul: What is a good life, and how might one come closer to leading such a life? What is a good society, and how might we shift our society in that direction? How do family and culture shape a person's character? Why are humans so violent, toward one another and toward Earth? What is our place in nature? What role, if any, do humans play in the universe? What is this inwardness we call mind, which fills our awareness, and what is it good for? Are we connected, through the core of our being, to anything eternal? These are perennial human questions, and my response to them is only one among a host of responses. That these questions can never be definitively answered does not mean one can avoid asking them.
An interview about the book was published in Englewood Review.
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