Monday, June 13, 2011

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton by Richard Horan

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton (P.S.)
Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton  by Richard Horan

The blurb:
Richard Horan's quest to gather seeds from trees at the homes of essential American authors is a heartfelt paean to literature - and a wise, funny, and enthralling account of one man's reconnection with nature.  From the golden hemlock road in front of L. Frank Baum's childhood home to the lonely stump of Scout's tree in Harper Lee's Alabama suburb, Horan's journey to connect writers to trees is a fascinating adventure.

 Seeds is a lifelong reader's tribute to American authors.  For Horan, visiting the author's homes and the places that may have inspired them is a pilgrimage. His account of the trees and landscape that he finds is a special sort of literary travelogue.  In many ways, Seeds seems like a book perfect for the author who describes himself as "a transient most of my life, I have a knack for bonding with any given locale.  I need only wander around a place for a little while  to feel a keen sense of belonging.  As a teacher, I've learned that someone's environment has as much to tell us about that person as does his or her friends and family." Sure enough, Horan takes us to some unexpected places.

I particularly enjoyed the account of his visit to L. Frank Baum's childhood home in Northern Syracuse, New York.   There is a Wizard of Oz Memorial Oak Grove in North Syracuse where L. Frank Baum had played as a child and was an inspiration for his enchanted forest.   A weak and sickly child, Frank spent much of his childhood on his own.  At twelve, his family moved to Roselawn Estate in Mattydale, New York. Roselawn was located near the first plank road ever built - a street made entirely of wood,  Plank Road was made of hemlock and had an unusual golden color.  It was used to transport salt from the nearby lake to southern parts of New York state. 

Horan describes the thick woods 2 miles away from the Roselawn Estate which had been owned by friends of the Baum family and is now the Wizard of Oz Memorial Oak Grove.  Seven acres in size, it is the most historic old grove in the eastern U.S.  Horan comes across a 150 year old giant red oak that is over 100 feet tall and three times the size of a mature oak.   Horan describes the plaques on several of the ancient oaks and maples, each with dedications to artists, writers, and people that have changed the world:  Walt Disney,  Anne Frank, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King,John Lennon, John Muir, Edgar Alan Poe, and L. Frank Baum.

When Horan visits Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald's beautiful old home - which has been transformed into a museum and rental apartments -he writes about the gigantic and majestic pecan tree nearly 100 feet tall and what it must have been like for Fitzgerald working and taking a break by the tree.  When he visits to Montgomery, Alabama and the street where Truman Capote and Harper Lee lived, he tells us about the oak that that inspired Boo Radley's tree where he left gifts for Atticus Finch's kids. 

When Horan visited Pearl S. Buck's estate, he collected seeds from bamboo and silver maple.  He explored the estate, including her grave site.   In the description of her home and museum and of the spot in Danby, Vermont,  Horan conveys much of Pearl S. Buck and the time in which she lived and wrote.  It's difficult to cover Buck's unusual life, particularly through through her possessions and her land.  Her books and her life have left a longstanding impact on the world - she lived and described a critical point in China's history.  Her books are the best way to know Pearl S. Buck, but hopefully, Horan's visit to her home encourages young people to want to discover her stories.

I found Seeds an unusual and fascinating read. 

ISBN-10: 0061861685 - Paperback $14.00
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011), 384 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Richard Horan is a novelist, an ESL teacher, and a nonfiction book reviewer for the San Fransisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.  His novel Goose Music was a finalist for the Great Lakes Fiction Award and won the ForeWord Reviews Bronze Medal for Book of the Year in Fiction.  He lives in Oswego, New York.

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