SEEDS by Richard Horan

Book Quote:

“The leaves of the Bodhi are a wondrous shape. The round broadleaf describes an almost perfect circle, with the midrib extending way down into a long thin lobe forming a tail like a stingray. The leaves, I was told, are suggestive of the Buddha’s ears.”

Book Review:

Review by Doug Bruns  (APR 20, 2011)

There is a scene in the movie, The Social Network, where the Zuckerberg character sits down at his dorm room computer and plaintively declares, “I need an idea.” It is a sensation I suspect many can relate to: that building up of energy, the antsiness and the creative urge which begs to somehow be addressed. In the movie, of course, the idea is big, world-changing big. Facebook is born. Most of the time, surety is lacking and the energy petters out, the idea half-baked and forgotten. There is a sense of that in this book, the feeling of an author in search of an idea. And even the author doesn’t seem sure of its worth. Horan writes, early on: “My cockamamie scheme, to restate it loosely, was this: I would go around the country collecting tree seeds at the homes of famous peoples I admired, grow them into saplings, then buy a cheap parcel of land and plant them there.” He continues, “If all went well, in a few years I would start giving the trees to my book-, nature-, and history-loving friends.” The thing is, unless the idea is crushingly brilliant, the holder of the idea is too often unsure of its value. That usually shows in the execution. Sometimes it turns out to be “cockamamie.” Sometimes not.

Perhaps this idea, collecting seeds from the trees who shaded the great, is indeed lame. The book is tentative that way with a feeling of the random about it. For instance, on page eleven the author shows up in Oxford, Mississippi, at, where else?, Faulkner’s home, Rowen Oak. But, he discovers a sign, “Closed for Repairs.” At Flannery O’Connor’s home he finds a no trespassing sign. Helen Keller’s place is closed, as is Rachel Carson’s. (“My only disappointment about the house being closed was the fact that I couldn’t ask questions specific to the vegetation on the grounds.”) Would a more researched, less random, adventure come to such dead-ends? Is it half-baked? In his defense, Horan’s is not the journey of the tourist. Indeed, he seems ill-at-ease when he does gain entry to a writer’s home; and he disdains the overblown tourist trap. Taking the tour of Emerson’s house in Concord he writes: “The docent wore a frozen smile as she delivered her monologue, and I began to kick myself for having decided to take the tour. I should have been outside on the front lawn, where swollen acorns and pregnant pine cones beckoned to me to pluck them up.”

Those comments aside, this is a fun book. It does not take itself too seriously, and leans to the light and breezy. The author’s voice is compelling. He seems like a good companion for a road trip, even if it’s an armchair adventure. But he is not to be underestimated. His goal is nothing less than to establish a connection to the creatively and historically profound. And when that connection works, it is lovely. It is obvious who Horan’s heros are. The fashion in which he writes about them, thrown in among those who elicit less passion, stands out and calls attention to itself. Of Jack Kerouac, for example, he writes: “Somewhere down the road, with the sun sinking low on the horizon, casting biblical shadows across the rolling continent from end to bittersweet end, when I know where I am going at long last, I’ll think of Jack Kerouac, young Jack Kerouac, with a football under his arm, a rucksack on his back, and the holy glow of a saint…the brother I never had….” Or upon visiting Walden: “Walden Pond is as sacred a place as there is on this planet, and its most famous inhabitant, Henry David Thoreau, is as saintly a prophet as has ever walked the earth.”

It is generally accepted that the better the reviewer, the less you will find of him or her in the review. Like a journalist, the good reviewer should refrain from pontification, self revelation and opinion. But wait, we read books for as many reasons as there are readers and one of those reasons is to experience a connection to others through the shared story. On this level, it doesn’t matter, fiction or fact, the reading experience of which I refer is deeply personal. One can’t help but respond on a personal level when one reads in this fashion. Even the circumspect reviewer steps up.

I make this editorial aside by way of saying, I want to ride along with Horan. I too have sought out my literary heros. I’ve snuck into the room in remote India where Chatwin wrote The Songlines; peered into the window of Virginia Woolf’s London flat (now an office full of busy people turning the wheels of commerce); visited Gertrude and Alice’s apartment in Paris where Hemingway stood in the lobby and eavesdropped, to name just three pilgrimages. I share this as a way of saying, I understand–and enjoy–the premise at work here. Hogan and I are brothers in the same tribe. I only wish he had carved out the time to better explore those places and people about which he was truly devoted and excised the rest. His enthusiasm is compelling when he focuses on that which is most personally meaningful.

There is a nice–and surprising–end note that sums up his effort. It is not a surprise, but I don’t think elaboration is fair. Suffice it to say, his efforts, the substantial collection of “legacy” trees and seeds he has collected finds a home that is both meaningful and profound beyond his personal effort. In that fashion, he succeeds far beyond the intentions for his “cockamamie scheme.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011)
REVIEWER: Doug Bruns
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Written Lives by Javier Mairas




April 20, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Non-fiction, Unique Narrative

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.