Discovering an Author and Handling Disappointment

There’s this author by the name of John Muir. Heard of him? Probably not. When I read about him on the Library of America website, Story of the Week, I had such high hopes. I thought He’ll be my next favorite author. Move over Steinbeck,Fitzgerald and Cather (yeah, I’m big on American writers). All the signs pointed to FAVORITE.

  • According to LOA, he was the next Thoreau.
  • He loved nature and I love nature. One of the first serious things I ever wrote was an Ode to Water.
  • “He rebelled by becoming a vagabond, and by asking powerful questions about the orthodoxies of his day and ours, especially the notion that people stood at the center of the universe.” And that just screams awesome.
  • He shares my belief in worldly interconnectedness. And by that I mean that everything in the world is related to everything else.

But then I read his short story, A Wind-Storm in the Forests, and it dawned on me that… nature writing kind of sucks. It was a terrible epiphany — it didn’t feel good at all. It was as though I was tearing off a part of my identity.

Here’s an interesting tidbit though… I really enjoyed reading his story at first. I thought Wow, what powerful writing, what descriptive language. Thing is — that kind of language and writing style is very distinct and too much of it gets boring fast. It’s like when you hear one note for an extended period of time. You’ll either get annoyed or you’ll stop hearing it all together. His nature descriptions were wonderfully written but they needed to be weaved in with plot, with people, with… more than just setting. I couldn’t even concentrate long enough to find out what the plot was. Ugh, it was so sad.

But now I must pick up my disappointment and move on. Hm… what to read next?


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. s0beurself
    May 09, 2010 @ 16:13:21

    Sounds like the same problem most films have these days. They lure you in with special effects, but lack the substance to maintain our interest…

    *cough* Avatar *cough*


    • Dominique
      May 09, 2010 @ 22:27:32

      Haha, well I can’t say anything about that because I haven’t seen the movie yet. Honestly, I’ve had a good movie run lately so I’m pretty satisfied. Last thing I saw was a 70s flick — The China Syndrome. Not fantastic, but pretty good.

      And I thanks you for commenting :)


  2. sarahwedgbrow
    May 09, 2010 @ 16:27:08

    Very interesting. And, yeah, how disappointing. I very much enjoy nature in experience and in writing…and the connectedness of things. We are not the center…love that concept.
    It’s interesting because a lot of the “nature” writers I have read are actually just using the natural world as an example of good principles. Frost wrote of farming and the bucolic life as a way to demonstrate the work that goes into writing…still, he was succinct in his language (I mean, you have to be as a lyric poet). As far as I have read, Frost wasn’t actually a very good farmer…but, he sure evoked a nostalgia for it!
    Your insight is good to know, because I have an entire chapter devoted to setting (and processing thought). I have always felt this chapter was my bit of indulgence, but my beta reader said it’s her favorite. Will have to see…


    • Dominique
      May 09, 2010 @ 22:57:27

      If you like that theory, you might like David Christian. He’s a big fan of “Big History”, the idea that we should study the entire time span of history, not just the recent stuff (and by recent I mean everything ancient egypt/greece and up). He wanted historians to study ALL the way back. I read this fantastic paper by him once — (but I forgot why I liked it haha).

      And as for your setting scene, don’t be discouraged. I’ve read plenty of masterful setting scenes. Willa Cather is my all time favorite in that department. I think I’m actually going to write a more detailed blog post on my thoughts on how Muir went wrong. What he could have done to improve his work. Ideas, ideas.

      I must say, however, that in small doses — like if I were to read paragraph a day — Muir’s writing was very melodic.


      • sarahwedgbrow
        May 10, 2010 @ 18:14:00

        So that article was a little longer than I wanted to read at the moment, but there are some great insights. Like World History is about the collection of stories of the human race and experience on the whole earth, not about the collective stories of each individual culture. That’s very interesting.
        You know, I haven’t read Cather since college. Might have to crack open some old textbooks and have a peek.
        You know, I have to read Walden in small doses. It’s very indulgent. :)

  3. Dominique
    May 10, 2010 @ 18:17:05

    Hahaha yeah I never got around to finishing that article. But the bits that I did read, I really liked a lot.

    I love Cather. She’s my girl.


  4. Maribeth
    May 11, 2010 @ 12:50:45

    Your gift has been shipped. Woo-Hoo.

    I feel your pain. There have been times where I thought I would absolutely love an author because so many people praised their work but came out feeling disappointed because I was not able to see what they were seeing. Nice post.



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