The pieces gathered in this book are essays, by which I mean they are experiments in making sense of things, and they are personal, by which I mean the voice speaking is the nearest I can come to my own voice. For me the writing of a personal essay is like finding my way through a forest without being quite sure what game I am chasing, what landmark I am seeking. I sniff down one path until some heady smell tugs me in a new direction, and then off I go, dodging and circling, lured on by the calls of unfamiliar birds, puzzled by the tracks of strange beasts, leaping from stone to stone across rivers, barking up one tree after another. The pleasure in writing an essay—and, when the writing is any good, the pleasure in reading it—comes from this dodging and leaping, this movement of the mind.
It must not be idle movement, however, if the essay is to hold up; it must yield a pattern, draw a map of experience, be driven by deep concerns. The surface of a river is alive with lights and reflections, the breaking of foam over rocks, but underneath that dazzle it is going somewhere. We should expect as much from an essay: the shimmer and play of mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current.
Most of the fashions in fiction of the past twenty years have led away from candor—toward irony, satire, artsy jokes, or close-lipped coyness, anything but a serious, direct statement of what the author thinks and feels. If you hide behind enough screens, no one will ever hold you to an opinion or demand from you a coherent vision or take you for a charlatan. The essay appeals to me because it is not hedged round by these literary inhibitions. You may speak without disguise of what moves and worries and excites you. If the words you put down are foolish, then at least everyone knows who the fool is.Reading back through this book, I find myself brooding in essay after essay on the origins of violence, especially that collective madness we call war; on the ways we inhabit the land; on our fellowship with animals; on the use of hands; on the tangled legacy of maleness; on the mysterious gravitation of love. But such an abstract listing of themes is misleading, for the essays themselves deal only in the concrete and particular. They are narratives; they speak about the world in stories, in terms of human actions and speech and the tangible world we inhabit.
"Spirited, elegant essays. . . .Beautiful and angry. . . .A wonderful book." --Carol Bly, Hungry Mind Review
"In these eleven essays, knowing about the world is not an intellectual exercise but a sensation, or a chain of sensations, told by a troubled intelligence. . . . They give the reader more evidence than a poem and more intention than a story, more detailed substance from more angles than either poetry or fiction would." --Kim R. Stafford, The New York Times Book Review
"Redemptive and crucial. . . Scott Sanders observes life like a rustic saint." --Charles Jonson, author of Middle Passage
"Will captivate anyone who wants to feel the pulse of our era." --William J. Schafer, Louisville Courier-Journal