Reading Essays: An Invitation

By G. Douglas Atkins | Go to book overview

The Discarnate Word
Scott Russell Sanders’s “Silence”

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is
where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

―Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Yet what we think is less, for sure,
Than what we are, and that is flesh.
Its fresh

Bloom is the best we know. Its dure
Descent

The hardest way that we are sent.

―C. H. Sisson, The Discarnation

OVER THE PAST TWENTY YEARS, roughly, Scott Russell Sanders has published some half dozen collections of essays, including the prizewinning The Paradise of Bombs (1985), and continuing through his latest, The Force of Spirit. Hailed as a nature writer and social critic, Sanders surely derives from Thoreau, but is far less prickly. Perhaps most apparent in Sanders is a deep and broad sympathy. There is, at the same time, a clear rootedness and an abiding appreciation of place, in Sanders’s case stemming from his youth in the limestone country of southern Ohio and, for thirty-some years, Bloomington, Indiana. Sanders’s voice may not (yet) be unmistakable, but it is readily identifiable: warm though not self-effacing, conscientious and caring, particularist and yet universal, questing but by no means restless. When you read his familiar account of the essayist in his important apologia “The Singular First Person,” you cannot but apply the description to Sanders himself. His is, then, a voice to be contended with.

If the fine essays in Secrets of the Universe: Scenes from the Journey Home, including the much-anthologized “Under the Influence,” first published in Harper’s, herald the overarching themes of Sanders’s work, elaboration and

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