Artful and comic essays of keen appreciation and thoughtful study of the invaluable wooded world
Award-winning nature writer John Leland offers a collection of twenty-seven short, poetic essays that marry science and the humanities as the author seeks meaning in trees. Readings in Wood is an investigation of trees and forests and also of wood as a material that people have found essential in the creation of society and culture. Leland views with wit and erudition the natural world and the curious place of human beings as saviors and destroyers of this world.
At once personal memoir, natural history, and cultural criticism, the book reflects Leland's idiosyncratic vision. In one essay Leland asks the trees, "Do you, like us, rejoice in sunny days, dance with the wind, and blush to have your sexual desires known by prurient passersby? Why, like us, do you torture yourselves reaching for a heaven beyond your grasp? Why twist yourselves so that your grain becomes a record of your grief? What mystic patterns of science, math, and religion hide in your whirls of leaf and branch?"
As vast as a forest, topics range from tree grain and leaf shape to economic theories, mathematics, and engineering. Readings in Wood is a hybrid testament of science, faith, superstition, and disbelief learned from sitting on tree trunks and peering at leaves and fungi. Leland hopes others will join him in nature's classroom. Quite aware of the irony, he reminds us, "These leaves you desultorily turn over once hung in a green wood gone to make this book. Touching a book, you touch a tree. I pray that Readings in Wood's essays, touching you, may justify in some small way the trees who died in their making."
Aliens in the Backyard: Plant and Animal Imports into America, Learning the Valley: Excursions into the Shenandoah Valley, and Porcher's Creek: Lives between the Tides. Leland teaches English at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
is the author of several books published by the University of South Carolina Press including
"The ruminations of John Leland's Readings in Wood are more than a series of personal essays on the names and nature of the woods, this book constitutes a hymn to the technical and the beautiful, a meander through the geography, geology, botany, mathematics and vigor of our plants, especially in the southern Appalachians. The writing is by turns lyrical, clever, extemporaneous and urgent. Leland is a deeply informed observer and analyst of everything from Madagascar star orchids to karst to old field succession. I recommend this book to anyone curious about the ways the wild and orderly commingle and complete each other, and us."—R. T. Smith, editor, Shenandoah, and writer-in-residence, Washington & Lee University
"John Leland knows the woods of the southern Appalachian Mountains in ways that can teach a thing or two to even the most knowledgeable botanist. In Readings in Wood, he brings the botanical into direct relationship with the spiritual, using a prose style that is as profound as it is pyrotechnic. The short essays that make up this book are dense and delightful, like a hillside of ripe wine berries."—Jim Warren, Washington and Lee University