I've been plodding through this book for a month, because I'm the type of person who's determined to finish a book unless it's completely terrible or boring or both. I finally finished it today. This book was challenging for me. I was disappointed to be so bored by/frustrated with a book with such a promising premise. Basically, the author sees trees as a sort of hybrid of witnesses, guideposts, and inspirational figures in our lives. He is moved by the memories of his own special trees from childhood, and believes that the trees that stood alongside our most celebrated authors as they grew up must have figured prominently into their writing. Therefore, he decides to travel around the country, harvesting seeds from those trees and nurturing them into saplings and eventually trees.
I was hooked by the premise, but the book didn't live up to what I expected. For one thing, the book is more about the author than it is about the trees he encounters and the writers who he believes owe so much to them. The chapter about his second visit to Rowan Oak is less about Faulkner and more about the author's flat tire. Similarly, the chapter about Thomas Wolfe barely mentions the writer; it's mostly about Horan's own adventures around Asheville (Wolfe's hometown) with his friends. I don't know a lot about Wolfe; this chapter could have been a great introduction for me. Unfortunately, I am left having learned mostly that Thomas Wolfe had a home in Asheville. Hrm.
I would have liked to learn more about the trees and the American figures he chose to write about. I would have liked to find out which of the seedlings survived to become trees in their own right, and where they ended up (there's a bafflingly short two pages at the end that explain that they may be on their way to a greenhouse preservation project, but we never find out exactly what happens). Instead, I learned that Horan and his daughters watched an HBO sitcom in the car outside of Monticello, that he and his buddies apparently really like to take road trips, and that he loves to compare himself to the authors he's writing about (Faulkner wrote all over his walls? SO DID HORAN! Welty cried when reading one of her own stories aloud to an audience? SO DID HORAN!).
I finished the book feeling less like Horan sees himself as a small part of a big, magical world, and more like Horan felt like he was doing the world a gigantic favor by undertaking this project. It's a shame, because the idea is a literary gold mine. It's pretty frustrating to see someone come up with such a genius idea for a project and fail at it.