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About This Life

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  901 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Once, when asked for advice on how to become a writer, Lopez found himself replying: "Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar." This collection of essays stems directly from that philosophy. Here is far-flung travel (the beauty of remote Hokkaido Island, the over-explored Galápagos, enigmatic Bonaire); a naturalist's concerns (for endangered commu ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by The Harvill Press (first published May 19th 1998)
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I aim to get across that I'm gushing and ranting about these essays; however, no need for lots of exclamations and such.

Proof? I'm definitely not into ones focusing on nature, but those here had me completely hooked. One I found especially powerful was simply titled "Hands" in which he discussed life through hands, his own and others' - outstanding!

Daniel Chaikin
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
36. About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez
published: 1998
format: 273 page Paperback
acquired: from Downtown Books & News in Asheville, NC, in 2014
read: Aug 16-31
rating: 3½

A collection of essays with a nature-writer's tone. I had to work through a few things before I could begin to understand where he was going.

Since Lopez is considered a nature writer, I was maybe a little confused by what I found and by what aspects did and did not appeal to me in this essay collecti
Mar 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Daniel Villines
At the intersection of that Venn diagram of my interests— community and storytelling and wilderness— here sits this book. There are some great essays here— on memory, on art, on biology and geography— and some fascinating subjects— like the essay, “Flight,” his first-hand account of riding shotgun on the boggling logistics of our global economy, or “Orchids on the Volcanos,” on the reality of the present-day Galápagos Islands, or “The Whaleboat,” on whaling from Melville and Moby-Dick to Greely ...more
I don't know, of course, whether you've ever been in the high Arctic in the summer, but I would begin by telling you how striking the light is. For two months or more the sun doesn't dip below the horizon. In a treeless, winter-hammered landscape like Alaska's north slope, the light creates a feeling of compassion that is almost palpable. Each minute of light experienced feels like one stolen from a crushing winter. You walk gently about, respectful of plants, with a sense of how your body brea ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Not many books of essays bring me to tears. I was affected in almost every synapse in my brain and every emotion in my heart; this was perfection in language, in heart, in science, in exploration and adventure, in deep, real connections between strangers, in anthropological examinations of tribes and people; perfection in being attuned to every holy and sacred place, thing and moment in the world; and, and, and, his being able to verbalize it so so so exquisitely. Gush, gush, gush. An anonymous ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who appreciate the complexity of language and see travel as a means of personal discovery
I have had previous encounters with Barry Lopez as an author and a speaker and am for the most part enthralled by his prose. However, rating an anthology, whether one filled with prose or with poetry, is a more difficult undertaking. Much of About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory is articulately phrased & even eloquent. One gropes for a manner in which to express an appreciation for the writing of Barry Lopez that will do him justice.

And yet I did find a few of the essays tiresome
Oct 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Lopez is one of those writers that every nonfiction writer is told to read. His name is on almost every page of the little stack of “Books You Should Read” lists that I keep in the right-hand cubby of my desk. Yet, here I am, just reading him for the first time. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite accurate. I think I read “The Eye of the Raven,” a selection from Desert Notes, in some anthology along the way of life, and it was really striking.

Thus, when I came across his book About This Life in some
Heidi Burkhart
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this absolutely ages and ages ago! Lopez gets even better with time. A wonderful book for thoughtful and reflective readers.
About This Life, a collection of essays and written work from the late Barry Lopez.
Some pieces resonated deeply with me, some stirred me, some fascinated me, a few - I didn't care much for. That's the way it goes with collective works.
Lopez was a gifted writer. I'm glad I invested the time in reading this.

My favorites: A Voice (introduction)
The American Geographies and Learning to See, which felt connected and stirred me the most.

"To really come to an understanding of a specific American geog
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
This is my introduction to Barry Lopez and it was a less engaging one than I hoped it would be. The essays are personal, at times too personal, not in the sense that they are intimate but in that they present a take that left this reader wondering, “Really? You did that, huh?” On a long country road trek across the country you stopped to be respectful of any and all roadkill be it a deer, raccoon, cat, squirrel, crow, rodent. Each time you pulled off the road to provide an ecological burial? Tha ...more
Jerry Pogan
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I became a big fan of Barry Lopez decades ago after reading "Arctic Dreams". He reminds me a great deal of Peter Matthiessen who also writes great fiction and non-fiction. This is a collection of essays that combine his personal life and naturalist life. I especially enjoyed the book because I was able to connect some parts of my own life with some of his essays. First off, I read much of this book on a flight from Boise via Portland to Austin Texas and the book includes an essay about his exper ...more
Apr 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book. This book is an unburied treasure, a masterpiece adding new words to my lexicon and new thoughts to my cerebrum sentence by sentence. Barry Lopez is an incredible individual, and this compilation of travel writing and personal reflections shows his character with a clarity that I have very rarely come across. I read with a mix of envy awe and joy at his vast knowledge of the natural world along with technology and human history.

A month plummeting around the world on 747 cargo plane
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment, writing
You may know Barry Lopez from books such as "Arctic Dreams," "Of Wolves and Men," "Field Notes," or "Crossing Open Ground."

All of them pale when comparing them to the incredible collection of writing and essays found in "About This Life."

Rather than solely describing nature as potential for conquest, Lopez steps back and gazes on the relationship between human nature and non-human nature, mulling time and place, and asking: What does it mean to be who we are, where we are?

His writing is some of
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“Being on time is like being on fire.”
These essays accomplish what I think Terry Tempest Williams set out to do – describe the relationship between man and nature, as well as celebrate observation and experience of the natural world - but do it so much better. Lopez has a remarkable talent for incredibly precise, minute descriptions of the sensory and psychological experiences of and reactions to nature. He really makes the reader slow down, evoking memories and drawing so much meaning out of t
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It is old enough that it may be hard to get but I have chosen it to be the featured read for The Stranger Than Fiction Book Group for Sept. My hero Kaite Stover has managed to find 9 copies. This book of essays about all matter of things is worth reading if all you read is the essay discribing the author's hands. If you work with your hands or love someone who does this may bring tears to your eyes. It did mine. This was a National Book Award winner and Lopez has al ...more
Barry Lopez, who died recently and had a Fresh Air obit I heard, was a prolific travel writer. His About This Life (a semi-autobiographical collection of shorter pieces) is the kind of heady nonfiction that seems flat at best but is actually quite deep. Simplistic on the surface, but soon pretty marvelous. Not informational travel purely (though the Bonaire or Hokkaido essays or the ones about North American animals do have a lot of information in them), but it's experiential travel, like memori ...more
Kate Mcphail
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars
A breath of fresh air
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This man has a beautiful mind.
Jeff Garrison
This is a wonderful collection of essays. I listened to an abridged edition as well as read the essays. The Audible version of the book was wonderful because the late Lopez read his work.

The collection (in the book and on audible) begins with a memoir essay titled “A Voice.” In this wonderful piece, Barry tells the story of his young life, from his early years in New York, to moving and living much of his school years in California, and then back to New York for a few years before he headed off
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book holds enough ideas and connections to fill a lifetime of thought. Barry Lopez is incredible. I had read some of these same essays in a different compilation over a decade ago, and it was kind of amazing to notice how much of the imagery stuck with me and simmered and developed over the years, and how it paved the way for my literary interests in the German tradition and my dissertation work.
Jun 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A few years ago I was volunteering at the Berkeley Book Festival, giving out wristbands and tickets in front of one of the large venues. Barry Lopez was speaking and the Berkeley crowd seemed jazzed. I had never heard of him and came across this recently. Wow. The quality of his noticing is intense. It makes me want to go all around noticing and describing things too.
Valerie Vlasenko
Mar 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful meditative read. This was my first but definitely not the last book by the author. It did create distinct images of scenes, landscapes and characters described in the book.
George Seaton
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cindy Ann
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a collection of essays, I didn't feel they were cohesive. The only thing they had in common, at times, were their author.

I enjoyed the words very much, though. My favorite essay, Effluerage: The Stoke of Fire, is a beautiful description of an anagama kiln and the artist community that attends it.

His patience and mastery with words and his intensity of observation were evident throughout the essays. I will attempt to read some of his other work.
Steve Duong
Sep 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: big-picture-301
I consider anyone who reads this to have patience like a temple. I could not for the life of me sit down and read this book. Every single page was a triumph in not loosing consciousness. I have never read a book so boring before in my life. Don't get me wrong, I love Barry Lopez, I've read a few of his books (mainly compilations of essays and poems) but this.. this was just not something I could stomach. Look, Barry Lopez is a traveler. You can either find him 2000 ft in the air or roaming a int ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was my first introduction to Barry Lopez. After asking a local bookseller for a recommendation based on my interest in nature, this book of essays and shorts was passed my way.

Lopez has a writing style that helped me realize how little I've bothered to take a look at so many natural phenomena. His perception of light and color have a pallet much more expansive and descriptive than my own. Yet through his descriptions I find I can occasionally expand my own capacity of visualization.

These st
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
"I came to value exceedingly novels and essays and works of nonfiction that connected human enterprise to real and specific places, and I grew to be mildly distrustful of work that occured in no particular place, work so cerebral and detached as to be refutable only in an argument of ideas."

I struggled with how many stars to give this book. This is the first book I've read, haven't liked, but respected. I think it comes down to the quote I copied above. As readers we value very different things
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading Barry Lopez. Many chapters of this book were very engaging. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about his experience traveling on container planes delivering unbelievable "products" around the world. I would never have thought I would enjoy that and I learned so much. There were a few chapters that did not hold my interest, but I will definitely read more of his books! ...more
Brian Griffith
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit, ecology, animals
This book is good for fans of Lopez, who want to know more about him personally. I found it an eclectic collection of writing, some on journeys to places, some on appreciating crafts, some on Lopez's adventures in fast cars as a young man. I appreciated the travel writing, especially about the islands of Bonaire, Hokkaido, and the Galapagos archipelago. ...more
I usually love Barry Lopez, but this collection didn't click for me. I didn't like that the essays were all in different exotic places, and that the ones I read weren't that long. It began to feel like globe-hopping without any connecting thread. This might be a good book to read after reading all the other Barry Lopez essays, with this one as desert. ...more
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Nature Literature: About This Life discussion 78 38 Feb 24, 2021 11:45AM  

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Barry Holstun Lopez is an American author, essayist, and fiction writer whose work is known for its environmental and social concerns.

Lopez has been described as "the nation's premier nature writer" by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his non-fiction, he frequently examines the relationship between human culture and physical landscape, while in his fiction he addresses issues of intimacy, ethics an

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“Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.” 21 likes
“For so many centuries, the exchange of gifts has held us together. It has made it possible to bridge the abyss where language struggles.” 18 likes
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