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The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature

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“In me, there is the red of miry clay, the brown of spring floods, the gold of ripening tobacco. All of these hues are me; I am, in the deepest sense, colored.” From these fertile soils of love, land, identity, family, and race emerges The Home Place, a big-hearted, unforgettable memoir by ornithologist and professor of ecology J. Drew Lanham.

Dating back to slavery, Edgefield County, South Carolina—a place “easy to pass by on the way somewhere else”—has been home to generations of Lanhams. In The Home Place, readers meet these extraordinary people, including Drew himself, who over the course of the 1970s falls in love with the natural world around him. As his passion takes flight, however, he begins to ask what it means to be “the rare bird, the oddity.”

By turns angry, funny, elegiac, and heartbreaking, The Home Place is a remarkable meditation on nature and belonging, at once a deeply moving memoir and riveting exploration of the contradictions of black identity in the rural South—and in America today.

232 pages, Hardcover

First published October 11, 2016

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About the author

J. Drew Lanham

8 books83 followers
A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, J. Drew Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. He is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, and in several anthologies, including The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home. An Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, he and his family live in the Upstate of South Carolina, a soaring hawk’s downhill glide from the southern Appalachian escarpment that the Cherokee once called the Blue Wall.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 374 reviews
Profile Image for Melki.
5,589 reviews2,310 followers
May 9, 2017
Nature seems worthy of worship.

Lanham, a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University, presents a wonderful gift - the story of his boyhood spent mostly outdoors in Edgefield, South Carolina. He pays tribute to his family's homestead, and its remarkable inhabitants - his strong grandmother, and schoolteacher parents. But mostly, the book is filled with homages to the beauty of nature. There's so much wonderful writing here, it was hard to pick out just a few passages, but as one who spent many a lovely Sunday morning held prisoner in church, this one struck a chord:

There was no air conditioning in the church for a long time. That meant that it was hot, sometimes hellishly so. The place where Jesus and his angry father lived to help me get into paradise wasn't even comfortable. The pictures on the church fans - Martin Luther King Jr.'s intensely kind gaze; the detached but perfectly poised (and suspiciously white) praying hands; and my favorite, the perfect little white country church nestled in autumn splendor -were minor but welcome distractions that helped to pass the hours. Was there another tortured, starving black boy, I wondered, sitting in the perfect little church, forever imprisoned in the fan's flat dimensions? Surely it was cooler in there. The leafy riot of red and yellow framing the little chapel looked like October should feel. I could imagine the frosty morning, smell the ripening season, hear the honking geese overhead. Were the brilliant colors of the leaves against the perfect blue sky what heaven looked like? I hoped so. I dreamed of that place. Not the little church - or even heaven - but the brilliant landscape and the wild perfection that surrounded it. My God lived out there.

This book had much in common with Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, a title that helped awaken the author's interest in his surroundings. In addition to his childhood memories, Lanham also discusses his adult life spent observing nature, including a funny, yet somewhat harrowing chapter on birding while black:

. . . here I am, on stop number thirty-two of the Laurel Falls Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route: a large black man in one of the whitest places in the state, sitting on the side of the road with binoculars pointed toward a house with the Confederate flag proudly displayed. Rambling trucks passing by, a honking horn or two, and curious double-takes are infrequent but still distract me from the task at hand. Maybe there's some special posthumous award given for dying in the line of duty on a BBS route . . .

On mornings like this I sometimes question why I choose to do such things. Was I crazy to take this route, up here, so far away from anything? What if someone in the house is not so keen on having a black man out here, maybe checking out things - or people - he shouldn't be? I've heard that some mountain folks don't like nosy outsiders poking around. Yet here I am, a black man birding.

This is simply a joy to read, offering a look back, a glance at the future, and an awestruck, wide-eyed examination of the magnificence that surrounds us.

It was a universe where wonder and awe had yet to be tossed from the temple by science and cynicism. There was way more to heaven and earth than could be dreamed back then. It was a different world, one I sometimes wish I could revisit.
Profile Image for Scott Neuffer.
Author 4 books9 followers
June 28, 2016
Perhaps the most monumental book I've read or reviewed about race relations in America. Lanham, a black naturalist, birder, and professor, shares his fond memories of his beloved family ranch in South Carolina. His land ethic, stemming from Leopold, Carson, and other conservationist luminaries, is unique in that it addresses a segment of the population historically dispossessed of land. His accounts of racism in the South are harrowing, while his passages on nature are gorgeous. This is a significant read in many ways, deepening our understanding of race in America but also the continued importance of forward-looking conservation.
Profile Image for Tama.
62 reviews10 followers
November 22, 2016
As a teen and twenty-something I read loads of great nature writing from the 50s and 60s, and Lanham's style is definitely reminiscent of those years. I woke early this morning just to read before I went to work, and now I can't wait until the day is done so I can pick up that book again
A gorgeous, gentle memoir. I'm only halfway through, but this is already the best book I've read this year, surpassing 'Lab Girl' by a smidge.
Profile Image for Lisa.
366 reviews42 followers
August 28, 2021
"I'm a man of color . . . the red of miry clay, plowed up and planted to pass a legacy forward. There is the brown of spring floods rushing over a Savannah River shoal. There is the gold of ripening tobacco drying in the heat of summer's last breath. There are endless rows of cotton's cloudy white. My plumage is a kaleidoscopic rainbow of an eternal hope and the deepest blue of despair and darkness. All of these hues are me; I am, in the deepest sense, colored."

So begins J. Drew Lanham's memoir. Through this mostly chronological collection of essays he tells his story, growing up on a multitude of acres in South Carolina with plenty of time to explore and learn about his environment while mostly living with his grandmother who was deeply connected to nature. His father also had a deep knowing of the land and his animals and cultivated a small farm while teaching earth science at a local school.

While attending Clemson, initially studying engineering, Lanham realized he needed to follow his passion and switched his major to zoology. He tells of some of his experiences, sometimes frightening, being the only black man in his field and encountering white men and Confederate flags in areas not always friendly to African Americans. Lanham went on to earn his doctorate and to teach at Clemson. Along the way he began to wonder why so few men and women of color studied the natural sciences and how to inspire them to do so.

He suggests that one reason people of color, particularly those in the South, may not be engaged with nature is because land has always belonged to someone else, not to mention that it carried the blood of enslaved ancestors. He goes on to say:

“The wild things and places belong to all of us. So while I can’t fix the bigger problems of race of race in the United States—can’t suggest a means by which I, and others like me, will always feel safe—I can prescribe a solution in my own small corner. Get more of people of color ‘out there.’ Turn oddities into commonplace. The presence of more black birders, wildlife biologists, hunters, hikers, and fisherfolk will say to others that we, too, appreciate the warble of a summer tanager, the incredible instincts of a whitetail buck, and the sound of the wind in the tall pines. Our responsibility is to pass something on to those coming after. As young people of color reconnect with what so many of their ancestors knew—that our connections to the land run deep, like the taproots of mighty oaks; that the land renews and sustains us—maybe things will begin to change.”

As Lanham began to explore his passion outside of scientific data he was encouraged to write about his experiences. These writings grew into this book. I can see his growth as a writer through this collection. While uneven, his writing is often poetic, sometimes funny, always warm and frequently meditative. He has subsequently written a book of poetry, Sparrow Envy, which I hope to read soon.

The Home Place is a deeply felt homage to Lanham's family and to human connection to the land.

Profile Image for Shirleynature.
196 reviews58 followers
June 9, 2018
Lanham shares lyrically-written stories, deep connections to family, his strong sense of place, a passion for nature, and optimism and humor, along with the frustration of being the uncommon African American ornithologist in a predominantly white field. Every reader will be inspired and feel these connections. I highly recommend this book to book clubs!

Link to my interview with the author:
Profile Image for Jen.
284 reviews1 follower
January 2, 2017
Like Drew Lanham himself, this book is big-hearted, funny, generous, and grounded in a deep love for the natural world. Aldo Leopold famously described how landowners write their signatures on the face of the land as they make management choices. In this memoir about growing up in rural South Carolina, Drew Lanham shows us how the land writes its own signature on us. This signature, part of the "colored" identity of Lanham, is revealed in these pages as indelible in ways that are deeply tied to family and memory. It represents ties that concurrently bind us and guide us forward, forever shaping the people we are, the choices we make, and the understanding we have of the world. As you meet the Lanham clan and travel through Drew's youthful explorations of the "Home Place," you'll feel the gentle press of the crayons too. They will fill in places in your heart that may have faded from memory, but nonetheless bind us together in the common ground of family, freedom, coming of age, and love. This is a must-read for any lover of nature or of great nature writing. One of the best things I read this year.
Profile Image for Wendalina.
159 reviews
June 17, 2018
I caught the tail end of a show on NPR that featured J. Drew Lanham speaking. He'd written an essay, Birding While Black, and also this book, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature. I can't recall what he said specifically in the two minutes of the interview that I'd heard, but I was intrigued and I tracked down this book. What a sense of place he creates. Everything is so vivid. It's a real treat to read someone who is so observant share it all with you. The birds, the trees, the cows, the bugs, his home place, his family - I feel like I've been to Edgefield, South Carolina. A taste of his words and his view on his world: "Before I got too deep into the woods, I might take a few minutes to lie in the pasture lane, enticing the 'buzzards' to investigate. I lay as still as I could and did my best imitation of something stinking and dead. Once or twice the ruse worked and I could almost count the feathers in the broad black wings and seethe bare red heads twisting to investigate before my nerve shriveled. I miraculously revived to run away before the vultures could peck my eyes out, like Mamatha had warned me they'd do. I felt closer to flight by bringing the birds nearer to my earthbound existence. Watching those scavengers tracing circles in the sky was hypnotic. I often wished we could trade places, that I could sail as effortlessly on the wind as they did." (excerpted from the section, Flock, chapter titled, The Home Place, which is also the name of the book). I'm grateful to have caught that 2 minutes on NPR so that I could hear about J Drew Lanham and find this book. It was so interesting and so beautifully written. Makes me want to get outside. Also eye opening to what it's like to be a black man out in nature, and on lands nurtured by slave labor. I'm not always drawn in to read history, so it was nice to get the history by way of an author who loves and appreciates nature so much. Very good book.
Profile Image for Emma Hanlin.
52 reviews3 followers
April 16, 2018
The content of this book is fascinating and crucial in the white-dominated field of environmental studies. Lanham focuses on his upbringing in a farm in South Carolina, the "Home Place," exploring how his connection to the land directed the course of his future and was complicated by the past (read: slavery). He writes about becoming an ornithologist despite feeling as though this wasn't something black boys did, the struggles of birding in the rural South as a man of color, his search to find his genealogy and discover how his ancestors came to Edgefield, his choice to change his degree from engineering to zoology before his senior year of college, and other experiences and influences that directed his life. The story of Lanham's life, family, and career kept me intrigued throughout the book. He gives great insight into how to make environmentalism a more inclusive field and why African Americans might struggle to feel connected to the land.

The writing style of the book, however, is a barrier to enjoying the content. The language is flowery, synonyms are used in confusing ways, there is a new metaphor in almost every paragraph, and there are countless allusions and cliches that don't seem intentional. Granted, Lanham is an ornithologist, not a writer, and it's a little difficult to criticize a memoir ("How DARE you interpret your own life in that way?"), but as a reader the experience was a little exhausting.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,440 reviews26 followers
September 27, 2019
This excellent memoir recounts the author’s experiences growing up in a hard working African-American family living on their own farm in South Carolina. Each chapter independently explores an aspect of his relationship with his family and/or his encounters with nature, then and now; together they provide an overview of the author’s unique perspective and the bedrock it is built on. Well-written, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Leslie.
285 reviews104 followers
December 17, 2019
Despite being unevenly written, I really appreciate this book and ultimately found it strongly inspiring. I've been journaling in response....
Profile Image for Woody.
Author 1 book3 followers
September 23, 2020
One of the best, most timely memoirs I've read, Lanham writes eloquently about his upbringing in rural South Carolina, and how he came to be a natural history professor, birder and conservationist. His example is inspiring, his humility refreshing, and his world-view, much-needed. He's a kindred spirit I hope to meet some day.
Profile Image for Misti.
297 reviews4 followers
January 23, 2018
I can't begin to express how much I loved this book! I took my time with it and really savored it.
394 reviews2 followers
July 16, 2018
This book was an easy 4 star rating for me, but the last four chapters elevated it to 5 stars. I am of somewhat similar age as Mr. Lanham and could relate to many of his childhood memories concerning events, tv shows, having parents as teachers and the importance of education, and BB guns of the time. Although I spent much of my summer time in a camp house my dad built in Maine with an outhouse, running around the woods, working in my grandparents vegetable garden, and swimming in the ocean, the majority of my childhood was spent in the suburbs of a small city in Western Massachusetts. It really wasn't until my adult life that I took a real interest and appreciation in nature. Mr Lanham's retelling of his childhood through adult life with his love of nature running through it was wonderful. The descriptions & telling of his family members gave me a real picture of each of their beings. As a fellow birder, I never really thought about who birds and who is out in nature and who is not. But the last four chapters connecting his last name and ancestry of southern black America to the same last name of the southern white Americans in his own county was eye opening. Two churches/one name. Please read it. Being white and not from the south, I know I do not understand, but Mr. Lanham helps me to. All very upsetting. And as Mr Lanham alludes to, slavery may be a reason why there aren't as many people of color out there birding & loving nature. I missed a chance to hear him in Lawrence, KS and I really regret that.
Profile Image for John Moore.
12 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2017
Few books have been as enjoyable to read as The Home Place. Lanham, a master storyteller, writes beautifully about his homeplace and his life experience. It is a particular story with broad appeal. Lanham loves nature and his telling of his story draws the reader into their own love affair with nature. The Home Place is also a telling of the story of race in America. I was particularly moved by Lanham's attempt to connect with his family's history, a story with roots in slavery. Lanham, and his family, have roots in the soil, history and culture of South Carolina. Lanham, in one self description:
I am an ornithologist, wildlife ecologist, and college professor. I am a father, husband, son, and brother. I hope to some I am a friend. I bird. I hunt. I gather. I am a seeker and a noticer. I am a lover. My being finds its foundation in open places. I’m a man of color—

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Shana.
163 reviews9 followers
November 3, 2019
Memoirs are not my favorites, and this suffered from many of the typical flaws of the genre: self indulgent digressions, rambling narrative structure, and a lack of a clear and compelling story. Home Place is most successful in its plentiful and poetic descriptions of the natural world. The prose is frequently beautiful.
Profile Image for Jenny Belardi.
326 reviews3 followers
February 4, 2021
This is a BOOK. I wish more people knew about it. I heard about it from Jason Ward in his birding class. If books are supposed to let us walk in someone else's shoes, this is five stars all around. I learned so much in so few words, and felt like I was in the home place and so many other natural areas he talked about. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,347 reviews104 followers
October 15, 2020
“I am a man in love with nature. I am an eco-addict, consuming everything that the outdoors offers its all-you-can-sense, seasonal buffet. I am a wildling, born of forests and fields and more comfortable on unpaved back roads and winding woodland paths than in any place where concrete, asphalt, and crowds prevail.”

“Being a birder in the United States means that you're probably a middle-aged, middle-class, well-educated white man. While most of the labels apply to me, I am a black man and there fore a birding anomaly. The chances of seeing someone who looks like me while on the trail are only slightly greater than those of sighting an ivory-billed woodpecker.”

“I've expanded the walls of my spiritual existence beyond the pews and pulpit to include longleaf savannas, salt marshes, cove forests, and tall-grass prairie. The miracles for me are in migratory journeys and moonlit nights. Swan song is sacred. Nature seems worthy of worship.”

I had not heard of Professor Lanham before reading this solid memoir, which is a bit surprising since I am a fellow birder, nature-lover and avid reader. Regardless, I enjoyed following his history, growing up in rural southwestern South Carolina. His family were farmers and this where he learned to love the outdoors and respect hard work. He also witnessed the racism that ravaged the south in the 1960s and this also shaped the man he became. He also turned out to be an accomplished writer and poet. My only quibble was, I would have liked more of his birding life. I felt short-changed.
Profile Image for Julie Stielstra.
Author 5 books17 followers
February 9, 2021
I love adjectives as much as anybody, and more than most. But there were times in Drew Lanham's mostly engaging and heartfelt memoir when I wanted to beg him to stop. That and the labored alliterative lists (yes, like that), and the similes (questions fly like dandelion fluff, trees grow thick as hair on a dog's back, bobolinks sing like discordant music boxes... though that last one is actually pretty good - they DO sound like that). It's a little like reading Faulkner or Proust - you just have to let the language roll on over you and try not to drown.

What's good are the stories he tells, of his childhood growing up on a 200-acre farm in the woods of rural South Carolina, of his indefatigable mother and father - both highly-educated schoolteachers who also raised cattle, grew their food, canned fruit, fixed what broke, cut timber for household heat, dug out the busted plumbing, and raised four kids - one of whom they handed over to Mamathia, the elderly grandmother living her own life in a nearby house known as "Ramshackle," because when her husband died, they thought she would be lonely. That kid was Drew, who absorbed botany from his herbalistically-inclined Mamathia, roamed the woods and fields and streams for hours and days on end, and wolfed down every meal she cooked for him on a woodburning stove. He was a good student, collecting field guides and learning the names of everything he saw (and they are beautiful names), and reading the encyclopedia from A to Z. There were also long, torturous hours in the church pew, as the preacher ranted and raved and scared everyone to death with hellfire and God's Big Brotherly eternal watchfulness for sin. A gentler, more educationally-minded preacher was ejected by the congregation, and Drew's parents never went back (to his great relief). It's a wonderfully observed, deeply loving portrait of a Black family and community in the rural South.

Smart Black kids like Drew went to college, steered into engineering or medicine where - a counselor told him - he'd make enough money to be able to keep on birdwatching as a hobby. He gutted it out for a while in engineering school, then ditched it for biology and never looked back. He followed his passion and it has worked out well for him professionally: field work, research, publishing, teaching, a respected faculty position at Clemson. The chapters here are thinner, more then-this-then-that, a wife appears, and then... surprise! A baby. His astonished confession that fatherhood hadn't even occurred to him is a bit disingenuous... really? You have graduate degrees in biology and zoology and your wife is a registered nurse, and neither of you considered, um, planning that somehow? The next kid, four years later, seems to be similarly surprising. Hmm.

It gets better again as he explores the experience of being a Black birder / naturalist / outdoorsman - a bird of a different color. A lone Black man roving the woods and back roads for no apparent reason (and once with a white female colleague in the vehicle) draws unwelcome and scary attention from some locals. He may be the only person of color at birding gatherings or conferences, and wishes it were not so, though he understands the reasons for it. As a boy he was enchanted by stories of cowboys - how wonderful to find out lots of them were brown like him! He wishes he had known sooner about the Masai, living in the wild lands of Africa with their cattle, amid leopards and lions and elephants. Alex Haley's ground-breaking TV series Roots captivates him; eventually, he conducts his own historical and genealogical researches, with poignant results.

Drew Lanham is also a hunter. Earlier on, he describes his day out with his brand-new Daisy rifle. He fires BB's at every tree, pinecone, fencepost, leaf... and finally a chipping sparrow, quietly preening itself on a branch. He acknowledges that yes, he wanted to shoot it, to kill it, and he did. He is then appalled, ashamed, heartsick - and we feel it too. A dapper, tiny, oblivious little chipping sparrow. But, I thought, wait, didn't he call himself a hunter in the introduction? Yep. And so in the chapter called "Jawbone," we get what seems to be the requisite rationalization, justification, and glorification of the deer kill. It is vivid, it feels honest, and it is quite horrible. He cheerfully describes the local men who hunt his Daddy's property - who seem to truly just enjoy being out there, whether they get a deer or not. (Begged question: then why don't they just do that and skip the killing part?) He disparages slob hunters who poach, who hunt just for trophies and leave the carcass to rot. But he climbs up into his deer stand in his camo, he sprinkles doe pheromones around, waits with his rifle for a huge, splendid, healthy adult buck (no thinning out the weak ones here), and kills it. And justifies it with the old crap about "honoring" the buck because he eats it and shares the meat with his family. I doubt the buck understood the honor being done him. I get that people hunt to put meat on the table. I get that people who blithely eat store-bought chicken and pork chops and sirloins from sentient, confined, unhealthy, suffering animals in industrial barns are ignoring a hideous truth. But so is he: he hunts because he likes it. And he should at least be as honest about that as he has mostly been throughout this book, instead of dressing it up in language about "honor" and thanking the buck for the gift of his existence (as if the buck had a choice), and the rather nauseating custom of smearing your first kill's blood on your face as "marking your soul."

At last, Lanham begins to turn his mind at an angle away from the data-driven, scientific observation of the natural world and its academic explication. He wants to to share his passion - his emotion, his heart - with others, and begins to write. He wants to teach others to notice, nurture, and care for this world that means so much to him. I think it's hard - especially at the beginning - to communicate such depth of emotion and knowledge without pulling out every writing trick in the bag to do it justice. Perhaps as he gains control of his voice and the universe of words available to him, he'll get closer using fewer of them, more carefully chosen - and, more ruthlessly, not chosen.

Profile Image for Keith Taylor.
Author 17 books57 followers
March 20, 2021
I came to this book after reading the "Birding While Black" essay several times at several different places on line. It's a very well done essay about an important subject, that I think all of us who share this pass-time and this science have to come to terms with. I've long felt that both the science and the "hobby" of birding will never achieve the importance they deserve until we can broaden the base, bring more people in. But when I think that while I'm out on some back country road or deep in the isolated woods and I hear someone coming down a trail, then I wonder "how would I feel if I were black out here now?" And I get a tiny glimmer of the stress.

Lanham is an accomplished ornithologist with all of the scientific publications to get him a named chair in ornithology at a major university. But he is also the child of rural South Carolina, and a birder who enjoys chasing or doing the casual censuses of birds that the rest of us enjoy. And he has been doing this for much of his life. He has thought about these issues in ways I never could, no matter what my sympathies.

And now he has written the personal story of what brought him to this place, of his love of the land and things living on it. Yes, he has built a life doing scientific writing and dealing with data, and this is his first venture into the writing that might reach out past the scientific journals. I found the writing a little sluggish early on, but when he gets to birds nearer the end, including the important essay I mentioned above, he has found his stride. The essays where he tries to discover the line of his people on his "home ground" in South Carolina, had me in tears. I've seen some essays since in the popular science publications, and they have this energy and vividness. I can hardly wait for the next book! But until then, this one is definitely worth returning to.
Profile Image for Jo.
625 reviews59 followers
December 5, 2021
Really enjoyed this memoir which focuses heavily on the piece of land and place that J. Drew Lanham grew up on in South Carolina. I loved hearing about he and his family lived on the land, how the young Drew grew to love nature being surrounded by so much of it and the family dynamics that fostered a love of education and discovery. He also writes about his later years studying and researching wildlife ecology and as a hunter-conservationist and how as a black man he is an anomaly in this field - how simply watching birds in his car he has to be aware of people calling the police on him for example. He writes about the importance of conservation but also spends some of the latter half of the book investigating his ancestors and their slave roots and what that means to him. I think I expected more about nature but what I got instead was so well written and interesting that I really didn't mind in the end.

There is the brown of spring floods rushing over a Savannah River shoal. There is the gold of ripening tobacco drying in the heat of summer's last breath. There are endless rows of cotton's cloudy white. My plumage is a kaleidoscopic rainbow of an eternal hope and the deepest blue of despair and darkness. All of these hues are me; I am, in the deepest sense, colored.'
Profile Image for Nicole Miles.
Author 11 books137 followers
April 7, 2021
Although the family parts of the start were sweet, I think the latter parts were more interesting for me. Thoughts about hunting, Black belonging and history/lineage (especially in America), and reclaiming place were all discussions I find prickly and I liked hearing his perspective on these topics. On the whole though, I actually feel a little empty about it all, as though I was told a lot of things but still stayed mostly on the surface or maybe it’s just that it didn’t seem to have a strong enough through line for me? I’m not sure..
Profile Image for Kate Lawrence.
Author 1 book22 followers
March 5, 2022
Readers of this book find themselves in the presence of a first-rate storyteller who cares deeply about the natural world. We get to know the author, his family, and the part of the country he calls his "home place." But we're not going to become too comfortable here, because in addition to the beauty of wild creatures, we also encounter through his eyes two difficult aspects of his story. One is racism: the author finds himself one of the few black people out studying wildlife, and has experienced harassment and intimidation while doing so. It also leads to complications when he becomes interested in genealogy and attempts to study his ancestors.
The other is chosen: he is a hunter, despite the trauma it brings him (in the act of killing a deer he describes himself as "a shaking, self-doubting mess" p. 169). He tries to justify it even in the face of the cruelty involved, saying that vegetarians may have a clear conscience "knowing that they've inflicted no killing or suffering. But the soybeans that yield tofu have to grow somewhere" (p. 170) and that growing those soybeans takes land that could otherwise be wildlife habitat. What he fails to take into consideration is that around 80% of all the fields of soybeans are being grown to feed livestock, not for tofu, and the reason so many deer are available for hunters is that millions of predators like wolves, who would keep deer populations in check, have been killed, and not humanely, to protect livestock profits. So more depth of understanding the issues is needed here.
But overall, The Home Place remains an engaging memoir, showcasing the unique voice of a talented writer.
Profile Image for Anandi.
56 reviews10 followers
May 26, 2019
I loved hearing Drew read his own poetic words on the Audiobook. It was simply divine and added much more to the words on the page. Poetry needs to be read out loud and he blessed us with this treasure.

I felt like sitting with him by a campfire and listening to the stories of his upbringing and the humorous, racist, and spiritual experiences that influenced the extraordinary human being that he is today.

What Drew adds to the world of nature writing is the intimate knowledge of what being a Black man is like in open spaces that should belong to all, but are often not, and rarely told in pieces by others who cannot fathom or even empathize with this heartbreaking isolation.

I feel like I know him on a deeper level and that I am not alone with the struggles I encounter as a colored woman in the environmental/agricultural world. I'm definitely looking forward to his next (audio) books.
Profile Image for Tom Scott.
282 reviews6 followers
July 7, 2021
The book’s hook is the author is a black naturalist. This is apparently rare enough to warrant an investigation into why it’s rare (the blurb on the cover from Helen Macdonald promises “A groundbreaking work about race and the American landscape”). The early autobiographical chapters detailing his family and childhood were pleasant enough but not especially penetrating or insightful. It was anodyne, which is probably not what a study on “race and the American landscape” warrants. Later chapters got better but were still uneven.

So, why was this book written? Here’s my take—I think the author knocked off a few really good essays, “Digging” and “Family Reunion,” about race and nature and someone (perhaps himself) encouraged that he flesh it out into a bigger work. But his either isn’t a big enough story, or he isn’t skilled enough to tell it properly.

I feel kinda bad bashing this book. The author is earnest and is likely a pretty good guy. I just don’t think he’s a natural writer.
Profile Image for Andrew.
745 reviews
September 7, 2019
The biography and memoirs of J Drew Lanham, an African American growing up in South Carolina.

This takes the reader to the heart of his life experiences. The family environment he grows up in, his love of the land and nature, experiences with racism, tracing his family history, the work he undertakes as an ornithologist and bird watcher is all very nicely captured in this book.

I felt very inspired by much of what he had to say and would recommend it to others.
Profile Image for Eliz L.
104 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2020
This memoir contains lots of really lush descriptions and interesting perspectives on being a black man, raised in the south, who loves nature, hunting, birding, etc. It doesn't really hold together as a complete work. The writing is sometimes good and sometimes fine. I enjoyed learning about JDL's upbringing and appreciate his perspective.
Profile Image for Dottie.
3 reviews
January 18, 2018
Wonderful book about J. Drew Lanham's experience growing up as an African American in rural South Carolina. A poignant tale of place and nature, his descriptions of the natural landscape read like poetry. It's a beautiful book to read.
Profile Image for Stephanie Fuhr.
71 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2020
“Place and land and nature: how we tie these things together is critical to our sense of self-purpose and our fit in the world. They are the trinity. This is true for people everywhere, but nowhere is it truer than in the South.” Genius. Glad he shared his story. ❤️
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
57 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2017
This book feels like a generous gift - so personal and insightful and amazing. I hope to read parts of it again before it's due back at the library.
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