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Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  219 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Barry Lopez asked 45 poets and writers to define terms that describe America’s land and water forms — phrases like flatiron, bayou, monadnock, kiss tank, meander bar, and everglade. The result is a major enterprise comprising over 850 descriptions, 100 line drawings, and 70 quotations from works by Willa Cather, Truman Capote, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, and others. Care ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published September 15th 2006 by Trinity University Press
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Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: geographers, writers
Per FTC guidelines, I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads giveaways.

I don't typically review books that I've not read all the way through, but this is certainly an exception worth making. This is basically an encyclopedia of geographic terms described by the literary world. As such, it's not the sort of book you sit down and read cover to cover. It is, however, entertaining to the point that you find yourself wandering across the pages, reading each entry as though it were
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing

This will probably remain forever on my "currently reading" list as it resembles an almanac or set of encyclopedias...something I'll be referencing for the rest of my life, sometimes because I'm searching for the meaning of a regionally specific geographical term (coulee, arroyo, hillock) and other times because I'll pick it up randomly and be blown away by the sheer poetry of it all.

If you spend time out of doors then you should own this book. If you don't, but you enjoy good writing or are a
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To say that I am finished with this book would be a lie. A wonderful collection of contributions from a variety of poets and authors on the terms used to describe nature across the American landscape, I can only say that this is magnificent. This guide is exemplary for those who write of the American landscape, for those who have traveled the regions and wish to bathe in the poetic description of these natural wonders, or for those wishing to travel the country and soak in its natural beauty.

I i
Kristen Gunther
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I do want to clarify that I have not read all of this cover to cover. That would be impossible, since I've owned it for less than 48 hours. However, I am totally enchanted with it -- the conceit, the execution, everything. The intro is wonderful, the quotes are wonderful, and every time you flip through a section it's like getting all these little gifts in the form of dispatches from X phenomenon, Y term, Z creek slang. A reference book in the best sense.
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I didn't read straight through and didn't read the whole thing. This book is more of a life project in all good senses. The entries, all by writers and naturalists, are lyric testament to how knowing the words sharpens vision.
Grady McCallie
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a wonderful surprise. It is essentially a dictionary of landscape-related terms, words with specialized geological, biological, or land use meanings. How exciting can it be to read a dictionary? But the 45 contributors draw from the pantheon of America's best writers and nature writers, including Gretel Erlich, Jan DeBlieu, Charles Frazier, Barbara Kingsolver, Ellen Meloy, Luis Alberto Urrea, and a bunch of other folks I didn't know. The definitions are accurate, but also grounded i ...more
George Seaton
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book, especially for those who write about the land, about the American landscape. Those passionate about traveling rural America, and actually knowing what they're looking at, and reflecting upon those who have seen the same sites, and have written about what they've seen, well, this is an invaluable resource. Indeed, from the work--where authors and poets describe the American landscape, comes Lopez himself: "Whatever their styles and emphases, many American poets and novelists hav ...more
Jason Zimmerman
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book for those who love land. Not just the majestic peaks of high mountain ranges or grandeur of deep western canyons, but also the subtle gradations of the seemingly mundane. It is a book for those who pay attention to the world around them. "Home Ground" is structured as a glossary, but is not strictly a reference work; there is a enough scientific and technical information to satisfy, but the beauty of this work are the literary and cultural references sprinkled throughou ...more
Beckie Elgin
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves nature, words, and new places
Recommended to Beckie by: daughter, Hannah Hartsell
A Christmas gift from my daughter, Home Ground is a book I'll put to good use as long as I'm a writer and a connoisseur of nature. What an education, terms related to the environment that were new to me, as well as ones I knew but gained a deeper knowledge of. I loved that the entries came from dozens of writers, John Daniel, William Kittridge and Kim Barnes, to name a few. While I'm sure Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez worked long and hard to put this text together, I imagine they had a great ti ...more
Feb 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Currently reading/(always reading?) Home Ground is a compendium of geographical references compiled by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney with input form ~40 incisive contemporary authors. Although it reads much like a geo-dictionary with a literary flavor... the next time you hear a reference to "a sense of place" turn to HomeGround to dig deeper into the physical contours that helped create that sense for the author... contributors include Kim Barnes, William Kittredge, Charles Frazier, Luis Alber ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We found this book by accident, roaming a bookstore, as one does. I'm so glad we picked it up. Each entry is a type of geographic or geological terminology -- esker, delta, moraine, etc. -- but instead of the book being a dry dictionary, the editors asked writers to create definitions based on their own responses to, and knowledges of, the words. The result is gorgeous, both a brilliant reference book and a reminder of the ineffable link between language and land. I will be "currently reading" f ...more
Aug 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
As handy a reference book as I know. Here, authors and nature writers gather together to examine the language of the American landscape. The definitions (often with illustrations) explore both the etymology and application of the word according to writers who know their regions well. It's especially useful now as I'm rereading All the Pretty Horses, and I can't imagine finding more useful definitions of cienaga or bolson or any of the myriad terms McCarthy uses to describe the land of the Southw ...more
Jun 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves words and the land
Shelves: nature
This is another great resource and browsing book...a dictionary of words describing the land. All the entries were written by nature writers. So you get beautifully crafted sentences by, say, Barbara Kingsolver. And with Barry Lopez as one of the editors, need I say more?

My only quibble: I wish the actual book was smaller and more intimate. For a dictionary the text seems personal to me, and shouldn't be in such a large volume.
Lisa Lepore
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
From the introduction by Barry Lopez, this book is about the language that we (do not) use to speak about the land: "In concert with each other [the writers] wanted to suggest the breadth and depth of a language many of us still seek to use purposefully every day. Their intent was to celebrate and inform, and to point us toward the great body of work which they perused in their research and which, along with a life experience of their own, they brought into play to craft what they had to say."
Maggie Nowakowska
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
"Language for an American Landscape" Wonderful wonderful book for language fans who are into nature and history. 45 writers were asked to describe the lands where they live and they do so marvelously, going into details far beyond mere description. Another book that doesn't have to be read in one sitting, but which can wait for a person to grab a moment or two of enjoyment on the way through to some other activity.
John Orman
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is a vocabulary of ways to describe the American landscape, with descriptive words in alphabetical order.

From "a'a'" to "zigzag rocks", pretty much all of it is in there, with entries written by William DeBuys, Barbara Kingsolver, Jon Krakauer, Bill McKibben, Kim Stafford, Arthur Sze, and Terry Tempest Williams.

If you are looking for different ways to word a commentary on landscape, this will be a great tool!
The size is a coffee table book, but the book itself is surprisingly intimate. It explores ways of describing landscapes through texts by different writers, and so is more than just a reference text/dictionary. Recommended for either writers or people who just enjoy the language of geography. It's also beautifully put together-- don't be put off by the heft.
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
interesting for geography heads. has americanisms and local words for our landscapes. vega, flatiron, gulley, desire path, eddy, fly get the picture.
lots of contributors like barry lopez, Barbara Kingsolver, William Kittredge, Arturo Longoria, Jon Krakauer, Bill McKibben, Antonya Nelson, Luis Alberto Urrea and Joy Williams.
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: naturalist
After reading this for a few minutes every night before settling down to my main read (all bookworms will know this well - the amuse bouche read is very important), I reluctantly had to return it to the library. This book goes into the "buy" pile. A really wonderful compilation of literary interpretations of the land, with Barry Lopez's editorial supervision.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I got as far as the "A's" but then I had to put it down -because I have to own it, I think. Like a literate geographical dictionary that makes you think about the rocks under your feet and the ones you grew up on.
Lovely book, in every sense of the word. I am using this book a lot in my current writing project and wishing I had a digital version. I want to carry it with me when I travel and the hardcover is so beautifully hefty.
Aug 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i bought this book for my son and find myself picking it up quite often, reading an entry or two, and musing...there is always something to pique my interest and teach.

npr has readings from it that i catch from time to time, once in a while with the book at hand to read along.
Michael Seifert
Dec 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As I live in a geologically/geographically idiosyncratic place (on the Texas border by the sea--lower rio grande valley), this was a refreshing reminder that the world is so much bigger than my rather interesting small piece of it. . .delightful read, poetic.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-geography
A "vocabulary of place", collected and written by writers. Many great literary references in the short definiitions and sidebar quotations.

Not just a geographic lexicon, a travel book and memoir of places to go to and places to have been from.
Oct 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Writers
This is an indispensables resource for anyone writing anything that involves the physical landscape of the Americas. It's basically a dictionary of terms you'd find Cormac McCarthy using or others who write well about the American landscape.
Steven Wedgeworth
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A delightful blend of literature and physical geography.
Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Definitely a coffee table type book but very fun. Some beautiful phrases, some beautiful mental images of American landscape. A great book to own.
Mathew Gross
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A must-have book for those interested in the intersection of language and nature.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazing and beautiful. I open the book to any page, start reading, and lose time.
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Barry Holstun López is an American author, essayist, and fiction writer whose work is known for its environmental and social concerns.

López 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
More about Barry López...

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