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The Overstory
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2018 Longlist [MBP] > The Overstory by Richard Powers

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message 1: by Maxwell (new)

Maxwell (welldonebooks) | 375 comments Mod
This thread is for discussion of The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Please be considerate of spoilers when posting your thoughts. Either use the spoiler tag or make it clear at the top of your comment that you will be posting specific details of the story.

Happy reading & discussing!


Meike (meikereads) Loved the idea: The real protagonists of this book are trees - living, breathing, communicating, ever-evolving, hard-working, intelligent trees. Okay, there are also people, but the quest they are on is to understand what the trees already know. I found the structure of the narrative very impressive, and the importance of the message cannot be overstated, but to focus on the trees as intelligent organisms instead of objectifying them seems to be the real innovation and appeal of the book.

Here's my review.


Neil | 511 comments I love all things Richard Powers, including this. Meike's summary above is perfect. For me it combines three things I am a fan of - Richard Powers, trees and conservation. And it is unashamedly pro-conservation (don't read it for a balanced view).

Also, it is good to read non-fiction books about trees after you have read this (or before, doesn't matter which) because the discoveries scientists are making about how trees work together are quite simply staggering.


Wouter (rookreading) | 1 comments Any tips on non-fiction books about new discoveries on trees to read before, after or during The Overstory?


Neil | 511 comments I read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He has a bit of a tendency to do things like make trees go “ouch” when something hurts them, but it is actually a fascinating book.


message 6: by Bartleby (new) - added it

Bartleby (bartlebyscrivener) I got interested in reading this one for his language, which many say is just beautiful, but I need to clear something out first. I've read a review (don't remember the site) that said it could be a little ditatic at times. How would you who liked this novel reply to that? I mean, even loving it do you agree with that? Or do you think it was some interpretation failure of the reviewer. Either way, the supposed parts in which the novel got preachy, were they long and spread out across the whole thing, or just short and localized? Thanks :)


Neil | 511 comments It's hard to argue against that. It is very (and deliberately) biased in favour of the trees and conservation. I think Powers has a very clear motive that he wants to teach people about trees and their importance and wants to win people over.


message 8: by Bartleby (new) - added it

Bartleby (bartlebyscrivener) Thanks for your honesty. I might still read it, it definitely got me interested, all in all...


Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 3 comments Every new Richard Powers book is a blessing. In each he blends narrative with knowledge - music, photography, manufacturing (!) and on and on. In addition to nonfiction as a supplement to The Overstory, I recommend Annie Proulx's Barkskins. Both of these books brought me to tears


Red52 I’m still thinking about this novel months after I read it and it’s not the people stories that stuck but the history, chemistry and beauty of trees that has remained.


message 11: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 511 comments I have read all of Powers’ novels. This one isn’t my favourite, but it is his most passionate. Everything he has written is stuff I would (indeed have, in some cases) read multiple times. People sometimes accuse him of being cold and intellectual, but not here (and not in The Time Of Our Singing, my personal favourite).


message 12: by Britta (last edited Jul 25, 2018 03:41PM) (new) - added it

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
@Neil: Yup, we are back on track :-). Richard Powers & I don't gel. Like, at all. Forced my way through Galateaa and Generosity. Had to dnf Orfeo and Overstory.


message 13: by Wen (new)

Wen (wensz) Britta wrote: "@Neil: Yup, we are back on track :-). Richard Powers & I don't gel. Like, at all. Forced my way through Galateaa and Generosity. Had to dnf Orfeo and Overstory."

Similar here. DNFed Orfeo only because the music talks I couldn't relate to at all; maybe he is way too smart for me. Gonna give this one a try after finishing a few others on the ll.


Red52 Robert wrote: "Here's the review:

https://deucekindred.wordpress.com/20..."


Great review.


Robert | 363 comments Red52 wrote: "Robert wrote: "Here's the review:

https://deucekindred.wordpress.com/20..."

Great review."


Thanks!


message 17: by Manny (new)

Manny Santiago | 1 comments Wouter wrote: "Any tips on non-fiction books about new discoveries on trees to read before, after or during The Overstory?"

Lab Girl is a good read.


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments This book is now waiting for me at the library. Owing to mixed reviews, I decided it would be a good idea to try for the library book so I could give up on it if it didn't work for me. I am currently listening to Snap on audiobook, and Milkman just arrived from Kennys. I am working to finish Inch Levels by Neil Hegerty for my Monday night book club meeting. So many books and so little time!


MandM | 4 comments The earlier book mentioned, The Hidden Life of Trees would be a good companion book, I think.


MandM | 4 comments The earlier mentioned book The Hidden Life of Trees, would be a good companion book I believe b


message 21: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 151 comments I am only halfway through this but it is very impressive so far.


message 22: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 151 comments Once again, I agree with most of what Meike and Neil say. The book is brave, ambitious and complex, but ultimately too flawed to be entirely satisfying. Powers is capable of better, and has shown it in Orfeo and especially The Time of Our Singing. It is still on my personal shortlist, but is now down to fifth place behind Milkman, Everything Under, In Our Mad and Furious City and The Long Take. My review


Dianne (derbyrock) | 5 comments I loved the early chapters where the characters were introduced, and I was anticipating their convergence with great delight. However, for me the second half of the book careened about from the sublime to the ridiculous. It was disappointing but still didn’t affect my admiration for the earlier sections. I think a good companion book would be Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. She speaks very eloquently about trees and her memoir is one of my all time favorites. My very hard to please book club gave it a unanimous thumbs up.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) Sunits, fair point and no the rest of the book doesn't reveal any specific purpose other than lazy character creation. The Chinese father was a walking cliche and as for the female characters, Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, wrote two Twitter threads prompted by just one line in the book depicting one of them (see @joanneChocolat and the hashtags #TenThingsAboutSimiles and #TenWaysToWriteAboutBreasts), a line which was, in fact, brought to her attention by a Goodreader.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer I think the diversity was in the different trees.


message 26: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 511 comments Having outed myself as a Powers fan some time ago, I feel a kind of pressure to leap to his defence. But I have thrown away several comments because anything I write I end up telling myself everyone is entitled to their views and not everyone has to like his books!


message 27: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 511 comments Sunita, I'm not sure I can take on an academic social scientist! ;-)

But here's a couple of points to get us started:

What partly triggered my comment above is that I came to this thread just after reading a review of the book which says it only really works because Powers makes his characters so believable. So coming here and reading about them being cliched was a stark contrast. I guess this is just a case of whether the characters work for you or not, and they won't for everyone, but clearly they do for some. I can see where criticisms come from, though, although some might be due to Powers' efforts to make trees the stars at the expense of his human characters.

The other thing that I have been thinking about for a couple of weeks since I read some of the comments is how much an author should reflect the views of his time and how much he should reflect the views of the time of his book. If someone writes a book set hundreds of years ago, we let them have slavery and misogyny because it fits with the time they are writing about. But when someone writes a book set 30 years ago, we want them to fit with our time, although a lot has changed in those 30 years. I'd be the first to admit that I haven't thought this through properly, but what do you think?


Michael | 11 comments Finished a couple days ago. I didn't love it but I liked it, and found it to be pleasurable to read. Not surprised it has been shortlisted.


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