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Literature of Place

Dwelling on the Land before Earth Day, 1970
Melanie Simo
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BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6.25 × 9.5 · ISBN 9780813925004 · $45.00 · Dec 2005

In a world that is increasingly reliant on science, technology, and virtual relationships, our reciprocal and intimate connection to place has often been overlooked. This concern is now at the forefront of debate among environmental planners and designers, who are asking: What is distinctive and memorable about a certain place? Who lives there—or once did? What are the impacts of metropolitan growth, sprawl, and the loss of family farms?

In Literature of Place Melanie Simo looks beyond crowded malls and boarded-up storefronts on Main Street to our collective memory, finding answers to these questions in stories, novels, memoirs, poetry, essays, diaries, travel writing, and nature writing that range in origin from New England and the Southern Highlands to Hawaii and in subject from little gardens to lost or reinhabited places in cities, mill towns, deserts, and woodlands. In her consideration of selected American works from 1890 to 1970—years that mark the closing of the Western frontier and later openings in space exploration, environmental protection, genetic engineering, and cyberspace—Simo uncovers a literature of place and the often-surprising relationship of place to our daily lives.

While the exploration of outerspace and cyberspace may now seem limitless, some planners and designers are rediscovering ways of building from an earlier time and reconsidering the importance of place. In Literature of Place Simo furthers this movement by retrieving some common threads of attachment to place in works by John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Henry James, Robert Frost, Wallace Stegner, Henry Beston, Rachel Carson, Loren Eiseley, Wendell Berry, J. B. Jason, Jane Jacobs, and others. By reconsidering works by such diverse and often surprisingly unknown writers, Simo seeks to broaden our understanding of place and stimulate the imagination of those who are creating and preserving memorable places in our time.

A companion volume to Forest and Garden: Traces of Wilderness in a Modernizing Land, 1897–1949, Literature of Place will appeal to urban designers, architects, landscape architects, environmental planners, literary and social historians, and all who are concerned about the fate of places in an increasingly "small" and remotely controlled world.

Reviews:


This is an ingenious project, and well executed to boot. Melanie Simo has given us, in some sense, a baseline for this idea of place—the idea that may turn out to be of crucial importance in the difficult century we've now embarked on.

Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home: A Long Walk across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks

No other book treats the historiography of place as Melanie Simo does in this engaging and thoughtful work. By introducing unexpected or little-known texts—try E. B. White alongside Jane Jacobs—she freshens and deepens our understanding of how Amedricans have written about landscape, place, and nature.

Mac Keith Griswold, garden historian and writer

About the Author(s): 

Melanie L. Simo is the author of Forest and Garden: Traces of Wilderness in a Modernizing Land, 1897–1949 and, with Peter Walker, of Invisible Gardens: The Search for Modernism in the American Landscape, among other books.

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