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Story Line

Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail
Ian Marshall

BUY Cloth · 284 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813917979 · $65.00 · Apr 1998
BUY Paper · 284 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813917986 · $25.00 · Apr 1998

Many hikers on the Appalachian Trail take books as companions, in spite of the extra weight in their packs, but Ian Marshall carries the habit to new literary, ecological, and spiritual heights. In the more than twenty years he's been hiking the trail, Marshall, known on the AT as Evergreen, has practiced what he likes to call "an ecology of reading," exploring America's past, its landscape and national experience, through literature inspired by places in the Appalachian chain: "a literary heritage," he writes, "of interest to scholars and hikers alike, both seekers of a sort."

As he walks the trail from Georgia to Maine, Marshall brings together his own stories, heard and experienced along the trail, with the stories of those who, famous and otherwise, are part of the literary geography of each region—William Bartram, Annie Dillard, Thomas Jefferson, Whitman, Melville, Frost, Hawthorne, and Thoreau. Like notes left behind for other thru-hikers, their writings, seen through Marshall's eyes, plot a fresh "story line" of America's literary and ecological history. As he passes through the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge, the Delaware Water Gap, Greylock, the Greens and the Whites, to Ktaadn, Marshall takes us on a vision quest into our national character, from Native American myths through colonial America's economic and theological preoccupations, the aesthetic of Manifest Destiny, to our contemporary ecological awareness. This is book talk taken out of the classroom and onto the trail.


One part guidebook and two parts exploration into literary history and theory, Story Line is a joy for people who like to walk and read. Marshall is a keen observer, a dogged researcher and a terrific writer.... It would have been a successful book had Marshall done nothing more than persuade readers that walking on the Appalachian Trail is still the best way to encounter the East's forested landscape. He has accomplished much more than that. He's also blazed an engrossing new path to experience some of its finest literature.

New York Review of Books

Marshall breaks new ground with his ecocritical approach to literary scholarship as he examines the influence of place on literature inspired by the Appalachian chain.

Library Journal

This is a phenomenally innovative, profound, and engaging book—perhaps the best work of ecocriticism that I've ever read, and I've read just about everything in the field. Upon reaching the end of this book, you feel as if you yourself have walked much of the Appalachian Trail with Marshall as your guide, sometimes poetic and philosophical, often informative, and—thank goodness—frequently comical. Story Line is a tour de force.

Scott Slovic, author of Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez

Story Line is refreshing in its use of clear, expressive, engaging, personal language. Marshall removes literature from the self-contained world of words and demonstrates its relation with both the world of nonhuman nature and the world of human experience with nature

Kent C. Ryden, author of Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place

About the Author(s): 

Ian Marshall, Professor of English at Penn State Altoona, is author of Peak Experiences:Walking Meditations on Literature, Nature, and Need

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