Julian Hoffman has contributed several pieces to Terrain.org over the years. His essay “Faith in a Forgotten Place” was selected by Elizabeth Dodd as the winner of Terrain.org’s 2011 Nonfiction Contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His book, The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World, won the 2012 AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction, judged by Terry Tempest Williams, and will be published by the University of Georgia Press this fall. Here, Hoffman offers some reading recommendations, suggesting a few works that have helped shape his writing.
Few books dance with language the way The Peregrine does. The story is simple enough: A man spends his winters tracking peregrines over the marshes, fields, and estuaries of eastern England. But that man, J.A. Baker, accomplishes something rare in the history of nature writing—he immerses himself so deeply in his search that he becomes the very thing he seeks, finally coming to see the “pouring-away world of no attachment” through the peregrine’s eyes. The transformation is startling, lucid, and utterly unique. Published in 1967, only a few years after Rachel Carson exposed the toxicity of our agricultural practices, and with the peregrine in sharp decline across Britain, Baker’s book reads like the bird’s fiercely rhapsodic elegy.
Findings opens in the author’s home, mid-winter, amidst talk of Christmas shopping and school parties, as Jamie offers a meditation on darkness and light, those two symbolic seeds long nurtured at opposite ends of our garden of myth and memory—and her subtle, observant eye reveals what flourishes in between. Like Gilbert White in The Natural History of Selborne, written well over two hundred years earlier, Jamie reminds us that the local parish—the domestic familiar—can be as richly revealing as the remote and rarely visited wilds. Whether staring out the kitchen window as she prepares her kids’ breakfast, or standing alone on a windswept and uninhabited island in her native Scotland, Jamie connects us in her essays to a wider, more inclusive world. What is important to her is “the paying heed”—the deliberate, inquisitive act of noticing.
A beautifully elusive work, The Emigrants sketches the dislocated lives of four people, guiding us through a compendium of their emigrant memories. Traced through time across a number of countries, Sebald weaves the details of these lives—their habits and passions and losses, the intimate and tender obsessions—with mysterious black and white images scattered throughout the book: snapshots of people and places, domestic interiors, postcards and portraits, ticket stubs and newspaper clippings. The result is enigmatic, and set as they are in the “receding perspectives of time,” we never really know whether the lives revealed are imagined or real. Either way, there remains a small knot at the heart of each one that can never be truly unravelled. In this haunting work, Sebald makes memory visible, the personal pasts we carry with us across the shifting landscapes of our lives.
Julian Hoffman was born in England and grew up in Canada. In 2000 he moved with his partner, Julia, to live beside the Prespa Lakes in northern Greece. Having worked as organic market-gardeners for some years, they now earn a living in the mountains, monitoring sensitive upland bird species where wind parks have been built or proposed. His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in EarthLines, Southern Humanities Review, Kyoto Journal, Flyway, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Three Coyotes, and The Redwood Coast Review. You can catch up with him at www.julian-hoffman.com.