Nature writer, environmentalist, essayist, educator, conservationist, and former president of the National Parks Association, Sigurd F. Olson had a long career working in wilderness areas. For some, such as myself, he is best remembered for his gentle, thoughtful reflections of nature found in books like Listening Point, The Singing Wilderness, or Runes of the North (among others).
Editor David Backes has previously written a biography of Olson and put together a collection of Olson’s notable quotes, but with this book we get our best, most intimate look at Sigurd F. Olson, the man, the dreamer.
As I only know of Olson from his published books of nature reflection, what struck me here was how much he agonized over his desire to be a writer – to be able to quit his other work (primarily, early on, as a college teacher) and just be outdoors and writing. And when he wasn’t waxing on about his desire to just focus on writing, he was wondering and worrying about what to write. In his earliest days he was writing short stories but having limited luck selling them. With each rejection would come angst-filled journal entries questioning whether or not he could do this, generally followed by yes, what should he write.
This is often quite repetitive, but editor David Backes does a great job of selecting entries that differ just enough to show Olson’s frame of mind during these different periods and how Olson slowly grows into the author most of us know him as.
For those who might be drawn to this, hoping for some wilderness connections – there is some here. Olson spent his time and his thoughts in the outdoors, and that comes through in his personal reflections.
Young or hopeful writers will understand Olson’s frustrations about making time to write and the hard questioning of one’s work with each rejection. That Olson ultimately became quite successful with his goal gives every amateur writer hope.
The book includes a few photos from the appropriate time periods and often showing someone that Olson mentions in one of his journal entries.
We have to remember that journal entries are meant to be private reflections and never intended for a general readership and even though nicely edited, there are times when we sometimes feel we’re intruders.
I highly recommend this book.
Looking for a good book? A Private Wilderness: The Journals of Sigurd F. Olson is just what the title suggests – a look at the man, Sigurd Olson, through his private journal writings. It is an excellent book on many levels (such as nature writing, autobiography, psychology, and the business of writing).
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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A Private Wilderness: The Journals of Sigurd F. Olson
editor: David Backes
publisher: Univ of Minnesota Press
hardcover, 376 pages