05 October 2009

Book Review: Weaving a Way Home

Title: Weaving a Way Home: A Personal Journey Exploring Place and Story
Author: Leslie Van Gelder
Published: 2008 Pages: 144
Genre: Nonfiction, Personal Essays

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This book is a personal exploration of the importance of place in the creation of the narratives that give life meaning. As Van Gelder writes, “we are always somewhere, and it is through place that we are able to root our sense of story and our sense of self. Our stories make places important to us, and places become the vessels for holding and keeping our stories. By understanding the concept of place we can illuminate the strands of our most deeply held beliefs, our most intimate and beautifully inarticulate relationships to the world.” Van Gelder does not disappoint in upholding the promise inherent in this statement: through the rest of the book, she uses humans relationships to place to discuss ideology and its effect on human thought and behavior.

One such discussion fascinated me. Van Gelder writes: “For many, there is the belief that an ancient earth wisdom exists that can be unlocked by deciphering what was left behind on cave walls. Those who live with less technology and closer to the land are perceived to be more deeply spiritual than those who inhabit a technologically advanced society…A tremendous outpouring of human self-hatred is tied up in this dichotomy where the feeling is that it was always simpler and better “in the old days”…The fantasy of a simpler, holier past has served all technological societies well by providing a powerful dualism so that people do not invest in the present to make it a positive reality but yearn for an unreachable past. When that cannot be accessed, people feel less shame in destroying an already sullied present.” I have never considered our nostalgia for past times or our elevation of past societies to “purity” as an excuse for the destruction of the here and now, but I can definitely see the connection.

With such a broad and abstract subject matter, Van Gelder often uses figurative language to communicate. While poetic language can be emotionally revealing, it can also obscure meaning, and at times, Van Gelder’s ability to manipulate language to artistically convey “deeper truths” distracted me from appreciating the main point of the book: the relationship between people, stories, and places. The language used was beautiful, metaphoric and meandering, but in certain sections, half the paragraphs read more like moving conclusions that substantive evidentiary body paragraphs. I will say that this was particularly true for only two small sections of the book. In the rest, the stories were more specific, more relatable in their use of plot and character, and eventually more revealing as they followed the convention of “show, not tell”.

Overall this is a quick read that touches upon some seriously heady subjects.

Memorable Scene: In Paleolithic caves, at both the beginning and end of the book, Van Gelder and her husband trace the fingerprints of humans from at least 12,000 years in the past.

Memorable Quote: I have no words, and yet I try perhaps because humans are namers who scultp the world through language and story. To know the nature of wilderness, a place of no names, we must confront the depth of our selves. One feeds the other, and in wilderness we find our boundaries transgressed because we are continually reaching into our unknowns to find, mold, name, shape, bring forth. We want to name that which by its very nature defies language. This is one of the great paradoxes of the wild.

A Question: What is the one place you feel most honestly yourself?

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You can read Weaving at Way Home at Google Books.


  1. Intriguing review. I'm going to see if my library has it.

  2. Stacy - It was an interesting book. I had honestly never truly considered the powerful connection between place and narrative before.


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