Thursday, January 07, 2016

Sex and the River Styx

by Edward Hoagland

Lordy, lordy! Writing about a book I read four (five?) years ago sure can be challenging. I'm at a total loss as to how I found out about this book, since it's not the sort I normally read or casually encounter, but I'd bet that the title grabbed me. In any case, I liked it enough that I regularly put it on the staff picks shelf.

I'm usually hesitant to read a collection of essays, unless they're humorous ones in the vein of David Sedaris. This aversion is probably due to some negative association between essays and schoolwork, or the feeling that most essayists are cranky older men, but I ought to try and get over it, because so many great writers write essays, and when the writing is really good the subject hardly matters. Also, the essay format is readily digestible, amenable to skipping around, and easy to put down and let go if you're not enjoying yourself. Reminds me of reading Harper's or The Atlantic Monthly.

This collection finds the author examining his experience of aging and re-examining his earlier experiences, while he writes about his childhood explorations in the woods of rural Connecticut, his years working in the circus, and his many travels around the world. A thread of melancholy and the feeling of imminent endings are woven throughout the book, but so is a sense of wonder and transcendence. I recommend this book to anyone who takes pleasure in well-crafted language and thoughtful commentary on being human.

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