March 14, 2012

David Gessner: The Beer-Drinking, Cigar-Smoking, Foul-Mouthed Nature Writer

By ScottAllison in LRR, Nonfiction

Last Thursday, this guy gave a talk at UConn:

As you can probably draw from this post’s title, David Gessner is more like the anti-nature writer. But its not because he drinks beer, smokes cigars, and drops intermittent f-bombs. Gessner is the anti-nature writer because he takes a different look at nature than most of those who preach to us with buzz words like global warming. Gessner’s focus isn’t on saving the world. Instead, he just wants to experience it.

At the Dodd Center, Gessner spoke about his two very recent books, My Green Manifesto (which President Obama has supposedly read) and The Tarball Chronicles, about his trip to the Gulf immediately following the BP oil spill.

After his talk, I picked up My Green Manifesto, got it signed, and was lucky enough to go out to dinner with him and a couple others. This was one of my most exciting experiences as an undergrad. Eating Chinese food with a guy who has gone bird watching with Jonathan Franzen (who has probably gone bird watching with David Foster Wallace (does this mean I’m only four degrees from DFW and three from Franzen? Yes, it does.)); been read by Barack Obama; skis on the beach; doesn’t care for academic writing; and is most interested in giving you advice about your own writing, was thrilling. Now, as I read his book, he is one of only a few writers whom I’ve btoh known and read, and the only outside of Storrs.

Being a writer in college can lead to quite an identity crisis. I feel like I should be leading some type of stoic, insightful life. At the same time I need to be a college student, which entails engaging in many activities that are neither stoic or insightful. But as I read Gessner on Spring Break, between nights of beer, I don’t feel so bad. His written voice is exactly how he is in person. He is pretty unfiltered and doesn’t really care for academic language. His tone is conversational. So if there’s anything I’ve taken away from this experience of meeting and reading, its that we need not rely on conventions, especially in our writing. This reinforces an idea of Vonnegut’s that I read a few years ago (I’ve been searching for the quote for about a half hour now and cannot find it). He basically said that, in writing, we should pay no attention to what writers have done before us.

Gessner is a romantic to an extent, but doesn’t write like one. Instead he writes and acts in a way that speaks to me because of its honesty, because its how I speak. He doesn’t hide the Long Trails he’s drinking on his canoe trip down the Charles, or the cigars he’s smoking, or the fact that he hates the environmentalist book he’s reading. This honesty is what makes Gessner good, and I think it’s something we should strive for.

(Be on the lookout for an LRR interview with Gessner)

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