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The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers
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The Overstory: A Novel (original 2018; edition 2019)

by Richard Powers (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,3201314,648 (4.1)315
An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back to life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers - each summoned in different ways by trees - are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of - and paean to - the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe. The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? -- from dust jacket.… (more)
Member:Jaymeb
Title:The Overstory: A Novel
Authors:Richard Powers (Author)
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2019), Edition: Illustrated, 512 pages
Collections:Radar
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Work details

The Overstory by Richard Powers (2018)

  1. 31
    Barkskins by Annie Proulx (GerrysBookshelf)
  2. 11
    The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Hill (Gwendydd)
    Gwendydd: One of the main characters of Overstory is loosely based on the life of Julia Butterfly Hill.
  3. 11
    The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant (Gwendydd)
    Gwendydd: These books both talk a lot about the giant trees of the west coast, logging, and anti-logging activists.
  4. 01
    The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff (Sandwich76)
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» See also 315 mentions

English (128)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (131)
Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
The Overstory is a message book; it tells us that the human race is on the brink of destroying the balance between the natural world and humanity. The focus is on the impact on tress and forests, but there are allusions to fish, mammals, insects—all of nature. A message book can feel overly architected to achieve its purpose, and at times The Overstory feels that way. What saves The Overstory from that outcome, though, are the characters and the story, which are so well done that while one never forgets the overriding message, you accept it. And while the message is dark, the outcome seemingly dismal, there is a subtle optimism running through it that the possibility exists for a different outcome: many of the threads of the story are left hanging, undetermined, in question or unclear where they may lead, which leaves the reader with the impression that future choices could still have an impact.

Pick a character. You will find someone you like. My favorite was Patricia Westerford, the insightful scientist who ignored her speech challenges to regularly get in front of audiences to speak passionately for the forests that were the focus of her life’s work and her life. But if you are like me, you will find more than one character to like. Except for a few character flaws, there is no one not to like, admire or respect. The story and the message appealed to me both emotionally and spiritually, but one of the flaws of the novel is that except for some very minor characters on the periphery of the stage, there was no one to dislike. It was the “system”, it was humanity that was wrong, and those are difficult as a focus of one’s ire.

I love structure in a novel when it enhances the story or provides a proper vehicle for the story. The Overstory has a very specific structure that is meant to enhance its message. It did not work for me, instead, it got in the way. The first third of the novel is broken in chapters, one per main character, that provides us with the background story for that character. It felt over architected to me and by the end of that section and the beginning the Trunk section, I was needing to go back to my notes on the characters introduced early in the book. Overall, though, a very enjoyable read that I was always looking forward to picking up again. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3444960.html

I loved this book, a brilliant (maybe a little long) story of environmental activism in the USA, with eight central characters whose paths into and out of each other's lives and the protection of America's forests weave together to make a really gripping tale. There's also a computer game designer working on the future of humanity. The real heroes of the book, as Barbara Kingsolver said, are centuries old and very very tall... Not really sfnal, but very relevant for anyone who cares about the future of the planet. ( )
  nwhyte | Oct 7, 2020 |
The author has developed an interesting format by providing short stories as chapters in the beginning of the book and then linking the stories together. This format generates some challenges to the reader to switch back and forth among many characters. The overall theme of the book is related to the value of plants to our world. The tone of the book is sad and morbid. This is not a happy book and is not uplifting. There is some information on plants that is somewhat interesting. The book leaves the reader sick and hopeless. I have mixed feelings about recommending this book. ( )
  GlennBell | Sep 27, 2020 |
Slow paced, having a hard time really settling into it. Paused at
  jlmon11 | Sep 22, 2020 |
Dang, this is good. The buzz is deserved. I devoured this, and it is *not small*. Decades-long story following a sizable cast as they join various aspects of the environmental movement. Really likes its trees, does this book, and so do I. If yr intimidated by the size of this thing, though, give The Monkey Wrench Gang a whirl. ( )
  jakecasella | Sep 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
“Literary fiction has largely become co-opted by that belief that meaning is an entirely personal thing,” Powers says. “It’s embraced the idea that life is primarily a struggle of the individual psyche to come to terms with itself. Consequently, it’s become a commodity like a wood chipper, or any other thing that can be rated in terms of utility.” [...]

“I want literature to be something other than it is today,” Powers says. “There was a time when our myths and legends and stories were about something greater than individual well-being. "
added by elenchus | editlithub.com, Kevin Berger (Apr 23, 2018)
 
Acquiring tree consciousness, a precondition for learning how to live here on Earth, means learning what things grow and thrive here, independently of us.

We are phenomenally bad at experiencing, estimating, and conceiving of time. Our brains are shaped to pay attention to rapid movements against stable backgrounds, and we’re almost blind to the slower, broader background drift. The technologies that we have built to defeat time—writing and recording and photographing and filming—can impair our memory (as Socrates feared) and collapse us even more densely into what psychologists call the “specious present,” which seems to get shorter all the time. Plants’ memory and sense of time is utterly alien to us. It’s almost impossible for a person to wrap her head around the idea that there are bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California that have been slowly dying since before humans invented writing.
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Powers, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alianza de Novelas AdNEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Allié, ManfredÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bierstadt, AlbertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chauvin, SergeTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaffney, EvanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guevara, Teresa Lanero Ladrón deTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kempf-Allié, GabrieleÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lanero, TeresaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noorman, JelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quinn, MarysarahDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toren, SuzanneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vighi, LiciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Earth may be alive: not as the ancients saw her--a sentient Goddess with a purpose and foresight--but alive like a tree. A tree that quietly exists, never moving except to sway in the wind, yet endlessly conversing with the sunlight and soil. Using sunlight and water and nutrient minerals to grow and change. But all done so imperceptibly, that to me an old oak tree on the green is the same as it was when I was a child.
--James Lovelock
Tree . . . he watching you. You look at tree, he listen to you. He got no finger, he can't speak. But that leaf . . . he pumping, growing, growing in the night. While you sleeping you dream something. Tree and grass same thing.
--Bill Neidjie
Dedication
For Aida.
First words
First there was nothing.
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To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs.
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An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back to life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers - each summoned in different ways by trees - are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of - and paean to - the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe. The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? -- from dust jacket.

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