Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone by John Daniel

View from this book:

Picture a day way back in early June, 2012: here’s me, walking composedly to my professor’s office and handing over my final paper with a restrained, “Thank you.”  Here’s me walking (note: walking) quietly down the hallway and out of the building.  Here’s me, stepping outside, and letting out an immediate whoop and a jump, then flying down the street hollering, “I’m FREE!  FREEEEEEE!”

I had just finished my FIRST YEAR of grad school and I didn’t go mad with the stress of it all.  (At least, I hope I didn’t…*uncontrollable twitch*…)

After a whirlwind drive home, another long drive to a quick wedding where I said HI and BYE to a million people I haven’t seen for a million years, and suddenly finding lots of relatives were also getting home at the same time I was, all I wanted to do is sleep, watch LOTR, practice the banjo, and sleep.  And read!  I hadn’t read a book for fun since I got back from Singapore so many months ago, and I was drooling over my TBR shelf.

So, sometime in mid-June I picked up book #1 off said shelf: Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone by John Daniels.

The book:

John Daniels, the author, came to Linfield (my dear alma mater) several years ago and did a reading (as authors are wont to do) and I was suitably impressed—enough to go to Powell’s and buy a new copy of his book.  I read the first chapter, set it down to follow some distraction, and promptly forgot all about it.

Ever since then, I’ve carted the book all over the world (I think it went with me to Ecuador, Wyoming, Germany, Montana, Spain, and back to Oregon again) and it’s been staring at me balefully from the shelf.  I’d remembered the first couple chapters weren’t exciting enough to warrant a re-read, so during this attempt, I cracked it open to where I’d left my bookmark, and … *YAWN*… I hadn’t thought it was that boring.

The premise of the book is that Daniels goes off to a cabin near the Rogue River for a winter to contemplate his life, his father, and nature (à la Thoreau), so he ends up just sitting in a cabin and talking about himself.  Which, I suppose is usually the point of a memoir—you talk about yourself, or, if you’re Frida, you paint yourself—but usually you have something Fascinating for the rest of us to Ooh over, instead of just talking about your rough relationship with your brooding father.

The bits about sitting in a cabin were pretty great—I mean, who wouldn’t want live in a cabin in the woods and write about it?—but even then, Daniels is no Aldo Leopold, Annie Dillard, Sigurd Olson, or (dare I mention it?) Thoreau. (Daniels dares.  He invokes Thoreau once or twice every page, and have I mentioned how much I HATE DISLIKE [let’s not use inflammatory language] THOREAU?)  Daniels, in the pseudo-nature-writing vein, does offer up some nice descriptions, then usually proffers a cute transition, and then it’s back into the dark, gloomy days of the past.

Gloom and guilt was the last think I wanted to read about right after spending nine months in an intellectual rat race, so I put away Rogue River Journal for the last time.  I even took it off the TBR shelf and gave it to somebody, just so it wouldn’t guilt-trip me into picking it up again.  I really do think that John Daniels is a good writer and that I might have loved this memoir in a different time in my life, but right then, this book’s ponderousness was not my cup of tea.  All I was up for was a beach read. Ø out of 10 – Did Not Finish.

Rogue River Journal


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