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Woodsburner: A Novel
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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2009
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Description

Set against the backdrop of a devastating forest fire that Henry David Thoreau accidentally set in 1844, John Pipkin's novel brilliantly illuminates the mind of the young philosopher at a formative moment in his life and in the life of the young nation.

The Thoreau of Woodsburner is a lost soul, resigned to a career designing pencils for his father's factory while dreaming of better things. On the day of the fire, his path crosses those of three very different people, each of whom also harbors a secret dream. Oddmund Hus, a shy Norwegian farmhand, pines for the wife of his brutal employer. Eliot Calvert, a prosperous bookseller, is also a hilariously inept aspiring playwright. Caleb Dowdy preaches fire and brimstone to his followers through an opium haze. Each of their lives, like Thoreau's, will be changed forever by the fire.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
04/28/2009
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385530477
ASIN:
B0026OR1SM
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

John Pipkin. (2009). Woodsburner: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

John Pipkin. 2009. Woodsburner: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

John Pipkin, Woodsburner: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009.

MLA Citation (style guide)

John Pipkin. Woodsburner: A Novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • bioText: JOHN PIPKIN was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and he holds degrees from Washington and Lee University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Rice University. He has taught writing and literature at Saint Louis University, Boston University, and Southwestern University. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and son.
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fullDescription

Set against the backdrop of a devastating forest fire that Henry David Thoreau accidentally set in 1844, John Pipkin's novel brilliantly illuminates the mind of the young philosopher at a formative moment in his life and in the life of the young nation.

The Thoreau of Woodsburner is a lost soul, resigned to a career designing pencils for his father's factory while dreaming of better things. On the day of the fire, his path crosses those of three very different people, each of whom also harbors a secret dream. Oddmund Hus, a shy Norwegian farmhand, pines for the wife of his brutal employer. Eliot Calvert, a prosperous bookseller, is also a hilariously inept aspiring playwright. Caleb Dowdy preaches fire and brimstone to his followers through an opium haze. Each of their lives, like Thoreau's, will be changed forever by the fire.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: New Orleans Times-Picayune
      • content: "A brilliant first novel. . . . It crackles with heat and energy, as we see these characters tested by the flames, scorched by their passions, beliefs, and hopes."
      • premium: False
      • source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
      • content: "Marvelous. . . . In this compelling homage to an iconic American writer, Pipkin may himself have just written a new American classic."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Boston Globe
      • content: "Wonderfully grandiose.... Pipkin's portrait of a nation in flux is energetic and optimistic. It's also a remarkably constructed piece of fiction--vibrant, solidly plotted and lyrically yet efficiently composed--and should be a contender for the year's important literary awards."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Dallas Morning News
      • content: "Infused with moments of genuine drama, peril and suspense. Woodsburner is . . . an exemplary illustration of how fiction can illuminate the past, bring history to life and make it feel as fresh and relevant as the present day."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Christian Science Monitor
      • content: "Woodsburner is Pipkin's first novel, but, with its complex structure and top-notch prose, there's not a page that reads like the work of a novice.... The result is, well, transcendent."
      • premium: False
      • source: Jackson Free Press
      • content: "Readers will be pulled inexorably toward the heat ignited by the fires of each character's story.... It is a book that will keep you up all night racing toward the last page, and then will leave you longing for more."
      • premium: False
      • source: San Antonio Express
      • content: "A mature historical work by a writer who happened upon a small footnote in American history and fanned a flicker into an imaginative, complex novel that humanizes an American icon."
      • premium: False
      • source: Doris Kearns Goodwin
      • content: "What a terrific tale John Pipkin spins! He has taken a dramatic episode in the life of Henry David Thoreau and transformed it into a gripping and profound work of fiction."
      • premium: False
      • source: Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife and Four Spirits
      • content: "Witty, bawdy, philosophical, touching, and humorous, Woodsburner is a novel I didn't want to end . . . This book is packed with interesting ideas, vital characters, and vivid writing."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        April 27, 2009
        Most readers know Thoreau's Walden as a treatise on man's respect for nature, but Pipkin's debut novel adds something new to the equation. A fictionalized version of a true event, this book explores Thoreau's overwhelming guilt for a Concord forest fire he accidentally set a year before his Walden retreat. Pipkin jumps effortlessly among the perspectives of Henry David and several unconnected townsfolk brought together by the fire, taking the blaze itself as his central character: "not one enemy but many, thousands of individual flames, chewing through trees, taking possession of the woods as if this were their inheritance." Fire chews through his character's lives as well; as the flames grow too large to control, the townspeople must one by one face the absurdity of man's bulwarks against nature. Pipkin tosses off hints of Thoreau's writings ("man's inability to conceive of the world's limits," instructing a local bookseller to "come to this very spot and build your home from the blackened timbers"), but his novel succeeds beyond the confines of its literary pedigree, making it a thought-provoking page-turner in its own right, a successful balance of story and character study.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from April 15, 2009
        An inglorious episode in the life of 19th-century author and environmental saint Henry David Thoreau is the subject of Pipkin's impressive debut novel.

        In 1844, a year prior to his memorable tenure at Walden Pond, while hiking with a friend on the fringe of woods not far from bustling Concord, Mass., Thoreau impulsively lit a match in dry weather during a high wind, starting a fire that would consume 300 acres of valuable forest and farmland. An initial focus on Henry's guilt and panic unfolds into ongoing portrayals of the lives of three other men variously affected by the conflagration, as independently lived and as briefly linked to the life of Thoreau. Norwegian immigrant farmhand Oddmund Hus, still haunted by images of the fire ignited when the ship that had borne his family to America exploded in Boston Harbor, yearns for his dour employer's buxom Irish wife, and agonizes over whether the recent brush fire he tended had made him the inadvertent"woodsburner." Boston bookseller Eliot Calvert, painfully aware of compromises made to support his demanding family, assists volunteer firefighters manfully, but envisions the catastrophe in relation to the unwritten climax of his (hilariously jejune) stage play. And insanely jealous preacher Caleb Dowdy, long estranged from his more temperate clergyman father, seeks purification for his own sin (withholding the promise of salvation from an innocent man falsely accused of child molestation) in the cleansing power of the great fire. Pipkin tells their stories in a breathlessly exciting present tense, layering in substantial information about the credos and conflicts of the new England Transcendentalists, only occasionally lapsing into expository overkill. The author succeeds brilliantly in portraying a young country struggling to shape its idealistic energies into something concrete and enduring. The consequent successes and failures are movingly encapsulated in"Odd" Hus's emotional, climactic vision of destruction, rebirth and renewal.

        A superb historical fiction as well as a complex and provocative novel of ideas—Pulitzer Prize material.

        (COPYRIGHT (2009) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from April 15, 2009
        This is a powerfully rendered debut about an infamous moment in American literary history: Henry David Thoreau accidentally starting a massive fire that burned 300 acres of woods near Concord, MA, in 1844. Significantly, this happened just a year before Thoreau removed himself from society, built his cabin, and began work on his masterpiece, "Walden". Pipkin does an excellent job of bringing the people and environs of historic Concord to life. There are three other major characters in the novelan orphaned Norwegian farmhand, a Puritan-style preacher, and a bookseller and aspiring playwrightand each ends up influencing Thoreau in some significant way as they fight the fire together. All are skillfully drawn. The novel ends just days after the fire, with the young Thoreau humiliated and the people of Concord outraged, and Pipkin suggests that responsibility for this fire is what drove Thoreau into the woods and into deep reflection about nature, self-reliance, and living. A fascinating fictional exploration of a seminal American event.Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

        Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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shortDescription

Set against the backdrop of a devastating forest fire that Henry David Thoreau accidentally set in 1844, John Pipkin's novel brilliantly illuminates the mind of the young philosopher at a formative moment in his life and in the life of the young nation.

The Thoreau of Woodsburner is a lost soul, resigned to a career designing pencils for his father's factory while dreaming of better things. On the day of the fire, his path crosses those of three very different people, each of whom also harbors a secret dream. Oddmund Hus, a shy Norwegian farmhand, pines for the wife of his brutal employer. Eliot Calvert, a prosperous bookseller, is also a hilariously inept aspiring playwright. Caleb Dowdy preaches fire and brimstone to his followers through an opium haze. Each of their lives, like Thoreau's, will be changed forever by the fire.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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