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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den: The Consolations of the Forest, Week 2

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The Consolations of the Forest is Sylvain Tesson’s first title available in English and it won the Prix Médicis for nonfiction. But, he has written many other works on his travels around the world by bike and in Central Asia, including crossing the Himalayas on foot. He was born in Paris, France in 1972.

The title is translated by Linda Coverdale, an award winning translator of works by Marguerite Duras and Roland Barthes among others.

For the adventure taken in this book, Tesson chose a hermit life “because staying put brought [him] what [he] could no longer find on any journey” (p.2). Furthermore, “A hermit does not threaten human society, of which he is at most a living critique….He is physically inoffensive and is tolerated as if he belonged to an intermediate order, a caste halfway between barbarians and civilized people” (p. 124).

From June 3, Tesson writes about the way to see the world:

Addressing the young poet Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his letter of February 17, 1903: ‘If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it, blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches…’ And here is the American naturalist and essayist John Burroughs, in The Art of Seeing Things: ‘The tone in which we speak to the world is the one the world uses with us. Give your best and you will get the best in return.’ We alone are responsible for the gloominess of our lives. The world is gray because of our blandness. Life seems pallid? Change your life, head for the cabins. In the depths of the woods, if life remains dreary and your surroundings unbearable, the verdict is in: you can’t stand yourself! Make the necessary arrangements. (p. 178-179)

Tesson mentions desert monks and Robinson Crusoe among others as models for hermit life. Can you think of any other hermits in literature or otherwise?

What climate or location would you chose as place of retreat into hermit life?

If you don’t have time to read the whole book, Tesson wrote a brief article with beautiful photos on the experience for the Guardian. Interestingly, many of the comments on the article questioned how he gets the money to do this sort of thing. The only reference (in English) I found was in Wikipedia claiming that he is funded by documentary filmmaking, lectures and book sales.

Next week we'll discuss how to give up your cellphone!

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