New York Times Book Review: Under The Stars is “a chatty and entertaining history of self-conscious American attempts to set off into the wild.”



George Washington Sears, best quality version

Here is my early August update, with news about book reviews, future speaking dates and more. This one goes out to my mother-in-law (who checks this page religiously) and anyone else who might be taking a peek at this.

I wrote this book at my kitchen table in long writing sessions that began as early as 430 in the morning or even earlier (I tend to draw the line at 3 a.m. Too early for me.) I did all the pen-and-ink illustrations myself, using that same old kitchen table as my workspace.  The book feels very intimate and ‘local’ to me. It is gratifying, and a little overwhelming, to watch it make its way into the wider world.  Writing is my way of experiencing life in a more intense, ecstatic, soulful and scary way. It gives me license to do some off-limits things, whether I’m climbing a mountain in pitch-black darkness or trying my hand at stark-naked camping or getting the stories of other campers across America.  For me, this book is all about showing up for all these adventures in spite of the shyness and hesitation that would otherwise hold me back. Since I published my first book a few years back, I’ve been thinking really hard about new narrative strategies. How do I open up these stories and turn my books into landscapes that other people can dwell inside? Anyway, I’m so grateful that the book has been resonating with lots of other people. I really loved the fact that the New York Times Book Review, among other things, flagged the sections about Horace Kephart, Leave No Trace and Mount Whitney, William H. H. “Adirondack” Murray and even the strange and forgotten camping implements of old. She even took the time to give a shout-out to the Wild Victorian Ladies, including the legendary Merry Tramps of Oakland. By the way, I first learned about the Tramps from a phone conversation with Susan Snyder, author of the hilarious book-length historical-camping photo essay called Past Tents, which I highly recommend.  I chuckled ruefully at the suggestion that my naked camping experiment was merely “a little narratively desperate.” Dear readers, I don’t do desperation in half-measures! I can assure you that the decision to camp naked in mountain lion territory was extremely narratively desperate!

While I would (gently) encourage readers to look at my initial social awkwardness and shyness as a mere starting point for the Everglades section — the situation, not the story, in other words, and not the main take-away, and perhaps consider the ways that my ‘fish out of water’ status gave me something in common with the young campers, and the fact that we all showed up for the adventure as best we could,  and really tried to contribute to the campout, in spite of those initial impediments,  I was very happy that the reviewer delved so deeply into the book, and that the whole thing had a kind of mischievous, chatty, lilting tone that made me laugh. And to top it all off with a closing quote from my daughter?  I could not have asked for more.

Speaking of book reviews …. Before this book came out, I was warned that book review sections were dying out, fading, constricting, and that getting a book review is harder than ever, especially when it comes to the smaller dailies. Thank goodness, this has not happened to me, and I’ve received very thoughtful reviews from papers out in Colorado and beyond. I also got a lovely, only slightly exasperated and funny review from a syndicated columnist whose work has been popping up in various newspapers. Thank you to that reviewer for sticking with the book and giving it a chance to grow on you.

In other news: I’m very glad to report that I have several new speaking engagements on the horizon. Two are coming up pretty soon. The first one could very well be the coolest speaking venue I’ve ever had: the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on Thursday, August 25th at 6 p.m.. I will be taking part in a very special event saluting the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service “with a celebration of centennial proportions.” There will be a presentation by “outdoor rockstars from REI,” presenting a talk by the outdoor school guide Banning Lyon, who will discuss the particulars of Yosemite backpacking trips. There will also be a chance to brush up on your navigation skills, which is very important, as you know already if you’ve read my first book, The Cactus Eaters!). You will also have a chance to see stars as you’ve never seen them before in the planetarium, an interactive display about edible plants that grow in various national parks, and, to top it off, there will be dancing and a live DJ (DJ Sep, Dub Mission.) Can’t wait for this one. I am leaning toward reading a section about John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt camping out together in Yosemite.

Then, just two days later, I will be returning to Book Passage at Corte Madera (in Marin County) to read from Under The Stars at 1 p..m. Saturday, August 27. Hoping you can make it to this one. Planning to bring the whole family.

Anyway, thank you all for your messages and updates. Please don’t be shy about sending in your old camping photos to my Facebook page if you feel like sharing them. And, to quote the late great Steve Watts, “Good camping to you!”

By the way, the archival photo at the top of the piece shows George Washington Sears, AKA Nessmuk, legendary outdoors writer, “featherweight” camper and adventurer, profiled in Under The Stars. 


  1. Sheila

    Congratulations on making it to the NY Times Book Review section. And, you’re right, I do read this blog regularly; I enjoyed seeing my MIL status mentioned. I admire your honesty about writing and appreciate the newsy information you included.

  2. Dan White Post author

    Sheila, thank you so much! I know you check this website regularly, and that is one of the reasons why I update it as frequently as I do. And I never tire of mentioning your MIL status. And thank you about your remarks concerning honesty. I do try to tell it like it is.

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