Book Review: The Home Place – Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

The Home Place
Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

by
J. Drew Lanham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The best way to describe this book is to begin with the author. J. Drew Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist. He’s also an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University. Lanham’s essays and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. The Home Place is his memoir is about growing up in rural South Carolina and how he fell in love with nature, especially birding. Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk, says it best when she describes the book as “A groundbreaking work about race and the American landscape.”

Lanham talks about growing up with his three siblings in Edgefield during the 1970s. In addition to teaching high school, his parents ran a produce farm to make ends meet. Lanham and his brother and sisters were all expected to help on the farm and it was during these times that Lanham grew to love nature and the outdoors. “All that and the land were mine back then. I was the richest boy in the word, a prince living right there in backwoods Edgefield,” he writes.

Family relationships shaped Lanham in complex ways, from a commanding father who insisted on obedience and respect, to his widowed grandmother, Mamatha, who lived in a ramshackle house on their property and where Lanham spent many of his days and nights. Mamatha practiced both traditional black Baptist Christianity and her own form of spiritualism and herbalism. Lanham also talks about his brother and sisters. In a chapter titled, “A Field Guide to the Four,” he describes his siblings and how they each represent different birds: raven, falcon, swallow and hermit thrush.

Of equal importance are his experiences of being black in the deep south and how subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices have affected him. He talks about being a black birder, a rarity, and about feeling threatened out in the field, while observing birds in their habitats. He writes, “But my choice of career and my passion for wildness means that I will forever be the odd bird, the raven in the horde of white doves, the blackbird in a flock of snow buntings.” The impact of his prose lies in its gentle assertions, which are not argumentative, but deliver a powerful message about race in America.

Lanham writes beautifully about nature and about humans being just one part of a greater world. I like that idea and relate to both the words and the sights he describes. I attended a webinar this week where Lanham was a guest speaker and I enjoyed hearing him talk about his love of birding and nature. I highly recommend this book to those who like memoirs about nature and as a field guide to treating others without prejudice.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Home Place – Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

    1. Hi Lynette – yes, it’s different from the fiction that I usually read – I’ve become more interested in nature books too. Thanks for the visit!

  1. My heart leaps up when you feature an author I know something about. About a month ago, I posted about birds with an audio link to Lanham’s interview with Krista Tippett of On Being: https://marianbeaman.com/2021/03/03/what-its-like-to-bird/

    I know it’s not good manners to put our links on someone else’s blog, but I just couldn’t resist because of the good fit. You did leave a comment on this post.

    Again, let me say how much I admire the variety I see here and appreciate HOW many books you curate/review for us. 🙂

    1. Hi Marian – oh I’m defnitely going to go back and re-read your post – thanks for adding the link in your comments. I’m not sure I remember, but I had already committed to reading The Home Place by then. I’m going to be leading a discussion at the library in a couple weeks as part of a Longwood Gardens Community Read. That’s where I saw Lanham (via a webinar). Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a lovely comment!

  2. Barbara, a wonderful review and it must have been special to take part in the ‘meeting’ the author! It always add an extra personal layer and reference point with a book.

  3. Lovely review and I’ll take a look at this. Interesting that he used Colored Man instead of Black in the title. It has an old-time ring to it.

    1. Yes, he explains that a little bit in that he’s made up of the colors of the earth, so not a direct reference to race as much as a reflection of nature. But of course the author talks about race in America so there’s a second meaning there. Thanks for stopping by, Noelle. 🙂

    1. Hi Ally Bean – I hope you like it if you get a chance to read it. I enjoyed it very much and it was a nice change to read a memoir. Thanks for the visit!

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