Q & A with David Haskell

Q & A with David Haskell
Authors at the National Library
24 July 2017

Author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist 'The Forest Unseen' visits with nature’s most magnificent networkers — trees.

David Haskell spent two years visiting 12 sites around the world revealing the surprising—and surprisingly fascinating—arboreal secrets hidden in the canopies of ordinary trees. With his deep understanding of the complexity of trees and the way they shape their ecosystems, Haskell will make you look at trees in an entirely new way.

David Haskell courtesy Katherine Lehman

David takes five to talk about the writing process and motivations to his latest book 'The Songs of Trees' , before his talk at the Library on Wednesday 9th of August.

Why did you choose to write this book?

The book grew from two roots. First, the sensory experience of listening to trees is remarkable. Every tree has its own voice. I wanted to listen and to share those experiences. Second, trees are nature’s great connectors. In their lives we hear, see, smell, and feel the essence of life’s networks: interconnection. Trees’ longevity, their great size, and the fact that they cannot move means that they’re linked to millions of other organisms. Survival for a tree depends on living well within these connections. People are part of these networks, so we also see ourselves by studying trees.

What are you reading right now?

Existence: A Story. David Hinton. Shambhala. 2016.

Cover of Existence: A Story (detail)

A meditation on a single Chinese landscape painting. Through one painting, Hinton unfolds many layers of the philosophy of existence.

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting bookshop?

Middlemarch, Mary Anne Evans (writing under the name George Eliot)

On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin

Silent Spring, Rachel Carson

What was the hardest part of writing The Songs of Trees?

Every tree is so different, so in addition to spending many hours with each tree, every chapter required a great deal of library work to dig up the stories that wrap each tree. This is hard work, but very rewarding.


Cover of The Songs of Trees by David Haskell

What was the best part of writing The Songs of Trees?

Swimming into the English language to find apt and juicy metaphors and verbs. I want to convey my experience truthfully, richly.

What do you love about libraries?

Libraries offer you endless opportunities to travel across space and time: I open a book and am immediately transported directly into the consciousness of another human being. This is one of the most remarkable acts in the universe.