ECKLEBURG BOOK CLUB | Limber by Angela Pelster




Limber by Angela Pelster

Angela Pelster’s startling essay collection charts the world’s history through its trees: roots in the ground, rings across wood, topiaries, wind-sculpted pines, the skinny poplars of her youth in Canada, and a desert in Niger, where “The Loneliest Tree in the World” once grew. In her backyard, a squirrel’s decomposing body below a towering maple prompts a discussion of the science of rot, as well as a metaphor for the ways in which nature programs us to consume ourselves. Pelster is a writer who looks and listens closely: She watches tree frogs and questions how long we can love one another, she listens to the music of an artist who places paper-thin slices of sectioned tree trunks on his record player and hears the sounds’ mourning. Beautiful, deeply thoughtful, and wholly original, Limber valiantly asks what it means to sustain life on this planet we’ve inherited.
“What a strange and unexpected treasure chest is this, filled with all manner of quirky revelations, all about the mundane sublime and the ineffable extraordinary. Most extraordinary of all, perhaps, though, is the haunting perfection, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, of the writing itself. Who is this Angela Pelster and where has she been all our lives? Please, may she come in and make herself at home!”
–Lawrence Weschler
Publisher: Sarabande Books
Page Count: 154
Price: $15.95
Size: 5.25″ x 7.75″
Release Date: April 13, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-936747-75-7
Discussion Questions

First person to answer a question gets a free copy of Limber!

  1. In Guy Davenport’s introduction to The Logia of Yeshua he writes that myth “can coincide with truth and be a more vivid and symmetrical presentation of truth.” This was an idea that I kept in the forefront of my mind as I wrote. What role does myth-making and myth unmaking play in Limber?
  2. Related to the question above: there is a difficult to define space that lives between fiction and fact and it is my favorite place to write from. Strange things happen in these essays – limbs are glued back onto dead trees, fir tress are found in a man’s lung, radio stations change with the movement of the birds, a boy is paralyzed by a freak accident, tree seeds are sent to the moon. Does knowing that these facts are true change your reading experience of the essays? If I had made them up, would your readings of them been different?
  3. The art of Bartholomaus Traubeck that I mention in the essay “By Way of Beginning” can be found here. Listen to the track entitled “Years” in light of the essay and comment on how it informs your reading of the essay.
  4. In “Meditations on a Tree Frog” I discuss the evolution of language and the evolution of love. What do these two things have to do with one another?
  5. When I wrote “How Trees Came to Be in the World” I was trying to write an essay devoid of humans – one that acknowledged the existence and importance of life beyond a human-centric viewpoint. Was I successful? Is this possible?
  6. One of the questions that essayists who deal in the truth of other people’s lives have to ask themselves is: Should I share this personal information with the public at large? The essay “Saskatoons” is about a boy I worked with in a group home. His family failed him, the system failed him and ultimately, the group home failed him. Does this essay justify the revealing of these personal matters?
  7. I am a white woman and the boy in “Saskatoons” was a Native Canadian. As a member of the racial majority who has repressed Native peoples for centuries and continues to do so, do I have a right to tell his story? Are there stories that should only be told by those who have experienced them?
  8. In many ways, “Moon Trees” is the black sheep of this essay family. It embraces fiction more than any other essay, and I flat out lie in the very first sentence. Does it belong in this book? When you read it, did it make you wonder about the truth of the essays that came before it, or after it? What role does this essay play in the entirety of the collection?
  9. I recently saw one of Vermeer’s paintings for the first time in my life, and it immediately brought me to tears. His commitment to his art despite his poverty, his lack of recognition and the pressing needs of his family were incredible. “Mango” and “Ethan Lockwood” expressly ask the question of how to love the world, or how to find the bit of evidence that “will be made luminous in the beautiful light.” But at the heart of all my essays is Camus’ opening statement from the Myth of Sisyphus, which is, “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.” How do I explore this idea throughout the entirety of the book?
  10. The enormity of time that has come before this present day is staggering, and it is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around. Our simultaneous desire to collect artifacts from times and peoples past and our inability to live lives that reflect an awareness of our existence within time – environmental decimation, lack of planning for the future, failure to learn from history’s mistakes – is confusing. Why do we obsess with finding the oldest living trees, the oldest known artifacts, the oldest examples of “civilization” and yet are unable to see ourselves as part of history?


Angela Pelster’s Recommended Reading List

dillardAnnie Dillard: Teaching a Stone to Talk – this is one of the first “nature writing” books I ever read and so it will always be important to me for that. I didn’t know what I was reading exactly – I was new to the form – but it floored me, and I knew I wanted more of it and everything like it.

Kathleen Norris: The Cloister Walk – this is a strange collection of essays, meditations, schedules, prayers and hard to define essays that talk about faith and pain and uncertainty, which is to say it is the exact kind of thing I love.


CarsonAnne Carson: The Autobiography of Red – Carson is one of the most beautiful and strangest writers I know. She blends myth and contemporary culture in gorgeous narratives and poems that leave my head spinning in blissful, brilliant wonder.

Michael Ondaatje: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid – this is my all time favorite biography. Part fact, part fiction, and part newspaper and part poem, it is an outstanding example of letting content chose its form.



Elizabeth Smart: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – why so few people know of this book is astounding to me. Smart uses Biblical language and imagery to explore the love affair she is trapped in, bending the form to her own needs and making it her own in a passionate, tender and heart-breaking way.

Richard Rodriguez: Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography – this man knows how to “essay” like hardly anyone I’ve ever read. He talks fast, expects the reader to keep up, and weaves and bends and turns without apology and with complete control and mastery of style.



pelsterAngela Pelster grew up in rural Alberta where she spent her days catching frogs and making forts out of the old gas tanks and used tires that her mechanic father had stored in the backyard. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing program and her essays have appeared in, The Gettysburg Review, Seneca Review, The Globe and Mail, Relief Magazine, and others. Her children’s novel The Curious Adventures of India Sophia won the Golden Eagle Children’s Choice award in 2006. The award was especially good timing, as it sent her on a book tour a week after her house had burned down. She lives with her family in Baltimore and teaches at Towson University.

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11 Replies to “ECKLEBURG BOOK CLUB | Limber by Angela Pelster”

  1. #4 is such an intriguing question. I think the evolution of love is dependent on the evolution of language. I feel I’m always trying to figure out how to tell someone how much I love them, and while most of the time language fails me, I eventually find the word that represents how I adore someone. I think that when we experience something exciting and intense, we have to go looking for the best way to describe it. And sometimes that consists of creating a new vocabulary. So the two are dependent on each other.

    1. I totally dig what you’re saying. While I obviously love words, sometimes they just seem kinda useless. I guess this is where I make up my own words! I dated one of my best friends for awhile, and we didn’t want to call each other “girlfriends” because that didn’t feel right or really describe our relationship. So, we came up with “lovership.” Yes, totally weird. But true.

  2. In response to question #10 : We have developed a very narrow “reality tunnel” as Robert Anton Wilson put it, or ego structure; a fragile entity, indeed. We are inherently, through our collective unconscious (Jung), tied to all of humanity, the natural world and prehistoric times. James Lovelock and John Weir Perry are just a couple of thinkers/explorers who have taught us that Gaia explains our impulse to protect and nurture Mother Earth, and that this universal love energy is what drives us to take care of our earth and each other. The study of the Akashic fields by Ervin Lazlo and others, as well as Rupert Sheldrake’s introduction of morphogenetic fields, or morphic resonance, which are not new concepts, but fresh in our minds, reveal that our rigid but also pliable ego keeps tricking us into endeavors to protect its current state and reject all other possibilities. Time, as we know, is a man-made concept which warps us into believing there is a past and present. Piling up monetary or material trophies to calm our sensitive egos is nothing new, nor is the yearning to free ourselves from the ego’s destructive tendencies to ignore our natural, nurturing and creative impulses for the sake of conformity. We need to make room for these signals from a time seemingly so disconnected from reality, because nothing at all has changed over the course of history – we all make up this One Reality, collectively and inseparably. When one ego gathers the strength of a thousand hurricanes by duping a significant portion of humanity, none but a few can see clearly its consequences. Ken Wilber’s “No Boundary” teaches us how far off track the ego has taken us into its world full of illusions and individual delusions of grandeur.

    1. Wow, Clayton. Those are such good thoughts. I have never thought about egos being pliable, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s intriguing how far our spirit/soul/body will go in order to protect ourselves. I feel like myth vs truth could also be somewhere in here. Like what you said about time–how it is that we create these things and then believe in them as absolute fact. I think we forget about how we actually made up this stuff. I wonder if at any point we will realize this and start to un-make it up.

      1. Chelsey, the “un-make it up” world community is in full operational mode. More of us just need to give our attention to it, and slow our mind’s jumping jelly bean of thoughts long enough to “see” solutions to fit today’s larger questions. We can avert calamity as more of us climb aboard, I think. 🙂

  3. In answer to question #6, “Yes!” Writers are researchers. If the personal information is pertinent to the essay, then it is necessary to reveal it to the public.

    1. Everyone, I would like to introduce you to my mother. I have written many essays in which she has the starring role. My mother has read ever word I have ever written (including erotica. Yes. I’m serious), and, when necessary, will always say “that’s not how it happened.” Mom, I completely agree with you that writers are researchers and so you can officially consider yourself the main subject of all of my research.

  4. Chelsey and Angela,
    Here is a follow-up quote from an earlier referenced author.

    “At this point in history, the most radical, pervasive, and earth-shaking transformation would occur simply if everybody truly evolved to a mature, rational, and responsible ego, capable of freely participating in the open exchange of mutual self-esteem…”
    Ken Wilber

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