Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Road Not Taken: Interesting Idea but a Tough Read

Book Review: The Road Not Taken by David Orr

This is a new exploration of the well known and beloved poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. Its subtitle well explains the new road this book takes: "Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong."

To explain his topic, Orr breaks the book down into four chapters: The Poet, The Poem, The Choice, and The Chooser. Then there's an epilogue: The Crossroads.

Orr's thesis is really about the road that Frost took in presenting the poem to the world and the road the world took in understanding the poem. But what the world doesn't understand is, what we all thought we understood about the poem may be all wrong.

SPOILER: If you don't want to know what we get wrong, skip this paragraph and go onto the next. What Orr learned from correspondence between Frost and a critic-become-friend is that the poem The Road Not Taken wasn't meant to be about choices not taken or making bold choices. Frost originally wrote the poem as a joke for this friend who was always lamenting during nature walks that he wondered what they had missed by not going by a different path. Later on, Frost positioned the poem differently.

That said, reading all this was a long, hard slog for me. The book does a good job of presenting Orr's case, but it is written in the tone of poetic critique. It was like taking a poetry course in school. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting or hoping for in the book, but I didn't find it in Orr's The Road Not Taken, as interesting as his basic idea is.

If you're looking for a good poetry read, I'm not sure this book is for you. But if you're looking for an interesting take on one of America's most beloved poems, and a different perspective on one of America's most admired poets, then Orr's The Road Not Taken may just be your book.

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