‘Names on the Land’ Reading at BookCourt
Satnavs may be killing the ability to read maps (and visualize anything but roads or Taco Bells in the topographical landscape), but I for one am a resolute devotee of maps and all the knowledge and mystery they portray. This includes, of course, place names, and the often-curious tales behind them. Nowhere is this historical narrative better studied than George R. Stewart’s landmark Names on the Land (recently reissued by New York Review Books), with a fine new introduction by my pal Matt Weiland.
On every page lurks a curiosity. To wit, p. 295: “Innumerable towns and villages bear descriptive names such as Red Bank and Flat Rock; hundreds commemorate the native trees, alphabetically from Ash Grove to Willow Springs. But strangely few cities were named descriptively, and only one for a native tree. As might be expected, it is in a region where trees were few, and men had learned to prize them… [A]cross the Bay from San Francisco was a stretch of flat land scattered with magnificent California live-oaks. In Mexican times it had been known as Encinal de Temesal, “oak-grove of the sweat-house. The Americans who planned a town there may not have known Spanish, but they could see the trees. In simple description they called it Oakland.”
Passages like these will be read by me, Colson Whitehead, and Mike Wallace on Tuesday, September 2nd at 7:00 p.m. at Brooklyn’s BookCourt. There are rumors of a place-names pub quiz — but just rumors.
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