National Book Month: Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder

Most of us familiar with writer and environmentalist Rachel Carson know her National Book Award-winning The Sea Around Us or her groundbreaking 1962 work Silent Spring, which sparked the modern environmental movement.

Fewer of us know The Sense of Wonder, a slim volume that began as a magazine article in the 1950s. In it Carson passionately, persuasively calls on adults to nurture the oftentimes fleeting sense of wonder about the natural world with which every child is born, even if the adults can’t tell one bird from another:

it is not half so important to know as to feel.

Look up at the sky with your child, Carson writes. Listen to the wind blow, “and in the listening, you can gain magical release for your thoughts.” This stuff isn’t just for parents; it’s for all of us.

I first encountered The Sense of Wonder on a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine with my husband several years ago. Until then I could see the beauty of the landscape around me but not its details; I understood its sounds but not its language. Carson’s book, which I flipped through every night of our two-week vacation, taught me how to see. It opened up the natural world to me, and me to the world. I will be forever grateful.

“There is other living music.” Indeed.

The National Book Award and U.S. Stamps

Congratulations to all the recipients of this year’s National Book Award! To mark the occasion, we are taking a brief look today at National Book Award winners who have also appeared on stamps.

As you might expect, the Literary Arts series has featured several NBA recipients, including William Faulkner, poet Marianne Moore, and Thornton Wilder.

Robert Penn Warren, featured on the 21st stamp in the series, was America’s first official poet laureate (1986-87) and a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. He received the National Book Award in 1958 for Promises: Poems, 1954-1956.

Considered a master prose stylist, Katherine Anne Porter (featured on the 22nd stamp in the Literary Arts series) was best known for her short stories, which earned her both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1966 for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965).

In addition to writers in the Literary Arts series, one other person honored on a stamp has also won a National Book Award: Rachel Carson received an NBA in 1952 for her masterful and poetic study of the oceans, The Sea Around Us.

The 2012 stamp program will see no shortage of National Book Award Winners. In fact, four of the ten poets featured on next year’s 20th-Century Poets stamp pane have received NBAs: William Carlos Williams in 1950 for Patterson Book II and Selected Poems, Wallace Stevens in 1951 for The Auroras of Autumn and in 1955 for The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke in 1959 for Word for the Wind and in 1965 for The Far Field, and Elizabeth Bishop in 1970 for The Complete Poems.

Who’s your favorite?