The Treehouse:
Eccentric Wisdom from my Father on How to Live, Love and See

by Naomi Wolf


Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN 074324978X.
Reviewed by Grace Forrest-Maestas
Posted on 11/01/2006

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: Relationships

This is bestselling author Naomi Wolf's 5th book, the first being The Beauty Myth which set her on the path of being referred to as the most widely read feminist of her generation and for a time, revered as a feminist icon. She co-founded Woodhull Institute which trains women in assuming ethical leadership roles. She received criticism for being hired as consultant to target female voters by Al Gore in his bid for the 2000 U.S. Presidency, inspiring Camille Paglia to describe her as a yuppie feminist. And then, she wrote Treehouse which received positive general review but was criticized by feminists (among them her heroine, Germaine Greer) as "Oedipal and as an acceptance of the patriarchy that she had once opposed". Wolf's response to that was that she wanted to "evolve from feminism and polemics to get past the 'us versus them approach'." There is much on the internet for those interested.

In the introduction she writes:

"My father came often, over the course of six months, to a house my husband and I own in the woods in upstate New York, to help us build a treehouse for his granddaughter, our daughter, Rosa. During the time Leonard and I worked, we talked in a way that I had been too busy...or rather, resistant...to do since I was a girl. As we hammered and sanded, Leonard talked about his favorite poems, what they meant to him, the lessons they held. After each conversation, I found that I wanted to share the insights with close friends or students whose problems were pressing on me...and his insights also caused me, uncomfortably but unmistakably, to reevaluate my own life. Finally, I decided I did not want to get just the glimmers of insight scattered here and there; I wanted him to teach me, too, formally, what he had taught his students for the decades during which he gave a famous class in poetry and creative writing...and, many of his students felt, in how to live a life...".
And so, the exchange takes place between a daughter who has just turned 40 and a father in his 80's.

The twelve chapters of the book are the twelve lessons Leonard Wolf taught at San Francisco State University. These lessons are directly presented and interspersed by a detailed account of an eccentric man who was also a gifted teacher for almost 60 years. She weaves images in and out with threads from her childhood; Leonard as her father, her mother's husband. Wonderful and informative accounts of Leonard in his youth, as he "developed as a poet, philosopher, lover of life" and glimpses into "how he developed his artistic vision of the artists way". The focus is on him but her quiet and understated account of the life within the house during that summer and the actual building of the treehouse, reveals who she is as a teacher in her own right, as a daughter and as a woman at a turning point, professionally and spiritually.

I appreciated her ability to weave past into present, to create a portrait of this man in a fluid and intimate way for us, but also clearly for herself as she learned the lessons he had always taught others and she had resisted for so many years. I also liked it because she gave me a clear picture of the kind of man I wish I could have known, but never met.

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