What's Your Favorite Environmental Literature?

| 4/8/2010 10:43:06 AM

LeavesAmid the fluffy how-tos and stat-heavy (and often depressing) scholarly treatises, every so often appears an inspiring narrative about the world we live in, often a mix of awed appreciation and a thoughtful examination of how we affect and are affected by the nature around us. There are famous classics — perhaps most recognizable are Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — as well as new contenders coming off the presses every few weeks.

The “green” genre has been prolific in recent years. A search for “environmental, green” in the Books category on Amazon.com produces 5,336 results, including titles as varied as Billion Dollar Green: Profit from the Eco Revolution, The Green Beauty Guide, The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism and Catholics Going Green. It seems that every niche group and every angle has been covered, though no doubt dozens of books in the years to come will jump up to prove me wrong.

To date, my favorite 21st-century environmental book is American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, a collection of essays, poems, songs, cartoons and excerpts that, admittedly, includes several not-so-recent but worthy writings. I’ve enjoyed sampling the wide range of authors, and have picked up a bit of American environmental history in the process. I’ve also recently discovered French author Jean Giono, who wrote the (quite) short and beautiful story The Man Who Planted Trees (Vogue, 1954). Even for readers without a passion for environmentalism, it’s a moving story of dedication and an individual’s ability to create change, as well as of hope. And my list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Walt Whitman. I know of no other writer who so sweeps up his readers into the exuberance of nature — getting out under the sky, toes in the dirt, hair tangled in the wind and the sun warming your skin into a feeling that is nothing so much as it is of living.

If there is a fault with any of these books, it's that they can be too convincing — after a few pages the reader may be pulled to mark the page and step out the front door onto grass, under trees and among insects, critters and flowers.

Photo by Istockphoto 


martin weiss
5/9/2010 8:01:44 PM

Berry, Muir, Leopold, Carson, Abbey, Thoreau, Basho, Gurdjieff, Buddha, --Mohammed cut off a corner of his cloak rather than disturb a sleeping cat-- But recently, Fukuoka's book, "The One-Straw Revolution", has awakened me to sustainable farming methods like nothing before. In his farming method it is easy to see that Nature feeds us more than any industry could. Derek Jensen's analysis of industrial civilization is another precedent. John Muir and Lewis and Clark's journals and that Canadian guy who lived with wolves. It troubles me that for all these perceptive people, little heed is paid to their words in action. I am considering whether Jensen's right and this wasteful and destructive array of vested interests will collapse. But solutions are clear and humanity has evolved out of destructive modalities before, and millions more than ever have become aware of our delicate life-support system. It seems like what must evolve out these industrial paradigms is closer to the earth, employing subtle forces and dexterous measures to prosper all life on earth.

Denise Hill_2
4/18/2010 7:38:29 PM

There are a number of notable literary magazines publishing the most contemporary literary writing focused on environmental issues: Ecotone, Isotope (soon to cease), Flyway, Hawk and Handsaw, Orion, and Terrain. You can link to each of these from www.newpages.com - where we also feature alterative publications (online and in print) like Mother Earth News.

4/14/2010 7:42:36 PM

Gladys Taber. When she died we lost a wonderful writer! My mother got hooked on her years ago. My mother has passed away and now I collect Gladys Taber's books [Country Chronicle, Stillmeadow Sampler, etc]. Hal Borland's Sundial of the Seasons is also good.

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