What's Your Favorite Environmental Literature?

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

Tags: environmental literature, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Walden, Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees, American Earth, question to readers,

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.

frances harriman
4/13/2010 2:01:15 PM

Silent Spring... Walden... A Sand County Almanac... Anything by John Muir

4/13/2010 11:20:03 AM

I am a huge fan of Pollan and Berry as well. Lately, Terry Tempest Williams as been knocking my socks off. She connects the dots is such a way that reaches into the very depths of the soul. Also, Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has some of the most lyrical passages ever written.

4/12/2010 11:26:47 PM

I am a really big fan of Derrick Jensen works. Books of his that deal with the environment include Endgame, What We Leave Behind, Strangely Like War, Listening to the Land, etc. They are a engulfing read.

4/12/2010 9:32:49 PM

There are so many great books connecting agriculture to the care of the planet. An outstanding piece of literary writing with a great message is anything by Michael Pollan, but I think Omnivore's Dilemma is the most compelling. The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry is from the 1970's, but delineates where we have gone culturally with the environment and agriculture. Mr. Berry is an author who has numerous collections of essays on the connection between environment and farming. The complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living by Jerome D. Belanger and Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale are among the honorable mentions. Wnat to curl up with a really good book? Pick one of these!

heidi _2
4/8/2010 4:20:14 PM

Oops...just noticed that the Easy Green listed to the right is not a book, but a blog. I still recommend the book!

heidi _2
4/8/2010 4:18:44 PM

I see that *Easy Green* is on your list of "What we're reading." I got a copy free at an American Camp Association meeting for buying something else, and I still have it. I was going to use it to build my parents a worm compost bin, and may yet still. (Is there an updated edition? Mine is from the late 1990s.) I also love the Project WILD, Project WILD Aquatic, and Project Learning Tree trifecta for teaching children about the natural world. I also have been slowly reading the book *For The Beauty Of The Earth* by Steven Bouma-Prediger, which offers a Christian-faith-based rationale for "creation care." I still love *The Lorax* by Dr. Seuss, too. Otherwise, the best "book" one could ever read is nature itself--getting out and learning the seasonal rhythms of the earth.

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!