Amid 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.
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Is there a work of nature or environmental writing that stirs you?