I used to be a fiction reader. A devoted, serious fiction reader. I seldom read anything BUT fiction — short or long, foreign or domestic. Then I started writing this column. Well, to be honest, first I started gardening and working on a house, which forced me to dip my toes into gardening books and how-to-build books, and magazines like This Old House and Permaculture Activist, and THEN I started writing this column, which led me to the predicament I find myself in today.
I hardly read fiction anymore. In fact, I’m hardly reading books anymore. With all the information I need to get from newspapers, articles and websites, plus all the links and recommendations folks forward to me, I was going days without sticking my nose into a book. And it’s all the fault of this column.
When you get going on the environmental stuff, the issues are many, time is short, and the internet can be a good, if attention-deficit addled, friend. But as I detailed in my last column, my affection for Mr. ADD has passed, and I’ve resolved to return to longer format learning. Turns out I should have been reading books all along.
Case in point: Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania. (Royte also penned the fantastic trash exposé Garbage Land.) Sure, I’ve written about the perils of bottled water consumption/production/transortation, what, five times now? I could rattle off a list of websites on the subject in my sleep, and certain salient points are now more or less part of my DNA, but I never got an on-the-ground sense of what it’s like to live in one of the towns in Maine being exploited by Nestle/Poland Spring. To watch the levels of your local pond drop, and its ecosystem slowly change, and know that it’s because a profit-driven multinational is pumping your community’s ground water out at a rate far faster than it can be replaced. To live in a sleepy town and suddenly find it transformed by thousands of tanker trucks driving through every day.
It’s no Zimbabwe, but people’s rights are being trampled, and their lives altered, without their having much say in the matter at all. And I wonder if I would have ever gotten that side of the story without having read the book.
On a cheerier note, another recent release, Richard Reynolds’ On Guerrila Gardening, offers the history of, tips for, and lovely, funny accounts of people gardening on land that isn’t theirs. A Londoner, Reynolds has been digging, seeding and planting, and encouraging others to do so, from his bully pulpit at GuerillaGardening.org for years. But the book he’s produced is so well designed and beautifully illustrated that a website can hardly compare. And while I’ve participated in a bit of guerilla gardening myself, and followed the travails of NYC plants and gardens for years, I’ve learned a lot from this pretty, funny volume.
All of which is to say, why not make a more serious commitment to your environmentalism and pick up a book? With titles covering many aspects of day-to-day environmentalism, you can start with what you’re most interested in and go from there. Michael Pollan’s What to Eat and The Omnivore’s Dilemma are obvious choices for foodies, but the lesser-known It’s a Long Road to a Tomato, by Keith Stewart, who sells at Union Square Greenmarket, is a brilliant account of all that goes into the running of an organic farm. Peter Singer’s The Way We Eat is a great look at the ethcs of consumption, from animal rights to labor issues. For a bigger-picture take on food issues, my hero Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest is a chilling look at the globalization and corporatization of food production, while her Water Wars examines the privatization of, obvs, water.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. You know what you care about, and whether it’s forests, the ocean, global warming or economics, there’s probably a well-written book waiting to enlighten you further. No, seriously. For instance, Grinningplanet.com has a great list of the best titles, sorted by subject. Now read!