Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Summer Reading
distributed 7/23/10 - ©2010

There is a mythology about summer: that it is a time to slow down and relax, an occasion to pick up a book for a leisurely read. Most people that I talk to don't see many of those placid days of vacation. Whether or not your summer has (or had!) the opportunity for vacation and literary afternoons, it is true that good writing be re-creational as it touches our spirits and expands our minds.

Last week, I wrote about the importance of story-telling as a way to create meaning in our lives. The stories we tell -- and the stories we read -- shape the way we live in the world, both personally and institutionally. Leisure reading can be most enjoyable when the stories and values inform and reinforce our best values. Fiction and history can support our eco-justice view of the world.

Over five years ago, I suggested six books that are "enjoyable reads that ... have some tenuous connection to the eco-justice cause." For the sake of your summer reading, it is time to add nine more very diverse titles to the list!

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Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Anything written by Berry is worth reading. This novel about a small-town barber explores -- among other things -- choices about simple living, the value of deep community roots, and the decidedly mixed benefits of "progress." One section explores a family's sharp disagreement about their farmland -- is it a heritage to be treasured, or a resource to be exploited?

An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
Most of us are oblivious about the privilege and benefits that we have as residents of affluent societies. This collection of short stories provides remarkable insights about life in the failing nation of Zimbabwe, with its dramatic contrasts between poverty and wealth, and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. In a dire setting, Gappah shows us that people are resilient in their universal search for love, joy, community, and meaning in life.

The Landscape of Home, from the Rocky Mountain Land Library
Humans and the rest of creation are held together in this wonderful collection of historical/natural history essays (compiled from a series of readings at Denver's Tattered Cover Bookstore). The five pieces in a section on "Moving Across the Landscape", for example, deal with bears, a family's travel across the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the ongoing use of Native American migration trails, the ancient migration of sand hill cranes, and the Oregon Trail. Each article in the book is good, and they generate an even stronger cumulative message about our relation to the land.

Farewell My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine
Doug Fine replaces his Subaru with a bio-diesel truck as part of his attempt at self-sufficient living on a New Mexico ranch. There are plenty of laughs as this urban man stumbles his way through misadventures with solar panels, irrigation systems, goats and used cooking oil. As the dust jacket says, "Both a hilarious romp and an inspiring call to action, Farewell, My Subaru makes a profound statement about trading today's instant gratification for a deeper, more enduring kind of satisfaction."

A Heron's Balance, by Cathy Barker
A grieving young widower spends two months canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters wilderness on the US-Canada border, and finds transformation and healing by being so thoroughly steeped in God's creation. Written by a United Church of Christ pastor, the book is explicitly religious, but without being "preachy."

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
A prodigal daughter returns to rural Idaho, and a batch of gentle radicals ("Seeds of Resistance") protest about genetically modified potatoes. The "quirky" novel blends good storytelling about family relationships with discussions about important issues in modern agriculture.

Impossible Things by Conni Willis
In this collection of science fiction stories, the novella that sticks with me is "The Last of the Winnebagos", about the time in our near future when gasoline shortages means that there are no more big recreational vehicles. That's a side point, though. The story really addresses grief in a world where all domestic dogs have died from a rogue disease. The other stories are delightfully odd.

The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in Wild by Craig Childs
While these short vignettes of Craig's encounters with animals at times push the boundaries of prudence, they offer distinctive insights into creatures great and small -- bears and ravens, wasps and sharks, coyotes and humans. He wrote, "The life of an animal ... is far beyond the scientific papers and the campfire stories. It is as true as breath. It is as important as the words of children."

Natives and Exotics by Jane Alison
Alison tracks both plants and people by following three generations of an Australian family as they scatter around the world. Questions of place and belonging run through the novel. Publisher's Weekly called it "a lush evocation of the way people love and alter (and are altered by) the environments they inhabit."

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I give thanks for authors like these, whose writings help us to understand how we might live most fully in a world of complex relationships -- both human and ecological.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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