I came to writing reviews late in my bookselling career. Somehow it seemed easier to read books and tell customers what I liked, if they asked me. Then people liked hearing what I was reading and one thing lead to another.
Submitting reviews for Headwaters News became fun---I would stack off books that I thought would appeal to the audience. I found some great new writers.
Quoting passages from the books and expanding my review beyond the "shelf-talker" was addicting. But this month I realized I had to play catch-up. Too many books were piling up and I cannot write fast enough. Plus, I am leaving on vacation and need to meet my self-imposed deadline!
So allow me to briefly note three new releases of interest and importance.
Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton by Richard Horan published by Harper Perennial
How many of you have leaves, shells, bones, seeds, rocks, or even dirt that you collected on your travels? How many have memories of a tree from your childhood? I have great memories of collecting tree seeds with my son in Kenya--the locals wondering what the mzungas were doing, but women and children were eager to help.
Seeds is the chronicle of Richard Horan's quest to gather seeds from trees at the homes of both literary and historical figures. It is also a fun road trip, an insightful memoir and one man's reconnection to nature. The idea for the book germinated in 2001 on a family vacation, first stop Springfield, Ill., home of Abraham Lincoln. Spotting a mature basswood tree outside the living room, Horan left the historic house tour to walk outside. On the ground were many pod sized seeds that he collected and put in his pocket. All along the trip Horan collected "famous tree seeds", took them home to Wisconsin and planted them in his yard. Most of the seedlings never survived but the idea never died.
"My cockamamie scheme, to restate it loosely, was this: I would go around the country collecting tree seeds at the homes of famous peoples I admired, grow them into saplings, then buy a cheap parcel of land and plant them there. If all went well, within a few years I would start giving the trees to my book-, nature-, and history-loving friends. With each sapling, I'd include an artsy fartsy card describing each species' name, its history, and how it connected to the person or place."
The book describes seven trips, naming the author or historic site, the trees and the seeds collected. In between trips are short chapters called "Back Home". The descriptions of unpacking seeds in the middle of the living room; his wife's skepticism about having "weedlings" all over the house; the saplings moving outside; to the call from Brain Sayers, president of the New York State Arborists--all propel the dream.
Seeds celebrates Horan's triumphs and calamities on his quest to link trees with great writers—a delightfully original meditation on the nature of inspiration and a one-of-a-kind adventure into literature and history. In addition to the seeds, Horan collects stories and reminds us of lands, homes and tress that are worth preserving.
Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis by Sandra Steingraber published by Da Capo
Nothing could be more important than the health of our children, and no one is better suited to examine the threats against it than Sandra Steingraber.
In Living Downstream she spoke as a biologist and cancer survivor; in Having Faith she spoke as an ecologist and expectant mother, viewing her own body as a habitat. Now she speaks as the scientist mother of two young children, enjoying and celebrating their lives while searching for ways to protect them--and all children--from the toxic, climate-threatened world they inhabit.
"Throughout these chapters, I discover that the domestic routines of family life with young children--however isolated and detached from public life they seem--are inextricably bound to the most urgent public health issues of our time. Bedtime snacks are linked to global systems of agricultural subsidies. Sunburn at the beach is linked to the stability of the ozone layer, which, in turn, is threatened by particular pesticides used in the production of tomatoes and strawberries. Risks for asthma are related to transportation and energy policies. The highly explosive raw materials used for manufacturing my kitchen floor pose demonstrable threats to national security. The rabid bat I capture in the kids' bedroom reveals the precautionary principle in action as an enlightened public health policy. The proposal to shatter the shale bedrock of our rural county and extract from it natural gas reveals the abandonment of that same principle."
Steingraber applies her knowledge and philosophy to the challenge of raising children in our toxic, climate-threatened world. Child-health issues like asthma, behavioral problems and pre-term birth are linked to environmental factors.
The chapter headings include---Milk, The Nursery School Playground, The Grocery List, Pizza, The Kitchen Floor, Asthma---the everyday moments that connect to policy-making and environmental issues. Our private world and the public issues cause a crisis of family life, one that needs every parent’s attention.
"Ultimately, the environmental crisis is a parenting crisis. It undermines my ability to carry out two fundamental duties: to protect my children from harm and to plan for their future. My responsibility as a mother thus extends beyond push mowers and clotheslines to the transformation of the nation's energy systems along renewable lines. Fine. With joy and resolve--and accepting the full severity of the situation vis-a-vis the world's oxygen-making plankton--I hereby devote myself to the task. When I watch my children breathing in their sleep, it doesn't feel like a choice."
Nature Principle by Richard Louv published by Algonquin
Richard Louv's message in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder started an international movement to reconnect children with nature. Now, in The Nature Principle, Louv reaches even further with a powerful call to action for the rest of us.
Today we place more faith in technology than in the power of nature to enhance our lives. Louv shows us how a nature-balanced existence can help us thrive--promoting health and wellness; building sustainable businesses; and boosting our creativity.
"Seven overlapping precepts, based on the transformative powers of nature, can reshape our lives now and in the future. Together they form a singular force:
- The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance.
- The mind/body/nature connection, also called vitamin N (for nature), will enhance physical and mental health.
- Utilizing both technology and nature experience will increase our intelligence, creative thinking, and productivity, giving birth to the hybrid mind.
- Human/nature social capital will enrich and redefine community in include all living things.
- In the new purposeful place, natural history will be as important as human history to regional and personal identity.
- Through biophilic design, our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and towns will not only converse watts, but also produce human energy.
- In relationship with nature, an expanded ecological consciousness in the high-performance human will conserve and create natural habitat--and new economic potential--where we live, learn, work, and play."
The book presents examples of these precepts, supported by groundbreaking research, anecdotal evidence, and personal stories. He envisions citizen naturalists mapping their surroundings and public health policies that acknowledge the health benefits of nature; he calls for cities, hospitals, schools, and homes to integrate design principles that embrace nature.
Louv makes a convincing case that through a nature-balanced existence-driven by sound economic, social, and environmental solutions-the human race can and will thrive. This timely important work will give readers renewed hope--perhaps starting another international movement to rethink the way we live.
"...the Nature Principle is about conservation, but also about restoring nature while we restore ourselves; about creating new natural habitats where they once were or never were, in our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, and farms. It's about the power of living in nature--not with it but in it. The twenty-first century will be the century of human restoration in the natural world."
All three of these works talk about the importance of nature in our lives, the necessity of preserving our environment and the need to take action now in order to have a better future. Richard Louv featured this quote in the front of his book and I can think of no better way to end this review:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds,
I come into the peace of wild things...
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.
Barbara Theroux is the manager of Fact & Fiction, now part of the Bookstore at the University of Montana.