Happy Earth Day! To celebrate the occasion, I’m combining two of my favorite things: books and trees. They go well together – books are filled with leaves from the tree of tales, and trees can tell stories of their own. Both fill my head with images and dreams, and both can teach us. So here goes – ten books for Earth Day, and ten pictures of trees.
Books 1 & 2: Verlyn Klinkenborg’s The Rural Life, and the followup, More Scenes from the Rural Life. Collected from Klinkenborg’s column in the New York Times, these short essays are poetic, insightful, and simple. They give you agrarian nature and embodied spirituality in a clean, straight-forward manner.
Book 3: Carol Bigwood’s Earth Muse: Feminism, Nature, and Art will invite you to think differently about nature and materiality in a way that goes beyond a mere academic endeavor – it’s performative and poetic. Through imagery, Bigwood offers an intersectional look at how we treat the earth.
Book 4: Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy, particularly the first installment, Shaman’s Crossing. While the entire series explores our interaction with nature and our vision of ourselves as masters and overlords of the earth, the first book in particular has the most wonderful scenes, small moments when the main character is merely noticing something. While I’m not the biggest fan of how some of the plot lines work out (I’ve rewritten the ending to the third book in my head so I could make peace with it), the trilogy is still one of my favorites for its descriptions of nature.
Book 5: Saint Augustine’s Confessions are an unlikely choice for an Earth Day read, but I think they fit perfectly. The Confessions are ostensibly about spiritual ascent, but are filled with sensory and natural metaphors. Everything comes down to the cultivating, not conquering, the growth and decay of creation. Furthermore, Augustine’s greatest moments of sin, conversion, and ascent all happen amidst nature, and his embodied mother plays the second highest role (second only to God) in Augustine’s understanding of religion and self.
Book 6: Continuing down the philosophy rabbit hole, Plato’s Phaedrus is filled with gorgeous natural imagery. It’s the only Platonic dialogue to take place outside the walls of the city, and for me, that makes it incredibly powerful. The typical thing to say about Plato is that he hates images, imagery, and the fleeting nature of the material world, but to me, this dialogue says otherwise.
Books 7 & 8: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is of course going to be on my list, as well as The Lord of The Rings (I’m counting it as one for the sake of this list). It’s an obvious pick for me, but there really is no better celebration of nature (and of trees in particular!) nor a better critique of the creep of industrialism into rural spaces. The Hobbit in particular is one of my absolute favorite books to read outside under the trees.
Book 9: My next recommendation is a little vague because I lent this book to someone six years ago and never got it back. I can’t recall if it was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Vegetarian, or Being Vegetarian for Dummies, but they’re likely quite similar. I was surprised at how much information there was about the environmental costs of carnivorous living. Even if you’re not a vegetarian and have no plans to become one, it’s good to know where your food comes from, how you get it, and what you’re putting into your body.
Book 10: While I have not yet read this final recommendation, Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity is what I’m reading for Earth Day this year. It’s a study of the trend of feminine earthiness in blogging, and of the urban hipster attempt to go back to the land without leaving the city. I’m excited about it!
Bonus Film: And finally, my favorite Earth Day movie: Pixar’s Wall-E. I love everything about this movie, but I especially love that it’s pro-earth, but not anti-technology. Also, it’s romantic and adorable, so if you’re stuck inside on Earth Day for some reason, all is not lost.
Happy Earth Day!