by Patrick, Bookseller

As we stay home, the Earth begins to breathe again. Mountain goats sunbathe on church grounds in a small Welsh town; peacocks parade through the streets of Dubai; and jellyfish float merrily down suddenly crystal-clear canals in Venice. Headlines proclaim that the prices of oil futures has plunged below zero. We are the disease! comes the half-ironic cry from certain corners of my social media feed, and, looking at the breathtaking "before" and "after" shots of smog in LA and Beijing, it's easy to get swept up in those righteous Twitter firestorms.

In these times of extreme anxiety, as we are confronted so unapologetically with forces far beyond our individual control, it's important that we take every opportunity to feel a sense of comfort, accomplishment, and empowerment. But it is equally important to take this moment, when all of our routines are up in the air, to reflect on which habits of behavior and thought are really serving us, and whether we might be clinging to the familiar instead of the necessary.

Earth Day is supposed to be an opportunity for such reflection. This one passed without fanfare for me, as it often does. I find it difficult to bridge the scale of climate change and environmental degradation with my tiny sphere of influence, and my mind flees from contemplating them too deeply.

When that happens, it is easy to listen to voices that try to separate us from our power to effect change. Voices that paint humans as a blight to be expunged in order for Earth to restore itself—so why bother doing anything?—or, voices that paint a faceless, invincible Capitalism as the agent of destruction, instead of the embodied, living and breathing systems that we recreate every day. Or worse yet, voices that tell us the threats are coming from outside, that we'll be safe if we close off ourselves and our borders from each other, leaving the most vulnerable to their fates.

When I notice my mind fleeing from reality, wallowing in hopelessness or taking refuge in reassuring illusions, I turn to books to find the right kind of salve for my anxious soul. There is always comfort in knowing that people much smarter, more determined, and more creative than I have had my same fears, and have been working on solutions a lot longer than Covid-19 has been around. And this is the kind of comfort, for me, that inspires action; that connects you to your values and shows you it is safe to take risks.

I know that once this crisis is over, all of the systems we've created to feed, house, and clothe ourselves will keep barreling along, relatively undisturbed, and all the environmental destruction we've witnessed will continue apace. If you're like me, you know that our responses to this destruction cannot be a simple negation of the systems we have built out of industrialization, nor a return to an idyllic, pre-modern time when we lived in 'harmony' with Nature. And above all you know those responses need to be rooted in joy and community, not in fear or xenophobia.

I missed my opportunity to do anything radical for Earth Day, but that's ok. In the meantime, these are some of the books** I've turned to to help me imagine a truly humane and ecological future. All of these writers have a gift for bridging the local, communal, and the global; for understanding that humans are a part of the natural world, not outside or opposed to it; and for connecting us with our collective power. I hope you'll find them as inspiring as I have.

**Honorable mentions: <em>Silent Spring</em> by Rachel Carson; <em>Pleasure Activism</em> ed. Adrienne Marie Brown; and Greta Thunberg's Twitter feed (or, if you are so inclined, <em>No One is Too Small to Make a Difference</em>)

The Great Derangement

The Great Derangement

In this masterful work, Ghosh traces the rise of the realist novel alongside our modern scientific understanding of probability, and makes the case that the extreme nature of climate change makes it particularly resistant to treatment in 'serious' fiction. He reminds us that politics can never be allowed to turn into a field of personal moral reckoning, and that literature is perhaps the cultural expression best suited to help us imagine new collective modes of existence. I couldn't put this book down once I started, and my copy's margins are now peppered with asterisks and (!!)s.
Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

This was my first real introduction to Spinoza, one of the greatest thinkers to have lived, and certainly the European philosopher most able to understand humans and the natural world as manifestations of a single, infinite substance. This slim volume by Gilles Deleuze is concise and accessible in a way that Spinoza's "Ethics" is emphatically not, and helps distill the philosopher's piercing insights on human emotions and fallacies into practicable and powerful maxims that never become dogmatic. As an old coworker once put it, "The fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and the wealthy of his day all hated him, so he must have been doing something right."
Tales of Two Planets

Tales of Two Planets

I had the pleasure of getting to read an advanced reader's copy of this collection, which brings together such powerful voices as Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat, Lauren Groff, Eka Kurniawan, and many others, to tell the lived stories of our current climate crisis; to help “wake [us] up into the present,” as Freeman puts it in his introduction. The poetry, essays, and stories here are short enough to peruse during an unplanned free moment. They will reward you a thousandfold for having done so, and leave you energized for the rest of the day. It was originally planned to be released April 21 but that publication date has been pushed back to August 4, so I apologize for the advance hype! It is absolutely worth the pre-order.
Gaia's Garden

Gaia's Garden

There are many great practical introductions to permaculture and home gardening that I could have mentioned, such as Falk's "The Resilient Homestead". I chose this one because Hemenway explicitly addresses how large ecological principles apply at the small lot home-scale, as well as (most importantly for me) strategies that renters and people in urban areas can employ. If you're looking for practical actions to help make your dwelling more ecologically balanced on an individual and communal scale, this is a treasure trove of ideas to get started.
The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

I know this series has been around for a while, but what better time to enjoy an epic tale of a vengeful Earth; a protagonist discovering a well of power she has been taught to suppress; and the fight against regimes of oppression, clung to in the name of safety? This series starts with the extremely personal--a murdered son--and ends with nothing less than a battle for the fate of the Earth, in a completely justified and satisfying way. Jemisin's characters are bursting with life, and she expertly weaves together issues of gender, sexuality, social domination, climactic change, and the fallout of human hubris (to name a few), all within an action-packed narrative. One of my favorite reads of last year, when I finally got around to it. Don't make my mistake and wait any longer than you already have.
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