Earth Day Reading List, 2020 edition

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Earlier today Stephanie posted her Earth Day reading list, and it inspired me to do the same. I love reading books spanning diverse topics, so I do end up reading some books with environmental themes every year. If you’re interested in adding some environmentally-themed books to your TBR, these are my recommendations:

Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita (1991). This wonderfully weird magical realism novel explores how corporate greed results in the destruction of the environment, and how even well-intentioned people may be complicit. My only caveat about this book is that I read it quite a while ago (in 2010 or 2011, maybe); although it stuck with me at the time, I’m not sure if it still holds up today.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (2015). This book is a biography of the almost-forgotten Prussian scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt laid out the groundwork for the branch of science that we now know as ecology, and he identified the negative effects of industrialization on the environment in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s. Although the book is a bit dense, it gives a fair and nuanced account of a fascinating scientist whose ideas were a century ahead of his time.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016). A crossover from Stephanie’s list, this is Dr. Hope Jahren’s memoir about trying to “make it” as a female science professor in academia. In addition to being a compelling memoir, this book is full of beautifully accessible science writing. One of my favorite passages in this book is the chapter about how seeds have staggeringly low odds of germinating in the wild, but grow easily under artificial conditions in a laboratory. Jahren writes about this: in the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Spineless by Juli Berwald (2017). Part science non-fiction and part memoir, Spineless follows Dr. Juli Berwald on her quest to answer the question: how will climate change impact jellyfish populations? The answer, it turns out, is so complex that Berwald wrote an entire book about it. But it is a really interesting and well-written book, and the science is explained in an accessible way.

Weather by Jenny Offill (2020). This literary fiction novel is more focused on coping with the anxiety of an uncertain world than on climate change or the environment – but it captures that uncertainty so well! It is also gorgeously written, and shows the narrator’s anxieties in a wonderfully intimate way. It’s also fresh in my mind, since it just advanced to the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist yesterday.

Some other Earth-Day-appropriate books on my TBR that I hope to get to soon are:

  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (2016) – science non-fiction exploring the benefits that microbes bring to the environment
  • The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (2019) – a historical fiction novel about a collective of female divers on Jeju Island, South Korea
  • The Story of More by Hope Jahren (2020) – a compassionate exploration of “how we got to climate change and where to go from here”

Ten Things That Bring Me Joy

A few days ago, Tiana at The Book Raven posted an article by this same name. I have frequently felt drained of energy in the last week, but not sad or angry about anything in particular either. As such, I thought the idea of focusing my mind on things that I genuinely love would be a good way to find motivation and re-energize myself. So, I made my own list of 10 things that bring me joy (or fulfillment). And I (gently) challenge anybody reading this post to come up with their own list 🙂

10. Public transportation.

I recently moved to an actual CITY for the first time in my life, and I constantly find myself marveling at how much there is to do, and how accessible most places are by public transportation! Even when the trains have “technical difficulties” that result in “residual delays,” and even when the train is filled with more people than it should be able to hold, it is such a privilege to conveniently travel via mass transit.

9. Water related activities.

These include swimming, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach. There is something very calming about water to me, and I love interacting with bodies of water in different ways – even just taking a walk along a river, or reading by a pond.

8. Trees, plants, flowers, and fungi.

I love nature, and admiring the diversity of life that exists in the world. It is truly incredible that so many incredible flowers, plants, and fungi exist at all. I especially love brightly colored flowers and fungi, and plants with bold leaf patterns or surprising leaf shapes.

7. Being outside!

This includes being outside and taking in the great outdoors, but also being outside in a crowded city or even a mundane suburb. It can be enjoyable just to be outside regardless of context, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun (or cold or rain). There is also something cathartic about being “out and about” – it makes me feel more connected to the world.

6. Reading.

This is a book blog – of course reading was going to be somewhere on this list! Reading is a hobby that sometimes brings me happiness, but more frequently brings me fulfillment. I love connecting to characters, learning how to empathize with people who are unlike myself (even when they are fictional), and reading content that forces me to think deeply about topics that normally wouldn’t cross my mind. Even though the books that I read don’t necessarily always make me happy, reading is very rewarding to me.

5. Coffee.

On a chemical level, coffee physically makes me happy, because the caffeine energizes and excites me. Coffee also makes me happy on a personal level, because I’ve grown to love the taste over the years too. I love exploring new coffee shops and trying new coffee-based drinks.

4. Food.

There is so much to love about food! First of all, trying new foods and flavor combinations is literally a new way of sensing the world and exploring life. Food is also a great way to connect with other people: making a meal or treat for someone is a way of expressing care; eating a meal with someone is a form of bonding; and talking about restaurants and favorite foods is a great way to break the ice with new acquaintances or coworkers. And, of course, food can be comforting and hold sentimental power.

3. Creative pursuits.

I don’t think of myself as a naturally creative person, but I love creative activities because they allow me to express myself in interesting ways. As a teenager, I loved dance as a means of creative expression. I still dance a little bit, but now I also see blogging, cooking, baking, and even fashion as meaningful forms of self-expression.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is very high on the list because it physically makes me happier. As Reese Witherspoon famously said in Legally Blonde, “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” This is absolutely true! Even if I am doing a difficult workout that I don’t particularly enjoy, I always feel better afterwards. Most of the time, however, I do enjoy the actual process of exercising – especially yoga – not just the chemical benefits of it.

1. Spending time with people that I love and trust.

The number one thing that makes me happy is having positive and genuine interactions with others. This often takes the form of being goofy with me fiancé, talking to my sisters on the phone, or hanging out with friends. But it can also instances of getting to know new people better, like having a wine night with my upstairs neighbors, or connecting and laughing with coworkers who are training me at my new job. I’m convinced that the positive effects of spending time with other people can even be physical (I have experienced this multiple times in just the past several months).