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”

Month in review: December 2019

Happy New Year!!! The celebration of a new year can feel like an artificial way to mark the passing of time…but that being said I truly wish everybody reading this the best in 2020. December moved very quickly for me: wrapping up the last quarter at work and celebrating the holidays with friends, families, and coworkers. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked (do I ever?) but it was a rewarding month, and 2019 was a rewarding year.

Books read:

This month, I finished reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Although dense at times, this biography provided a riveting account of the life of Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who essentially came up with the concept of ecology. Humboldt was centuries ahead of his time in his hypotheses about nature and the world, and it was amazing to learn just how many famous thinkers and scientists he influenced.

I also read The Wall by John Lanchester, a dystopian fiction novel that imagines what life might be like if serious actions aren’t taken against climate change soon. I personally liked this book (especially the first part) but I completely understand why some people won’t.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I am still so back-logged on bakes. I read a ton of books in November, and my baking never caught up. Early in December, I baked cupcakes inspired by Little Fires Everywhere (a book that I read in early November) – they were chocolate flavored with passionfruit buttercream frosting, and they were delicious!

I also baked chocolate shortbread cookies with chocolate glaze last month, inspired by Ali Wong’s nonfiction book Dear Girls. These cookies were decadent and delicious, and a lot of fun to decorate.

Books in progress/up next:

I am currently reading Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. The book is a detailed, nonfiction account of the now-infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I didn’t know much about Chernobyl prior to reading this book – other than the fact that it happened – and the book provides fascinating historical context for it.

I would also like to read Circe, Mobituaries, and Girl, Woman, Other this month. I hadn’t planned on reading Circe this year – not even this spring/summer when the book was hot – but it ended up on a lot of peoples’ “top 3 books of 2019” list, so I’m curious to read it and see if it lives up to the hype. Mobituaries is a nonfiction book about people or things that are no longer with us, but who should be remembered. The author hosts an excellent podcast by the same name, so I’m really excited to read the book. And I’m interested in Girl, Woman, Other because I’ve heard very good things about it (including the fact that it won the Booker Prize).

Shout-outs to some great blog posts:

  • Chaz wrote about his experience participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – if this is something you are considering, I highly recommend his post which detailed the time and planning that goes into it
  • Ashely explained the science of herd immunity, and why it makes anti-vaxxer logic so harmful to society
  • And Aho wrote a lovely piece about the Polish mushroom dumplings known as Uszka (and the preparation that goes into making them)

Photos!

Month in review: November 2019

Happy December, everyone! Thanksgiving has passed, and it is starting to snow where I live…it really feels like winter! The first two weeks of November were relaxing, then the second half was a bit crazier. My husband and I went to an impromptu one-week-early Thanksgiving dinner (driving 6 hours each way) the third weekend of November. And we spent the last week of the month in London and Amsterdam!

Books read:

This was my best month of reading in a while! Little Fires Everywhere is a fictional novel about a mother and daughter that move into a wealthy, hyper-planned community in Ohio. I absolutely adored this book and will be posting about it soon. Dear Girls is a memoir by Ali Wong in which she writes about her memorable life experiences, and draws advice from them. This book was okay – it taught me that I don’t really like reading books written by celebrities. Ashley Peterson’s books (Psych Meds Made Simple and Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis) take highly stigmatized and misunderstood mental health issues and provide nuanced, accurate information about these topics. Both books were great, and I can think of many people in my life that I wish would read them.

Bakes inspired by the books?

I baked something for Little Fires Everywhere over two weeks ago, but I still haven’t gotten around to posting it! That post is coming very soon. Still, I am a bit back-logged, with three books completed but no bakes for them yet. I have several bakes in mind, though, so get ready for lots of posting in December!

Books in progress/December reading goals:

I am currently reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. This is a biography of the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who came up with the foundations for the science of ecology and inspired many great thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries (from writer Goethe, to revolutionary Simon BolĂ­var, to famous evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin). I’m about two-thirds through this book, and find it quite enjoyable.

I also plan to read The Wall by John Lanchester and Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. If I get through all of these with time to spare, I’ll probably try to read more books from the Booker prize longlist (yes – I know that the winner was already announced).

Some (out of many) posts I enjoyed this month:

  • Jan Flynn wrote about how smart people can do stupid things, and why there is nothing wrong with this!
  • Ashley wrote an informative piece laying out the facts about how the influenza vaccine works (and importantly, debunking the myth that the flu vaccine will make you sick)
  • Rachel at pace, amore, libri shared a list of anticipated 2020 book releases – many of which I am excited about too!

(a few good) November photos: