My mother once said to me, “If you don’t read books, how are you going to know things?” My kids might answer, “The Internet, duh.” But the Internet, while good at containing facts, doesn’t do the important part that books do, connecting the facts in ways that make them useful.
So I read.
The thing on my mind over the last year or so has been a non-supernatural view of the universe that allows us to maintain all the wonder of religious fervor, all the spirituality of the unseen connections between ourselves and everything else, and an approach to learning about science that isn’t siloed so much into separate disciplines.
I know. It’s a lot.
So this first reading list I’m calling my Connectivist list, books in both fiction and non-fiction that further your understanding of the things you find outside and help you relate them back to how you think and feel on the inside.
The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
It’s hard to make waves in popular science writing, especially with a book in translation, but Wohlleben’s book took the work of modern forestry research and condensed it into an accessible and engaging story that turns on its head our idea of what a tree is, how it lives its life, and how it connects to its neighbors. If you walk into the woods and see it as a collection of discreet species, then this book is a good place to start understanding the web of life on a deeper level.
Overstory – Richard Powers
Overstory is the fictional companion of the “trees as complicated characters” story that Wohlleben tells. Overstory stirs outrage and breaks hearts and catches you up on all the problems with modern logging and the monoculture it leaves behind. It paints a very bleak picture of humans as stewards of the land, but also manages to be hopeful, because some of us care. Powers is also a hypnotic writer. This book disappears in front of your eyes.
Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver
I don’t understand the trick that Kingsolver pulls off, where she is simultaneously writing a rich work of fiction AND educating you about the mating rituals of moths and coyotes and everything else in the environment her characters move through. There is big picture natural philosophy simmering just below the surface of the narrative all the time. She sketches the interconnectedness of predators and prey in the woods, and proposes a plausible new model for rural agriculture. And it’s a great read.
Entangled Life – Merlin Sheldrake
Sheldrake takes the work Wohlleben digests for us and pushes it underground, cluing us into the vast influence fungi have on literally everything we see. Fungi, it turns out, are the sewer system, the electrical grid, the WiFi provider, and the roadway for the forest. There is actually a strong argument to be made that fungi are the Earth’s dominant lifeform, not humanity, and I’d go further to say that any system that puts us on top probably fails to understand, at a root level (pun intended) how the world works.
I buy my books locally when I can. When I can’t, I get them from Powell’s, who are not evil.