Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, January 30, 2021

"Simple Acts to Save Our Planet: 500 Ways to Make a Difference" by Michelle Neff

The title of this book says it all. This is a list of earth-friendly changes to make or actions to take, most of which just about anyone can do. The book does not go into great detail about any of the ideas, which in several cases was a detriment as I was left wanting more information, but it was pretty comprehensive in terms of what individuals can do. The majority of the ideas were small, easy baby steps (in contrast with what I have gathered from Greta Thunberg: don't eat meat or dairy, don't fly, and don't buy new things--huge changes that many would balk at). 

I took notes and organized the ideas as I read. Everything fell into one (or more) of eight categories: Produce less trash, buy less stuff, reduce emissions, conserve water, reduce use of chemicals, use less electricity, influence public policy, and help nature. Some were things I'm already doing (which made me feel good), some were things I've been thinking about doing and reading this book was the impetus I needed to take action, some were things I'd never thought about, and a few were . . . well, I laughed a few times. (Avoid steel-jaw traps. Done!! Also, don't buy a tiger, lemur or lion for a pet. Never crossed my mind!) Overall I found this book a good resource or jumping-off point for anyone who is interested in trying to do their part.

I must say I'm not really sure how much difference most of these ideas will make. I do wonder if the greatest effect is in virtue signaling or feeling good about yourself for making an effort to save the planet. I also worry that changes may have unexpected and unintended negative consequences that cancel out the good we're trying to do (I swear this is not just an excuse to avoid taking action; I really do worry about this). On the other hand, I think this is the sort of thing where cumulative effect makes a difference. After all, cumulative effect is the way the planet got in the shape it's in, right? So it makes sense that it's going to take cumulative effect to fix anything.

I'm about to do something I don't usually do on my blog. I'm about to share my thoughts on something that is not related to books. If reading others' thoughts on climate change makes you angry, or if you're only interested in reading about books, you may want to stop here before I go off the rails. Here we go . . . 

Yes, I am aware that climate change is a natural process that was happening long before humans started negatively impacting the earth. Yes, I believe climate change would still be happening--likely outside of human control--even if we all "did everything right." However, I also believe that in the past century the climate has changed in unnatural ways, to a degree and with a rapidity that would not have happened otherwise, caused mainly by human reliance on fossil fuels together with a thoughtless form of consumption (and I mean that in a very broad sense). I believe that if we want future generations to remain able to live comfortably on Earth, we need to be willing to make some sacrifices and changes in the way we live. In some sense we may need to redefine comfort. I read this book in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the sacrifices and changes I may need to make.

To take this a step further: I see many people posting lists online of all the useful and necessary items that are made using petroleum. I also see many people lamenting the loss of jobs in the oil and gas industries due to proposed changes. And I see many people posting about what a ridiculously terrible idea the Green New Deal is. Here is my thought process: first of all, is anyone (I'm talking about those with the power to effect such a change, not random people posting on the Internet) suggesting that we should completely cease using fossil fuels? My assumption is that, while the aim is to drastically reduce consumption, we would continue to use petroleum for necessities (medications, for example) that can't be produced in any other way--while also, perhaps, looking for other ways they could be produced. (I do worry, however, whether the oil industry is resilient enough to contract and still exist.) Second of all, changes in industry have always occurred throughout human history: some sectors shrink, some grow, new ones are created. I know if my job were being phased out I would not be happy about it, to say the least. I can totally understand people wanting to hang onto their careers. but that's where the Green New Deal comes in. I'm not super familiar with it (but I do have a book about it that I plan to read soon!) but it is my understanding that, like FDR's New Deal that helped to end The Great Depression, it is intended to aid and employ those whose jobs will be affected in the shift away from fossil fuels. 

OK, I'm done. I will leave you with one fun fact: the author of this book, Michelle Neff, is the friend of a friend of a friend of mine! I'm pretty sure she doesn't know that, though. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"Summerwater" by Sarah Moss

I love tiny little books like this. They fit so nicely in my hand, which makes it so easy to cozy up with them. Of course what's inside them has to measure up, or what's the point? The only problem is that they go by too fast. 

This one more than measured up (and certainly went by too fast). I read this author's Ghost Wall a few months back and it was really great; it's always nice to "discover" an author who has already published several books, because I can make my way through their back catalog as quickly or slowly as I'd like instead of having to wait to see if and when they come out with something new. It's even nicer when books from their back catalog meet the expectations made high by my initial experience with the author's writing. 

Summerwater takes place in a "holiday park" of rented cabins in Scotland, and despite the fact that it is summertime, this book is as waterlogged and chilly as Ghost Wall was scorching and parched. The story takes place over just one day, as described by a dozen different narrators sharing their string of thoughts which is sometimes woven together with those of the other characters. The whole thing is imbued with a nameless dread: You know something bad is going to happen, just not to whom or when. But at the same time it is darkly funny. I mean, who wouldn't laugh knowing that Josh is so studiously intent on a simultaneous orgasm with Milly when Milly's mind is clearly not quite so focused? 

I love how clear a sense of each person we get from just one chapter of narration each. It is truly a pleasure to read a book that has such fully-realized characters. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

"Arlington Park" by Rachel Cusk

By this point in my reading life I would basically read anything by Rachel Cusk without question. I mean, if I see a book by her that I've never read before, I'm getting it without even bothering with the Dip Test. 

That's how I ended up surprised. Having only read The Outline Trilogy, A Life's Work, and Aftermath, I think I expected all of Cusk's books to be . . . well, I was about to type "similarly plotless" (with the understanding that I don't at all mean that in a negative way) but I paused to reflect, and realized Arlington Park doesn't have much in the way of a plot either. But it is quite different from the other Cusk books I've read--different enough to surprise me. 

This is certainly the type of book that reviewers would call "brilliantly incisive." The entire novel takes place in one day and gives flashes of the lives of ten or so women who live in Arlington Park, outside of London. We only get into the minds of about half of the characters, but the glimpses we get are rife with the kind of despair and misery that only suburbia can breed. It's gripping in its honesty and its juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness.

It makes me feel inadequate, ignorant and uninformed to learn only from Wikipedia that this book is a retelling of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (a book I've never read, though it is on my TBR list). I wish I had been able to recognize that on my own. I have some work to do! Not to mention there are six other novels Rachel Cusk has written that I just wasn't even aware of, plus a seventh coming out this year. Lots to look forward to!

"I Know This To Be True: Greta Thunberg" by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday

I totally did not expect to finish this book thirty minutes after I first picked it up. I thought it might be something I dipped into occasionally and ultimately spent weeks reading bit by bit while I devoted the majority of my reading time to novels. But as it turns out, the content of this book is not much more extensive than a long read in a magazine. (And I must admit I did wonder how good it is for the environment to put something so brief in book form . . . )

Sam and I watched the documentary "I Am Greta" a few weeks back, and while it was an engaging human interest piece, it ultimately left me wondering, "but what can we actually do?" There were very few proposals of concrete actions we can take to save the environment. In fact, I only picked up on three things: don't eat meat or dairy, don't fly, and stop buying new things. (Admittedly those are three very BIG things.) I was left wanting to learn more specifics about what Greta is fighting for. 

Knowing this, Sam gave me a couple of related books for Christmas, one of which was the Greta book in the I Know This To Be True series. And while I am glad that I read this, ultimately it wasn't what I was looking for. It's very much in the same vein as the documentary, almost like the CliffNotes version of it. I don't feel like I gained any new information from the book, although it did make Greta's main aim more clear: reduce carbon emissions. As far as specific actions to take in order to accomplish that goal, neither this book nor the documentary serve as that sort of guide. Greta's focus is on getting lawmakers to shift policy rather than in teaching individuals how they can help. So now I've moved on to the other book Sam gave me for Christmas . . . stay tuned.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person" by Frederick Joseph

Bookworm Child (who, really, is no longer such a child after all these years) bought this book for herself a week or two ago. I was a mixture of proud, impressed and surprised that she chose to learn more about this topic, and I asked to borrow it after she was done. Just a day or two later the book was on my bed and I thought she had given up on it, so I was pleased to find out that she'd actually read the whole thing. 

To be honest, I don't want to discuss this book in detail right now as it's such a sensitive topic (for the same reason that I don't use my book blog to express my opinions on politics or religion). Maybe I'll come back and add thoughts at some point? In the meantime, I will only say that this book is very thought-provoking and definitely worth reading.