Sunday, June 21, 2009

Books to remember

Perhaps, like others in their 40s, I too often confuse information overload with the onset of senility. If I can't remember where I read something, or even what I read, the logical explanation is that the volume of data I've attempted to stuff into my brain simply exceeds its storage capacity. But then, didn't I read once that humans use less than one percent of our brain power? Can't remember exactly -- information overload!

Anyway, summer is here (happy solstice!), with front porch settees and backyard hammocks luring us out for iced beverages and blissful reading. Why spend that time overloading our puny brains with yet another forgettable "beach" book? Summer reading isn't required to be "light", although some of the books I'm about to suggest can almost qualify as easy, engrossing escapism because they are fun to read, even if they may prompt thought during and/or after.

These are the books I most remember or that have influenced me the most. For some of them, I may not recall details, or even plots, but the narrative or message in some way impacted my life. The list, in no particular order, along with a helpful link to reviews:

* Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. I read this my junior year in college as part of a project in my public policy ethics class. It awakened me to many issues of political and social justice and also prompted me to learn more about Gandhi.
* The Gandhi Reader. This remains an excellent and accessible compilation of Gandhi's most important writings, as well as reminisces from those who knew him. It would take many blog posts to list all the ways that Gandhi's writings and life have influenced me, but one little standout from this volume is his treatice on the benefits of spinning, which led to a fascinating exchange with Rabindranath Tagore.
* Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat. The definitive biography of Tolstoy, who has to be one of the most fascinating and complex writers of all time. He also influenced, and corresponded with, Gandhi.
* Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin. This is one of the best critiques of our materialistic culture, and the antidote to it. The foreword by Ram Dass is just as compelling as the rest of the book.
* Divorce Your Car, by Katie Alvord. I was well along the anti-automobile path when I was asked to review a copy of this book several years ago, but it really helped me catalog the many reasons I don't like cars. It's just as relevant now as it when it was published.
* Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. I'm not still a vegetarian, although I continue to shy away from meat, and this book provides great incentive for doing so.
* The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I've long been a huge fan of Michael Pollan's and had read most of this in some form or another in his New York Times articles, but this is a great compilation of the current state of industrial food, and the alternatives to it, regardless of how much meat we eat. For a fun read from Pollan, I also recommend his earlier Botany of Desire.
* Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. This cookbook is pretty much the bible of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Its hardcore (and controversial) nutrition for those who want to eat like our pre-industrial ancestors.
* Handling Sin, by Michael Malone. Everyone needs a completely escapist and fun summer novel, by a writer you're probably never heard of. I've read this one twice, and I rarely re-read.
* The Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler. My neighbor tucked this novel inside my bag when I was leaving for Christmas vacation a couple of years ago. The heroine walks away from her family while on summer holiday and doesn't come back for a year! I suspect many mothers in their 40s can relate to this.
* In the Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander. If I were to read this again, I'd feel bad for spending a beautiful Sunday morning updating my blog, even though I'm outside.
* The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawke. Did the previous one depress you? Then read this novel that envisions how society might function if we tree-huggers get our way.
* In Service of the Wild, by Stephanie Mills. This is from one of my favorite books from one of my favorite writers and a dear friend.
* Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, by Alan Weisman. If Stephanie's wild service inspired you, take a closer look at another community that's doing similar work.
* Wanderlust, by Rebecca Solnit. This is an outstanding history of walking as well as a guide to the inner journeys accessible with our feet. I was inspired by this book to plan a hike from my front door to the tip of South America in celebration of my 50th birthday. That's just a few years away, so I guess I'd better start figuring out that Darien Gap crossing.
* Earth Odyssey, by Mark Hertsgaard. Particularly compelling is his chapter on the automobile, which begins with a midnight taxi ride from the airport to downtown Bangkok.
* Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. I'll probably get blasted for this because it's so politically incorrect, but I first read this when I was 12 in North Carolina and have never forgotten it. If you can get past the racism and pretend you haven't seen the movie, you'll find a memorable story about a courageous woman who defies social conventions to live by her own star.
* Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I don't elaborate on Jane.

I'll probably have more to add to the list tomorrow.

1 comment:

kta said...

What a wonderful list, Sharon! I have also read and been influenced by Earth Odyssey, In the Absence of the Sacred, and Gaviotas. I haven't read Nourishing Traditions cover to cover but am familiar with Weston Price's work and have been influenced by that, too. And Jane Austen ... well, enough said!

Love your blog!