When I was six or seven, my aunt asked me what was (then) a series of innocent questions: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Do you want to have an inside job or an outside job?” I looked up at her in surprise and replied, “Aunt Jenny, you know I’m an inside kind of girl.”
Almost twenty years later, this is still a pretty fair evaluation of who I am: I don’t really like to get my hands dirty and I don’t like people to see me sweat. I have never been camping and I’m not really interested in the concept. Generally speaking, I‘m an inside kind of girl.
When I signed up for this seminar in Environmental Communication, needless to say, I already knew that I had a lot to learn. What I didn’t expect, though, was that through a carefully selected reading list and a handful of thoughtful classroom discussions, I’d begin to feel more connected to the world around me in a way that I never expected.
With Ecofeminist Book Club, I seek to recreate this experience for others, in the hopes that even “inside” people can nurture a greater respect for and a better connection to their outside world—and they can do it in the air-conditioning . This reading list combines a few of my favorite things: good memoirs, great writing, and an extra helping of feminist thought.
You can use the suggested books in this list as a guide to creating your own Ecofeminist Book Club or just as a reading list for yourself. The titles are organized chronologically, beginning with Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring, a book that signaled the start of the environmental movement to Terry Tempest William’s 2017 The Hour of Land, a collection of essays that celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service.
You might notice that all of the authors included are women and people of color—but this is not an accident. Reading people’s stories (whether or not they resemble our own) can be an exercise in empathy; storytelling connects us more closely to the experiences of others, the worlds within which they exist, and by extension—the world within which we all exist.
By Rachel Carson (1962)
“In nature nothing exists alone.”
Known as one of the greatest science books of all time, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is the 1962 classic that launched an entire environmental movement. The book specifically addresses the vast and harmful effects of DDT, a synthetic pesticide that was gaining widespread use during the 1950s. More broadly, it sparked a greater concern for the powerful impact that humans have their natural world and challenged the notion that man could dominate nature. Silent Spring is the perfect place for Ecofeminist Book Club to begin because it’s a work of writing that effectively gave a voice to female scientists and writers at the time and signaled the rise of ecofeminism yet to come.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
By Annie Dillard (1974)
“The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
Annie Dillard’s 1964 Pulitzer-prize winning work of narrative nonfiction Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been called genre-defying and its publication made her a pioneer in the male-dominated field of wilderness writing (though nature writer is a label she rejects.) It’s also no stretch to name Dillard as Thoreau’s true heir—she wrote this book shortly after completing a master’s thesis on Walden. Just as she argued in that thesis that “Walden wasn’t really a book about a pond,” I would argue that Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not about a creek: it’s about solitude, self-awareness, and seeing.
The Solace of Open Spaces
By Gretel Ehrlich (1986)
“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are.”
Gretel Ehrlich’s first major work of nonfiction, The Solace of Open Spaces, is a love letter to the American West. Through a series of journal entries, it documents Ehrlich’s trip west to Wyoming after suddenly losing the man that she loved. She writes romantically and poetically of the kind-hearted people, the unforgiving seasons, and the sprawling landscape. As Annie Dillard said, “Wyoming has found its Whitman.” Like many of the other works on this list, “The Solace of Open Spaces” is as much an exploration of the natural world as it is an investigation into the human condition.
Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development
By Vandana Shiva (1988)
“What patriarchy sees as productive work is, in ecological terms, very destructive.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a radical feminist, a radical scientist, and a seminal figure in the growing and global ecofeminism movement. With Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, she makes a strong argument for the interconnectedness of ecological crisis, colonialism, and the oppression of women. This book examines themes of maldevelopment and proposes that our paradigm of progress might be the very thing that destroys us.
A Natural History of the Senses
By Diane Ackerman (1991)
“Words are small shapes in the gorgeous chaos of the world.”
Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses serves as an investigation into our five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, and vision. Through a collection of essays, she explores the origins and evolution of our senses and incorporating both fact and folklore. Ultimately, this book is a reminder of something often overlooked: our understanding of the world is limited by our ability to perceive it.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
By Janisse Ray (2000)
“I carry the landscape inside me like an ache.”
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is the first work of prose published by poet, environmental activist, and native Georgian Janisse Ray. This memoir is as much a portrait of her complicated family life as it is a portrait of the quickly disappearing longleaf pine forests of her rural home. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a study in nature and a study in family, a reminder that the story of a person is the story of a place. It demands that we all preserve and protect the places we call home.
Unbowed: A Memoir
By Wangari Maathai (2007)
“You don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”
Unbowed: A Memoir is the personal memoir of Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The book chronicles her early life in Kenya, her education in the United States, and her continued fight for equality, democracy, education, and conservation. Her remarkable personal story makes her an unforgettable ecofeminist icon.
The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild
By Lyanda Lynn Haupt (2013)
“Where does the wild end and the city begin?”
In The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, acclaimed nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt constructs a bestiary that characterizes the furred and feathered inhabitants of her urban Seattle home. Each chapter provides incredible insight—from biology to mythology—into the animals all around us. With her new urban bestiary, Haupt defies the notion that wild is a place that we go and instead reminds us that wild is a place that we all live and that noticing can be an act of love.
H is for Hawk
By Helen MacDonald (2016)
“When you are broken, you run. But you don’t always run away. Sometimes, helplessly, you run towards.”
H is for Hawk is the story of Helen MacDonald’s journey into grief and falconry. After the sudden and tragic loss of her father, MacDonald decides to cope with her pain by doing something unusual: she acquires a goshawk—one of the fiercest falcon predators and the subject of one of her favorite classic novels—and then attempts to train it herself. The book that follows has been called “a synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing.” H is for Hawk thoughtful meditation on life and death, beauty and pain, man and beast.
Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationships of African Americans to the Great Outdoors
By Carolyn Finney (2014)
“Whose land is this, anyway?”
With Black Spaces, White Faces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, social scientist Carolyn Finney poses an important questions: why are African Americans so vastly underrepresented when it comes to an interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? What follows is a critical look at the historical, cultural, and geographical factors that shape the discourse of the environmental justice movement and an answer to whether the Great Outdoors is really “a white thing” after all.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
By Elizabeth Colbert (2015)
“It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world.”
New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s second full-length book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, is a Pulitzer-prize-winning look into the dark near future of “rampant species extinction and impending ecosystem collapse.” Kolbert’s masterful writing is matched only by meticulous reporting, which takes her from the Andes Mountains to the Great Barrier Reef to the far-off coast of Iceland. What she discovers is something equal parts heartening and disheartening: our planet’s problems began way before we were able to conceive of them.
Animals Strike Curious Poses
By Elena Passarello (2017)
“Of all the images that make our world, animal images are particularly buried inside us. “
In Animals Strike Curious Poses, Elena Passarello creates a bestiary of her own by tracing throughout history animals immortalized by human storytelling—from an ancient woolly mammoth named Yuka to Mozart’s personal pet starling to a very special gorilla named Koko. Each essay acts as a biography of the famous animal and together the book reveals how these extraordinary, immortal beasts can provide insight into the most peculiar animal of all: us.
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
By Terry Tempest Williams (2017)
“Whenever I go to a national park, I meet the miraculous.”
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks is a collection of essays written by environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams and inspired by the National Park Service’s centennial celebration. Each essay individually acts as the portrait of a park; combined, these essays create a narrative that explores the complex relationships we have wit our environment and investigates the often political issues that plague our national park system. William’s work raises an important question: can our national parks help a divided nation find common ground?