Up here in the northern hemisphere, it's the height of summer. And what two more delightful words follow "summer" than "reading list"?
As a child, I was one of those pale-skinned bookworms who lost herself (and many summer hours) in serial mysteries and horse stories. In college, I drifted through less than compelling June-through-August jobs on a diverting current of space operas; during graduate school, my intellect took a hot weather vacation from the fate of the Earth with cyberpunk (R.I.P.) and English novels. It's been a while since enduring the hottest months of the year also meant having lots of leisure time to crack the covers, but I've still got the summer reading bug. Here's the pile of environmental histories and observations I'm hoping to absorb between now and 23:03 ET on September 22:
The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. Author Mark Kurlansky relates the history of New York City from the point of view of a bivalve. Or more precisely, the impact of people's desire for this tasty bivalve, the oyster, on the establishment, economy and ecology of New York City and its surrounding waters. Few think of New York City as a metropolis where the environment or ecology play a significant role. But in The Big Oyster, Kurlansky tells tales of a once-thriving trade that sent New York oysters around the world and helped establish the city. He also dishes up a lot of vibrant detail, like the social scene in old New York oyster cellars, the finer points of oyster husbandry, and nearly three dozen historic recipes for dishes like "collups of oysters" and "oysters roasted."
Beyond Green: Towards a Sustainable Art. Written to accompany an eponymous traveling exhibit, Beyond Green profiles several artists and artist collectives exploring the intersections of environmental, economic and social issues around creating a sustainable future -- while also addressing aesthetic inquiries. Hardcore makers and solvers -- like engineers or environmentalists -- might find the art part a little beside the point, while some art lovers may think art has been altogether lost in the conceptual maze. When I saw the show here in New York City in the spring, I found it a mixed bag, with some of the artists skillfully interweaving and critiquing influences and impulses ranging from neighborhood-based recycling to personal branding.
The Future of Ice: A Journey into Cold. I've put off reading this book for two years because I'm afraid it will break my heart. But lately I feel a deep need for a change of perspective -- something to compliment the hard edges of environmental reporting on how climate disruption is affecting the Arctic. So I'm looking forward to Gretel Erlich's lyricism: "We are made of weather and our thoughts stream from the braid work of stillness and storms." And the cover image of the white-blue glacier transports me away from the record heat we've been enduring in New York, briefly -- but just as effectively as space operas once distracted me between semesters.
And lastly, from the sublime to the
rodential rodentius with Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. Robert Sullivan is the environmental writer I want to be when I grow up. As with his excellent book Meadowlands, Sullivan here finds inspiration for perky non-fiction storytelling in the least palatable -- but totally unavoidable -- facets of urban ecology and environmental history. And, he's funny while he does it.
If you like the subject, then a good complement or more modern update would be John Waldman's "Heartbeats in the Muck". Phillip Lopate's "Waterfront" is also a nice stroll around New York harbor and its history.
Thanks for mentioning those -- I hadn't yet heard of Heartbeats in the Muck. There seem to be a lot of great recent books about the maritime history of New York and the mid-Atlantic -- In The Heart of the Sea is also in my book pile.