Bluedot’s Favorite Eco-Reads


Reading in a hammock, reading in a beach chair, reading on a porch swing, reading in bed: Summer offers loads of options to dive into a great book. For those seeking out climate books of all genres, take a page out of our recommendations! And please, support your local bookstore (and library).

Julia Cooper, Bluedot’s digital intern (and wine expert) is reading Family of Origin by CJ Hauser and says, “It’s a terrific novel by an undergrad professor of mine that takes place in a world where a group of scientists have become obsessed with a case study that they claim proves evolution has started running in reverse. A heartwarming and engaging read about family, loss, nature, and progress. I’m not always a huge fiction reader, but I was gripped by this from beginning to end.

I’m also reading Wine, Unfiltered by Katherine Clary, which is an approachable and astoundingly informative intro to the contemporary natural wine movement. Clary focuses on the positive, sustainable choices being made by small-production, low-intervention natural wine makers rather than inundating the reader with disappointing (and often disgusting) facts about the artificial and destructive practices used in conventional mass-market wine production. A quick read and an essential one for anyone who wants to better understand wine as an agricultural product and become a more eco-conscious consumer.”

Bluedot digital consultant Ray Pearce is reading Eat Like A Fish by Bren Smith. “A well-written story of a longtime commercial fisherman (Smith) who starts with an oyster farm and evolves into one of the leaders in Regenerative Ocean Farming. He has a wonderful, down-to-earth voice and was simply looking to make a living launching his oyster farm and it evolved from there. Living on an Island, with both an appreciation for the career opportunities ocean farming can present as well as the environmental benefits, this book truly resonated with me. It was a James Beard Award winner as well.”

Columnist Geoff Currier says that, “In a ‘Cruising with Currier’ column I did with Jed Katch, he turned me on to the work of Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia. In her book Finding The Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, she writes that the trees in a forest are often linked to each other via an older tree she calls a Mother Tree that uses a special kind of fungus — called a mycorrhizal fungus — to reach out and communicate with other trees. What’s more, she writes, we can use this fungus to identify the Mother Trees so we’ll know not to destroy them, which can help to perpetuate the health of the forest. Fascinating.”

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Kelsey Perrett, digital projects manager, recommends Karen Russell’s short stories “The Gondoliers,” “The Tornado Auction,” and “The Ghost Birds.” “I’ll devour anything Karen Russell writes,” Kelsey says. “She has an effortless way of incorporating the emotional core of climate issues into stories that are on the surface absurd or fantastical. They’re appropriately grim, but they’re not doomsday prophecies or survival stories. They’re stories about adaptation — people grappling with their environment, their relationships, and their choices in a changing world. “We’re going to have to learn another way,” Russell told The Rumpus. “I thought if we could adapt the world in these dark ways, there’s a sort of dark optimism embedded into this knowledge of the future.”

Kelsey also loved Franny Choi’s, “The World Keeps Ending, and The World Goes On.” “I had the honor of hearing Franny Choi read this recently, and it jump started my long-dormant love for poetry. At my most pessimistic, I find it strangely comforting to be reminded that the feeling of “the apocalypse” has come and gone for many people, many times over. You can read this poem pessimistically as the world is shit and it has always been shit, but you can also hear it as an optimistic celebration of human resilience. Even at its most neutral, it’s a call to wake up and listen to the rumbling around us.” 

Bluedot founder (and former film producer) Vicki Riskin urges all of us to take a look at award-winning documentary To Which We Belong, which, she says, “follows several younger-generation ranchers and farmers as they return to their family homes to make the family businesses, teetering on the brink of collapse, profitable again. Their plan, and their families’ last best hope, is to employ new and innovative farming techniques, which hold exciting possibilities. For generations, their families have worked their lands to near-death with chemicals and modern industrial farming techniques to wring a living from their increasingly unyielding land. Now, as worn as their overused land, the older generation is willing to hand off the businesses to their children — uncertainly, skeptically, but also prayerfully and gratefully. For each family, this major turning point requires courage, hard work, trust, and love. The rewards are astounding. The restoration of the land to its natural vitality and bounty. Beauty. Cost-savings. Impressive profits for the first time in years. And throughout, a moving sense of families united. Be prepared for tears — theirs and your own.” 

Associate editor Lily Olsen suggests a short story, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Joyce Carol Oates, originally published in the New Yorker. “The reason this piece stuck with me was the way that Oates captures the human spirit showing up and expressing itself in times that feel hopeless. While the story is quite a bit of doom and gloom, it reminds me of the power of art — in this case music, specifically — to express the climate crisis and galvanize people in a way that words alone cannot.” 

Lily also recommends the poem, “Binsey Poplars” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. She says, “Beyond my general affinity for Hopkins’ work, I recommend this poem of his in particular for the way it honors the natural world as if it were a lost loved one. This poem always brings to my mind the natural spaces I hold dear and motivates me to defend them at the thought that one day I, too, could be reflecting on their absence. While it reads as a lament, I’ve always felt there to be a tinge of hope in Hopkins’ wakeup call to recognize the consequences of our actions — the first step to making changes.”

Catherine Walthers, Bluedot contributing editor and recipe developer is reading Weedy Wisdom for the Curious Forager: Common Wild Plants to Nourish Body & Soul by the Vineyard’s Rebecca Gilbert, who started Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark. “This small book — literally only 5 by 6 inches — is packed with so much information, I’ve already read it twice, and will treasure it as a resource. I found new information about fermenting and pickling wild plants, ways to use the seeds I never thought about, and fun things to try, like making cough drops. What’s particularly helpful is that Rebecca’s life right here helps us appreciate the ‘wild’ Martha’s Vineyard in our backyard and nearby — there’s a few recipes for stuffing grape leaves I can’t wait to try. What you find in Weedy Wisdom you can’t read elsewhere is Rebecca’s own observations and philosophy about the importance plants can play in our lives — and ways we can better connect with the natural world. Plants especially can teach us much about adapting to the world experiencing climate change going forward, Rebecca says. ‘Plants have adapted already — a weed is a plant with good survival strategy. They can show us how to adapt. They know how to do that better than us.’” Read Cathy’s story about Rebecca Gilbert

Bluedot co-editor Jamie Kageleiry and proofreader Irene Ziebarth, whose husband, Doug West, is Vice Chair of the Vineyard Conservation Society board of directors, had the privilege of attending the premiere screening of On Our Watch, a new short film telling the story of the Island’s coastal ponds: their vital importance, the threats they face, and what we all must do to save them. The film is beautifully shot and edited by director Ollie Becker.  Irene said “I was physically impacted after seeing the damage that has been done but hopeful that a wide showing (even global) of the documentary will awaken the Island (and the world) to what must be done.” On Our Watch is the product of collaboration between VCS and the MV Film Festival. It will be shown on August 17 at 7pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Don’t miss it. Ollie Becker will also be speaking to Bluedot readers who attend the “Art of the Great Pond” opening at Martha’s Vineyard Bank’s Chilmark Branch on Friday, Aug. 12, at 5:30 pm. 

Contributing editor Mollie Doyle says: “I find most books on climate change to be completely paralyzing, which is why I have been reading books about nature to inspire me to take action and make changes. John McPhee’s Coming into the Country is a book I return to again and again. His appreciation and story from the wilds of Alaska is profound.” Read Mollie’s Room for Change columns here.

Cleo Carney, Bluedot’s summer intern, is championing her Canadian roots with the young adult novel The Marrow Thieves by Métis author Cherie Dimaline. “While it is an easy read in the literary sense, its depiction of a climate-stricken dystopian universe is incredibly provocative and emotionally challenging. The novel heeds a warning about the potential fate of our planet and the chaos that can stem from climate uncertainty. Additionally, it honors Indigenous culture and reminds the audience of the systematic oppression that Indigenous individuals had and continue to endure. However, despite its lack of uplifting content, the novel is addictive and chock full of twists and turns — I highly recommend it!”

Bluedot co-editor Leslie Garrett recommends Cloud Cuckoo Land by Pulitzer-Prize winner Anthony Doerr. “It’s a whopper of a novel that tells the stories of five characters spanning eight centuries all centered around a book-with-the-book where each character finds comfort. In particular, the storyline of a sensitive young boy who feels at home in a nearby wooded area and who takes dramatic action when that space becomes developed for homes resonated because I’ve felt similarly helpless and enraged at the climate crisis. But this book holds much hope, mostly in the form of people who refuse to stop caring about the earth and each other. ‘Cloud cuckoo land’ might be slang for a place where everyone is crazy and/or naive, but it’s where I find those I most want to spend time with.” 

Do you have a favorite eco-read? Tell us about it or share on Bluedot’s social media.

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