It’s easy to see environmentalism as a form of worrying. A lot of it is about what we Earthlings have been doing wrong, how careless we’ve been, and it can be hard to see the difference between careless and carefree living. As a born worrier myself, I’ve been surprised to find that noticing something and then caring to turn toward doing it right actually reduces my worries about the problem because I am taking part in the solution. The first book I finished last month is about 100 different parts of the solution to Earth’s biggest problem.
The other three books, though fiction, are about some of the reasons to save the Earth: Human lives, in every time and every culture, are so fascinating and precious, we must preserve the habitat for this species so that we can go on into new eras and evolving cultures as we turn, turn, turn through the varied experiences this amazing planet has to offer! To share this appreciation with my almost 7-year-old daughter, I read her two books I enjoyed sharing with her older brother a few years ago: In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord and Once I Was a Plum Tree by Johanna Hurwitz.
Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken
One hundred strategies for saving and rejuvenating Earth are explained in this informative, optimistic book, well illustrated with color photographs. Some of them are things I already knew a lot about, like reducing food waste and using public transit. Other sections taught me more about things like solar power, regenerative agriculture, green roofs, and innovative modes of transit that I was aware of but not in this much detail. Then there were ideas that were totally new to me, like biochar and repopulating the Mammoth Steppe and direct air capture. Each idea is ranked by how much it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, how much money it will cost, and how much money it will save by 2050.
I finally finished reading this whole book, which I’d owned for about two years, after realizing that it was not the kind of book I’d be able just to read page after page, especially not while lying in bed–it’s big and heavy, and each two-page spread is written by a different author about a different topic. Once I realized that I should read one article at a time, it became much more manageable!
It’s exciting to think about so many different ideas for improving the way we live on Earth and about all these strategies working together to save us from burning up our only home! It’s comforting to see how many of these things are already started and to reflect on how much they’ve increased during my lifetime. We’ve got to keep moving ahead with all this now, in the cool of the day. I’m excited that we might soon break free from plastic pollution in a big, new way!
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Grace is in her nineties, living in a nursing home, when a director interviews her about the film that’s being made about the suicide (or was it murder?) of a young poet at Riverton in 1924, when Grace was a lady’s maid to one of the daughters of the illustrious Hartford family. Casting her mind back to that time, Grace finds herself thinking back through the whole story of how she came to Riverton as a fourteen-year-old housemaid, what she saw of the family’s secrets, how she learned the true connection between her employment there and her mother’s similar role before she was born, how she endeared herself to Hannah Hartford and accompanied her to London when she married, what she witnessed of the transition from classic English manor life to the Roaring Twenties, and what really happened that fateful night.
I enjoyed this trip into the past, which told me more than I’d known about the English system of being “in service,” the distinctions between different classes of maids, and how that system fell apart in the era between world wars. Although some scenes were a bit melodramatic, the overall premise was basically realistic, and Grace’s character was really well built around her experiences. The older Grace remembers what her younger self had done, and why, with just the right amount of perspective on what she knows now that she didn’t know then. I also loved the descriptions of Riverton and its pull on Grace, and the scenes in which elderly Grace tried to do something in her feeble body, which were just strong enough and not overdone.
Glittering Images by Susan Howatch
This was a very different trip to twentieth-century England, a story of intrigue, psychological self-discovery, and family drama among Church of England clergymen in 1937. It kept getting deeper and more interesting than I expected!
Charles Ashworth works for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sends him on a secret fact-finding mission to one of the regional bishops, Adam Jardine. The Archbishop is concerned that Jardine’s strongly expressed opinions about a proposed change in British divorce laws indicate an inexcusable flaw in Jardine’s own moral reasoning. For years, since her traumatic stillbirth, Jardine’s wife has employed the very efficient (and very attractive) Miss Christie as her full-time, live-in assistant. It seems very possible that Jardine and/or his wife could be sexually involved with Miss Christie. Ashworth’s attempt to investigate this situation is thwarted by his becoming instantly smitten with Miss Christie and, in a different way, with Bishop Jardine.
It seems like Jardine is just gaslighting Ashworth when, confronting him about the snooping, he tells Ashworth he ought to take a hard look at his own life–but actually, that’s exactly what Ashworth needs to do, because this clean-cut priest turns out to be a bundle of complicated issues! Bishop Jardine has his own tangled past and twisted morals, and so does Miss Christie, but before he can work things out with and for them, Ashworth needs to retreat to a monastery and then have a serious talk with his parents.
Much as I enjoyed getting to know all these complicated people, I was disappointed with their “happy” ending that prioritizes appearing proper over being honest and leaves at least one person with a severe frustration that’s likely to cause problems in the future…. Maybe that’s why the author wrote more books!
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
The most striking thing about this 1995 novel of white U.S. citizens and Mexican undocumented immigrants interacting in California is how little has changed. I’m kind of insulated from the border situation (living in Pittsburgh), but what I hear in the national media recently is very similar to the situations and attitudes described here, and I have two main thoughts about it: (1) What a horrible mess! (2) This affects so many real people, each of whom is just trying to live their unique and precious life.
Delaney is a white, red-haired nature columnist who loves hiking in the wilderness outside Los Angeles. His wife Kira is a white, ambitious real estate agent in the L.A. suburbs who got a great deal on a house in Arroyo Blanco, a new “community” from which Delaney can literally step into the wilderness. Candido is a Mexican man who’s made several undocumented trips into the U.S. to work. His second wife América is 17 years old, pregnant, and on her first visit to the U.S. Candido and América are camping in the canyon near Arroyo Blanco until they can earn enough to rent an apartment.
The two couples’ very different lives keep coinciding–sometimes in direct impact, sometimes seeing each other from a distance, sometimes unwittingly sharing spaces or objects. Each couple has conflicts: Kira supports building an opaque wall around Arroyo Blanco to keep out pet-eating coyotes, desperate Mexicans, and the beautiful nature Delaney loves. Candido wants to support América and forbid her from seeking work, even after he’s seriously injured and they’ve lost all their savings. All of them suffer from the two semi-natural disasters that sweep through the canyon. Each of them has real flaws and strengths, and each of them is kind of trapped in his or her own perspective.