Top 5 Nonfiction Reads
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
This is one of the very few books I’ve read more than once. A well-told story with a Socratic style, the characters’ dialogue makes you question everything you never thought you didn’t know. The author spent decades perfecting this masterpiece and I’ll bet that anyone who has read it agrees it changes your view of our culture and the things that are the way they are. It’s strange to start a nonfiction list with one whose main character is a talking gorilla, but I’m not turning back.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
My friend Karri made this print of a quote from the book Braiding Sweetgrass, and released it coincidentally, just as I was reading the final chapters of the book, during all the free time that coincided with the Covid-19 quarantine. So now I have this lovely artwork to remind me of many things like a dear friendship, the world ashift, and the many powerful messages from this amazing book.
Kimmerer’s essays bring you outside into dew-filled forests, and along aching lakesides and singing creeks. She introduces you to trees who you’ll want to have a drink with and get to know better. Amphibians you’d like to take a sunset walk with. Her writing delivers a peaceful appreciation for the natural world and a plea for change to respect and adore the non-human players around us.
The Land Ethic from A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold
While the book in its entirety is a loving appreciation of the natural world, I recommend this essay in particular and in fact I remind myself to pull it out and read The Land Ethic nearly every spring. A few years ago on a road trip to Texas, I remember stopping to peruse the shelves in a used bookstore in Nashville and feeling panicked at the great number of copies of A Sand County Almanac on the shelf. You’d think I was looking at puppies in a cold animal shelter. “These shouldn’t be here,” I thought. “Why aren’t they in a warm loving home?”
In the preceding essay, Wilderness, Leopold writes, “The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; ” Leopold spent many years in conservation work, and he writes with a notably indigenous perspective, with an understanding of the undeniable connection and what should be non-distinction between humans and the rest of creation. I quoted the preceding essay instead of the one of topic here to up the allure; did it work?
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
A friend gave me my first copy of the Tao way back in my wandering days. I’ve since acquired and gifted several copies and recently came back into possession of the translation I’d had back then, which I find to be the best. It’s an ancient yet timeless text, and not to be devoured, but slowly savored.
I came quite close to naming the farm “Spoke & Barrel Farm”, which was pulled from the lines of the Tao Te Ching, but I was informed me that any biz name with 2 words split by ampersand is “hipster” and therefore to be avoided. I later realized there is a local food truck named Smoke & Barrel, so I’m glad I avoided that conundrum.
I think that reading the Tao over the years has helped me to relax overall, especially when it comes to understanding what it means to be in control. In situations that could prove a difficult battle, I can often remind myself to be like water, and flow in the easiest direction, and in leadership to remember the value of humility:
“Why is the ocean king of all of the rivers? Because it lies beneath them.”
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
I can recall that I bought The Omnivore’s Dilemma back in 2007 with a half-ounce of presence; I was thoroughly engaged in a phone call while walking through an airport and slid into a bookshop to scoop up a cross-country flight read. The Omnivore’s Dilemma drew me in, blowing my mind on that flight back home from California; I had begun to read a bit about food and diet, and while real-talk books like “Skinny Bitch” reeled my mind about personal health, Pollan’s writing in The Omnivore’s Dilemma starting my brain cogs spinning about the public health and environmental implications of the foods we choose to eat. I loved this book so much I didn’t stop at the final chapter. I read through the Sources and researched the people he interviewed and referenced; I went on to read more about Joel Salatin and Marion Nestle, and got myself a copy of Frances Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet” to name a few.
Oh right, I also became a farmer. Working at farmers’ markets and on farms for the last 10 years now I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who were impacted by The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I think the whole industry and market for sustainably and ethically produced food has been impacted in a huge way by this one special book. It’s worth reading at least once.