Books for Break

December 2020

This month’s Books for Break was created by Cristina Bahaveolos and Savannah Holt.

With the end of a stressful semester behind us, and a long stretch of well-deserved break ahead of us, there is no better time to grab a cozy blanket, a warm drink, and a great book. In the Office of Sustainability intern program, we believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn about the world, explore new ideas, and delve into complex and important issues. This is why we have compiled a list of some of our most engaging reads spanning different aspects of the sustainability field: to keep you company over your socially-distanced winter break.

To make your reading even more sustainable, we encourage you to rent books at your local library, purchase your books secondhand, and support your local bookstores when looking for your next great read! If you are looking for some Madison businesses to support this season, check out these links:

  1. A Room of One’s Own
  2. Mystery to Me
  3. Paul’s Bookstore
  4. Find your local indie bookstore
Black Faces, White Spaces book coverBlack Faces, White Spaces, by Carolyn Finney

“Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney weaves together personal and historical truths to explain the lack of representation in national parks, hiking, and the ‘great outdoors.’  As a marketing student, it was a powerful reminder that the identities of people shown in advertisements or teaching classes will always matter.” – Savannah Holt

Book jacket description
Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces.

Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

Braiding Sweetgrass book coverBraiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I think Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer has become the book that I recommend to people the most! By sharing her life stories in such a thought-provoking and enchanting way, Kimmerer teaches readers about Indigenous knowledge and beliefs, while also encouraging them to think differently about how they see the land and interact with their environment.” – Marina Minic

Book jacket description
“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.”

Fever Dream book cover

Distancia de Rescate, or Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin
*originally written in Spanish and translated to English

“Fever Dream is a book you will pick up and not put down until it’s over. Schweblin spins of a beautiful and deeply symbolic story around the environmental devastation in rural Argentina from mass soybean production. But at an even deeper level, she explores the intricate tie between ourselves, the ones we hold closest, and a dying environment. A short book that keeps you thinking long after.” – Cristina Bahaveolos

Distancia de rescate book coverBook jacket description
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.

Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language and translated into English for the first time, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.

Farming While Black book cover

Farming While Black, by Leah Penniman

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is more than a guide that teaches you how to start a farm or ‘restore degraded land.’ It connects the history of African farming traditions in order to revolutionize modern food systems. If you are interested in social sustainability and food access equity, this is the book for you!” Cristina Bahaveolos

Book jacket description
In 1920, 14 percent of all land-owning US farmers were black. Today less than 2 percent of farms are controlled by black people–a loss of over 14 million acres and the result of discrimination and dispossession. While farm management is among the whitest of professions, farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited, and people of color disproportionately live in “food apartheid” neighborhoods and suffer from diet-related illness. The system is built on stolen land and stolen labor and needs a redesign.

Farming While Black is the first comprehensive “how to” guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture. At Soul Fire Farm, author Leah Penniman co-created the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion (BLFI) program as a container for new farmers to share growing skills in a culturally relevant and supportive environment led by people of color. Farming While Black organizes and expands upon the curriculum of the BLFI to provide readers with a concise guide to all aspects of small-scale farming, from business planning to preserving the harvest. Throughout the chapters Penniman uplifts the wisdom of the African diasporic farmers and activists whose work informs the techniques described–from whole farm planning, soil fertility, seed selection, and agroecology, to using whole foods in culturally appropriate recipes, sharing stories of ancestors, and tools for healing from the trauma associated with slavery and economic exploitation on the land. Woven throughout the book is the story of Soul Fire Farm, a national leader in the food justice movement.

The technical information is designed for farmers and gardeners with beginning to intermediate experience. For those with more experience, the book provides a fresh lens on practices that may have been taken for granted as ahistorical or strictly European. Black ancestors and contemporaries have always been leaders–and continue to lead–in the sustainable agriculture and food justice movements. It is time for all of us to listen.

My Year of Meats cover

My Year of Meats, by Ruth L. Ozeki

My Year of Meats analyzes the cross-cultural differences between Japan and the United States, as well as some of the most intimate experiences as women, such as fertility, relationships, and motherhood. Woven in this fictional story is a remarkable and factual retelling of the hidden side of the global meat industry. A beautifully told story.” – Savannah Holt

Book jacket description
Ruth Ozeki’s mesmerizing debut novel has captivated readers and reviewers worldwide. When documentarian Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job producing a Japanese television show that just happens to be sponsored by an American meat-exporting business, she uncovers some unsavory truths about love, fertility, and a dangerous hormone called DES.

Soon she will also cross paths with Akiko Ueno, a beleaguered Japanese housewife struggling to escape her overbearing husband.

Hailed by USA Today as “rare and provocative” and awarded the Kirayama Prize for Literature of the Pacific Rim, My Year of Meats is a modern-day take on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for fans of Michael Pollan, Margaret Atwood, and Barbara Kingsolver.

There's Something in the Water book coverThere’s Something in the Water, by Ingrid R.G. Waldron

“There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities by Ingrid R.G. Waldron is an important read for anyone fighting for environmental justice as it highlights the disproportionate environmental issues that impact the Mi’kmaq Indigenous community and the African Nova Scotian communities of Nova Scotia, Canada. The 184-page text uses a great deal of academic language which sometimes requires rereading of paragraphs. The technical language should not scare potential readers off, as Waldron writes on important, often overlooked, topics like settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and the effectiveness of community-based participatory research.” – Cassie Sanford

Book jacket description
In “There’s Something In The Water”, Ingrid R. G. Waldron examines the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts in Indigenous and Black communities in Canada, using Nova Scotia as a case study, and the grassroots resistance activities by Indigenous and Black communities against the pollution and poisoning of their communities.

Using settler colonialism as the overarching theory, Waldron unpacks how environmental racism operates as a mechanism of erasure enabled by the intersecting dynamics of white supremacy and state-sanctioned racial and gendered violence, neoliberalism, and racial capitalism in white settler societies. The environmental justice narrative in Nova Scotia fails to make race explicit, obscuring it within discussions on class, and this type of strategic inadvertence mutes the specificity of Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian experiences with racism and environmental hazards. By redefining the parameters of critique around the environmental justice narrative and movement in Nova Scotia and Canada, Waldron opens a space for a more critical dialogue on how environmental racism manifests itself within this intersectional context. Waldron also illustrates the ways in which the effects of environmental racism are compounded by other forms of oppression to further dehumanize and harm communities already dealing with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as long-standing social and economic inequality. Finally, Waldron documents the long history of struggle, resistance, and mobilizing in Indigenous and Black communities to address environmental racism.