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The best environmental books we’ve read in 2018

This is our third year of recapping the best books we’ve read over the past year.

Here are the 2017 and 2016 lists.

We’re so glad that the number of both readers and reviewers of EcoLit Books have grown enough to now have an annual tradition of celebrating our favorite books of the year.

And this is indeed something to celebrate because there were some amazing environmental and animal-themed books published over the past year, and these aren’t necessarily the books you’ll see on more mainstream “best of the year” lists. 

But these books are, in our humble opinion, some of the more important books of the year. Tackling topics that range from rethinking farming practices to how to coexist with wildlife in urban areas to our evolving relationship with the land and its many creatures.

I hope you enjoy the list. Thanks so much to our readers — and especially our contributors — for making EcoLit Books an online hub for eco-literature. Here’s to another year of reading like you give a damn.

Jacki Skole

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee 

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee is a riveting account of the life and untimely death of O-Six, Yellowstone’s most famous wolf. It is also the story of humanity’s timeless attempt to bend nature to its will, no matter the cost.

Rising by Elizabeth Rush

Rising by Elizabeth Rush takes readers on a graphic tour of U.S. coastal communities grappling with the devastating effects of climate change. From Maine to Miami, the Gulf Coast to the Bay Area, Rush reveals how lives, livelihoods, and entire ecosystems are undergoing irrevocable changes that are destined to leave many of these communities uninhabitable. It is not an uplifting read, but it is an important one.  

Midge Raymond

Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro. 2017.

While the notion of “cultured meat” or “lab-grown” meat may sound odd to many, Paul Shapiro’s book makes the case for why this new industry is among our best hopes for, quite literally, saving the world….Clean Meat should be read by anyone who cares about the planet, but most of all by those who currently eat and wear animals the way these products are made today. This book provides a detailed, well-rounded examination of a new industry that highlights the challenges — and the incredible possibilities — of feeding and clothing us all in an increasingly populated and demanding world. 

Heather Taft

Reflecting on the environmental books I’ve read this year, two really stand out to me. My first recommendation is a children’s book I read this summer for 8-11 year olds called Poacher Panic by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler, illustrated by Diane Le Feyer.

This book focuses on the rescue of a wild tiger in Sumatra and her two cubs that are set to be taken by poachers once the cubs are old enough to leave their mom. Ben and Zoey work to track down the tigers, while they try to figure out who the poachers are, so they can rescue the tigers before the poachers get to them first. Their research also teaches them about the trafficking of wildlife and animals parts. The book is written at an appropriate level for children. It is also the first book in the Wild Rescue series, so there are more books focused on other species and wildlife issues around the world to choose from if your child likes this one.

Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Big Cats by Andrew Loveridge

Clearly I have a passion for big cats. As a conservation biologist I knew trophy hunting had devastating effects on lion prides in Africa. This book explained the nature of lion prides and the impact of losing males over and over again, leading to decreasing pride sizes. I also was not aware of the extent of government involvement in trophy hunting and the impact this can have on a researcher trying to save the lions they are using to make money. It was a very interesting and informative read for me.

John Yunker

Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World by Tim Low

Thanks to DNA, we now know that Australia is the wellspring of the planet’s songbirds. And it wasn’t until the second half of the last century that Australians themselves began to appreciate that songbirds evolved in their backyards. And it’s not only songbirds that Australia gave the word but parrots.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

When we started EcoLit Books five years ago, this was the type of book I had in mind. A novel that places nature in its proper place in relation to people. That is, above us — in this case, both figuratively and literally. In The Overstory, Richard Powers has crafted an epic novel that stretches hundreds of years, culminating in a series of life-and-death environmental battles. But even more so, this is a novel about rediscovering the largest and oldest living creatures on our planet.

The Center for Humans and Nature

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman, Chelsea Green Publishing 

Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children’s Literature by Liam Heneghan, University of Chicago Press

Rust Belt Arcana: Tarot and Natural History in the Exurban Wilds by Matt Stansberry, Belt Publishing

This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent by Daegan Miller, University of ChicagoPress

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush, Milkweed Editions

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers, W.W. Norton

Food from the Radical Center. Healing Our Land and Communities by Gary Paul Nabhan, Island Press

Wildly Successful Farming Sustainability and the New Agricultural Land Ethic by Brian DeVore, University of Wisconsin Press

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen, Simon & Schuster

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World by Marcia Bjornerud, Princeton University Press

 Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology by Lisa Margonelli, Farrar, Strauss Giroux

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle, Verso

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, Verso, 2018

The Way of Coyote: Shared Journeys in the Urban Wilds by Gavin Van Horn, University of Chicago Press

Frog Pond Philosophy: Essays on the Relationship between Humans and Nature by Strachan Donnelley, edited by Ceara Donnelley and Bruce Jennings, University Press of Kentucky


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Upcoming deadlines for environmental writing (nonfiction/fiction/poetry)

Calling all ecolit writers…

A number of journals are closing their submissions windows over the next month:

Ecotone: October 1st

Alluvian: October 11th

The Fourth River (Tributaries Special Issue): October 15th

Camas: October 20th

For our growing list of outlets for environmental writing (now at 40), click here.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Even In My Dreams: A collection of vegan poems

“Why a book of vegan poetry?” asks editor Emma Letessier in the introduction to Even In My Dreams: A Collection of Vegan Poems. As a poet herself, Letessier has found writing poetry to be cathartic; like many vegans who live with the daily awareness of the suffering that inspired them to choose this way of life, she writes that “poetry allows us to take emotions that are raw and painful and transform them into something beautiful, powerful.”

And the poems in this collection do just that. There are poems for every reader in this book, from the fun and the playful to the thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Many poems articulate the cruel processes of farming—babies taken from their mothers, animals caged and shorn—often asking readers to take the animals’ point of view. Other poems are conversations: animal to farmer, vegan to non-vegan, horse to rider.

Nicola McLean’s “Time,” calls out the hypocrisy of those who love animals continuing to eat them. In “Those Little Deaths,” Ashley Capps writes of toads, mosquitos, and spiders:

 

…I remember an enormous spider we smashed,
the difficult flag she’s put up
in our doorframe, the way she just hung in the middle
and breathed. …

 

While many of the poems may be distressing to read, there’s humor to be found as well, as in Dominic Berry’s limerick “A Vegan from Slough.” And there’s inspiration in poems that encourage activism and that celebrate the earth and animals, as in Kat von Cupcake’s “Goat Power”:

 

… I know I may look
like a delicate flower,
but do not underestimate
my immense caprine power.

 

In reading this collection, vegans will be reminded of why they live the way they live. Non-vegans, Letessier hopes, may capture a “glimpse of the world through our eyes, a chance to lift the veil, allow yourself to feel our compassion for the suffering of other sentient beings and understand the very tangible consequences of our everyday choices.” In other words, this book invites us to connect—not only with one another, but with the creatures with whom we share the planet.

All proceeds from Even In My Dreams will benefit the Barefoot Vegan Farm & Animal Sanctuary. Learn more at the Barefoot Vegan website, where you can also subscribe to Barefoot Vegan Magazine.

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New EcoLit Books: Summer 2016

So little time; so many books!

Here are some of the books that were submitted to us over the past few months that are now available (or soon will be):

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes
Author: George Poinar Jr.
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Description: From Northern California to British Columbia, coastal dunes and beaches provide a unique habitat for plants, animals, and insects. With A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes, hikers and beach walkers on the Pacific Coast will discover a teeming metropolis of life in what may seem a barren landscape to the inattentive eye.

About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Description: Cathryn and John Sill provide a thoughtful first glimpse into the world of marine mammals in this latest installment of the acclaimed About… series.

An Ecology of Elsewhere
Author: Sandra Meek
Publisher: Persea Books
Description: Following her mother’s death, nearly twenty years after her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, Sandra Meek, a writer of “dazzling, intimate poems” (Library Journal), began traveling frequently through southern Africa. During this same period, she and her sister traveled the American Southwest with their declining father, confronting and healing from a difficult family history before his death.

WILD ROOTS – Coming Alive in the French Amazon
Author: Donna Mulvenna
Description: Love, adventure, triumph and torment, this book will forever change how you see the natural world. What happens when you think you are joining your new boyfriend in France, but instead find yourself hacking through impenetrable jungle, being threatened by wild animals and canoeing along the anaconda infested rivers of the French

Salvage
Author: Martin Rodoreda
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Description: Humans have finally laid waste to the environment. The once vibrant Earth is a desolate wasteland, and only the richest can live in comfort. When their meagre existence is threatened by the greedy and powerful mining dynasty, a band of renegades must fight for survival.

Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of U.S. Garden Writing
Author: Karen Fisk
Publisher UMass Press
Description: While Michael Pollan and others have popularized ideas about how growing one’s own food can help lead to environmental sustainability, environmental justice activists have pushed for more access to gardens and fresh food in impoverished communities. Now, Robert S. Emmett argues that mid-twentieth-century American garden writing included many ideas that became formative for these contemporary environmental writers and activists.

Cassowary Hill
Author: Helen Laurens
Publisher: Glass House Books

The Environmental Wars: Antebellum
Author: Dennis G Caristi

Calan’s Eden
Author: L. G. Cullens
Description: An adventurous journey with contrasting cultures, natural world trials, physical and metaphysical experiences, and a roller-coaster of interactions, served up with a naturalistic style.

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Introducing The Hopper

the-hopper-logo

I’m pleased to introduce the new environmental literary journal The Hopper, along with a Q&A with the founders.


 

Tell us a bit about The Hopper and how it came to be.

Green Writers Press (our mother organization) produced one issue of a more casual and smaller distribution magazine called Greenzine last April 2015. When Sierra Dickey got involved with GWP as a poetry editor, the previous editors of Greenzine had since left the press. She was interested in the periodical process and decided to revive the publication and bring it up to a place where it could compete with other regional literary magazines.

 

What types of writing are you looking for?

We are interested in writing that examines the intersection of nature and culture, that explores human and more-than-human connections, and that articulates unique human experiences in nature. We are also interested in work that challenges environmental injustice and investigates the impacts of modernity. We publish poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, science narratives, ecocriticism, interviews, and book reviews, in addition to visual art.

 

Any contests?

We are currently running our first annual Hopper Prize for Young Poets poetry contest. The winning chapbook will receive $500 and publication. Please do learn more about it here.

 

Tell us a bit about your editors and backgrounds?

Dede Cummings is our publisher. At Middlebury, she studied poetry and was recently (30 years later) awarded a writer’s grant and a partial fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She is a book designer and letterpress aficionado and she loves designing the words of others.

Sierra Dickey is the founding editor who now oversees long term business development and organizes the Room for Craft interviews. An environmental humanities major at Whitman College, Sierra was sold on eco lit when she realized how crucial literature is to one’s understanding of the natural world.

Rose Alexandre-Leach works with our writers of prose and manages The Hopper’s website. She studied biology at Oberlin College and came to publishing by way of science education. She believes in the power of a good story.

Jenna Gersie is our grammar guru. She completed her master’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in writing and communications at Green Mountain College. She works in environmental education and study abroad and is passionate about place-based literature and meanings of home.

Anna Mullen studied environmental literature at Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference. She works in farm education and communications at Retreat Farm. Anna loves to read writing that reminds us that scientific soundings and artistic inquiries are not so different as we might believe.

We also have had great support from Green Writers Press editor John Tiholiz and interns Kaitlyn Plukas, Ron Anahaw, Emily Blohm, and Ferne Johansson, all students at Bennington College.

 

What writers inspire you?

We are all fans of classic “pioneering” nature essayists with our own contributing quirks. Jenna is a Hermann Hesse devotee, Sierra could read Mary McCarthy for weeks, Rose will read anything with a dragon on the cover, Anna loves reading about sea and space voyages, and Dede is a poetry hound—she loved it when her mentor, the Vermont poet Galway Kinnell, was asked if he was a “nature poet,” to which he replied, “What other kind of poet is there?”

 

What advice do you have for writers of environmental poetry and prose?

Please read widely (we’re all big proponents of opening up the nature writing canon) and eschew clichés. The weirder angle you have on an experience or a natural object, the better. Try to enter the mind of George Saunders’ and Annie Dillard’s hypothetical child. Pay attention to and discuss non-natural things to bring your real ideas about nature to light. Stop using the word nature.

The Hopper

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