Take a moment to look at your bookshelf and you’ll know the ones I’m talking about. They are the ones you return to over and over for inspiration, the ones that suddenly seem relevant in new ways often. For me they are cyclical, the ones that support me some years fade to the background while others become vital. Then life, or I, change and it continues. I’m not talking about the novels we love and return to because they excite us or make us happy. Today I picked up one of these books again, and even as I read the introduction I sighed because I remembered something that I had forgotten. Below, is my list. I would love to hear yours too.
Soul of a Citizen by Paul Rogat Loeb. This book is about being an activist, not the how to fight for something or protest, but about finding it in yourself and how important it is for all of us to be engaged members of the community (local, national, or world). This is my current read. I found this my first year after college, while I spent most of that year skiing and living on the mountain I would spend some of my days off in the library. I am not sure how I found it, but this book was the beginning of the end of my brief attempt at not caring beyond my own fun.
The Geography of Childhood, by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble. Adults and children see the world we live in differently. Ten years before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods Nabhan and Trimble were discussing it and looking both at their own lives and various groups of children, and the way that they connected to the natural world. While there book never got as much attention, their essays are so much more engaging and full of positive examples of how children do connect.
A Timbered Choir, by Wendell Berry. Every Sunday for decades Berry has sat down and written a poem for the day. On days that I feel un-moored I will grab this book and read one, inevitably it will ground me. I actually have an older addition just called Sabbaths which was published earlier on.
From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, by Ishmael Reed. I love the poems in this book but what I come back for is actually the introduction. As someone who cares deeply about the perspective that I share with my son about the world I refer to this often to remind me of what world I would like for him to see.
Catching a Wave, by Tim Cooke Donar, Rory Dicker, Alison Piepmeier. As a child of the 70s and 80s I was surrounded by plenty of Gloria Steinem, and Carol Gilligan. By the time I was at college I knew the theories like some kids know their mother’s recipes for meatballs. The thing with that second guard of feminists for me was that they spoke in such academic voices, their ideas were relevant but they weren’t engaging me. They also were talking from a starting point of sexism as the norm. But my father was a second generation male feminist (my grandfather as a socialist looked at my grandmother as a peer and supported her in becoming a microbiologist). Catching a Wave was one of the first Third Wave Feminism books that I read, a series of essays about what feminism looks like in the 21st century. I like how varied the voices are and how the issues have broadened and are taken on here in personal voices.