Saturday, January 02, 2010

Essential Progressive Reading List - please expand!

Those who know me know I'm not a big reader. So when I put together a must-read list, you know it's gotta be filled with important works! And since I don't read as much as I'd like to, please help me to expand this list of must-reads for the modern progressives. I reserve the right to edit!

In no particular order:

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the novelist/story writer's first book-length non-fiction work. Part one-year memoir, part overview and critique of modern American agribusiness and food production, this delightful book chronicles her family's yearlong commitment to eat locally-grown foods-- as in foods raised by the family themselves in their home garden, or obtained from farmers they've met, usually within a small radius of their western Virginia home.

As an critique, it offers disturbing insight into industrial farming and food production-- information which is terrifically disturbing to those who, like me, already have ample reason to distrust the direction our modern, energy-intensive lifestyle has taken us. Yet, rather than sounding a shrill message of impending doom, as it could easily have done, the book is more than sufficiently balanced by the intimate, sensuous descriptions of the foods produced and consumed during a turn of the seasons. It's clearly the work of one who loves good, wholesome food, and will appeal to the like-minded. Nor is this a fairy-story of idyllic pastoralism; she does not stint in her reporting the hard work and failures encountered in the process. It is not a promotion of vegetarianism, as they family raise poultry for food and also buy local meats, but the focus on the varied output of their modest garden draws more attention to the vegetal joys of a localized lifestyle than to the environmental and ethical issues surrounding flesh-farming. In sum, this book is a beautiful paean to the joys of good food and community that results from local farming; truly a foodie's book.

The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins, is essential reading for the solution-driven progressive. Hopkins is the congenial, flap-eared founder of the now-global movement (begun in the UK) to relocalize our economies and build resilient communities in the face of the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change. This is neither hippie love-note nor ammo-stocking survivalist exhortation to hunker in your bunker; it's a well-crafted guidebook and open invitation to create a lifestyle that is BETTER than what we now enjoy-- or endure, depending on your perspective! Divided into three sections entitled Head, Heart, and Mind, the Handbook acknowledges and attempts to adequately address the complex nature of large-scale societal change-- including the psychology of resistance to change. But mostly it's a guide to the process of conceiving and creating vital, interdependent, local communities that can weather the coming changes (identified in the Head section as potentially hugely cataclysmic) and indeed thrive after the Age of Cheap Oil.

Yes, I've mentioned this book previously here on sharedyes, but it bears repeating (partly because things seem neater when they come in threes!). Apollo's Fire, by Congressman Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks, lays out the arguments for an Apollo moonshot-scale national program to shift our economy to renewable energy sources, and explains how it's much more sensible than the alternatives. Lots of explanatory economics and current information bolster their premise-- that fossil fuels are a dead-end from which we can emerge better than ever. I often call the proposal a legislative trifecta: shifting to renewable energy sources creates jobs, helps save the environment, and reduces foreign energy dependence and its concomitant geopolitical dangers (read: Iraq War).


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