As I work on improving my essay writing skills, I’ve attempted to expand my horizons and read a wide variety of authors, including those with whom I’m not familiar. I recently came across Lauret Savoy, who in her new book, Trace, offers us a different perspective of nature, the environment, geography and American history, including its evolving race relations. She focuses on how people and communities interact with nature, which shouldn’t be viewed as some pristine thing that white people enjoy every once in a while.
Her writings dovetail with environmental justice, which is something I’ve been thinking about over the past few years. It refers to the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income” (as the EPA defines it) with respect to environmental regulations and policies. In my opinion, people whose work or activism involves race, class, gender and other power relations often ignore environmental issues, while environmentalists are often white and operate in a vacuum as if those other divisions aren’t important.
But environmental justice brings these issues together. It grew out of the civil rights movement when people of color realized they were often suffering silently while disproportionately affected by toxic waste sites, power plants, landfills, and other environmental hazards. In one of my first guest blog posts (outside of this blog), for the Union of Concerned Scientists a couple years ago, I argued that climate change is an environmental justice issue, as the people most harmed by rising sea levels, floods, extreme droughts and heatwaves are those who did the least to contribute to the problem. Savoy considers these kinds of issues as she weaves in environmental justice in her new book, referring to “people of color and the economically poor [who] live, and die, next to degraded environments.” She argues that the concept of “ecological footprint” should account for dispossessed people and people’s labor.
In Trace, a slim yet powerful volume, Savoy invites us to accompany her as she traces through her travels, her past, and her family history, following the paths she and her predecessors have taken. She explores varied and uneven terrain through ever changing and troubled relations between race and the American landscape. The book is sort of a collection of interconnected essays, which fit together into a cohesive story. Each chapter searches a particular place, asks questions about its origins and names, and considers her and others’ experiences there. “The American landscape was in some ways the template, but also the trigger, to each of the searches,” she said in an interview about the book......more
Elena Ferrante writes with a vibrant and vivid style, with incisive shards that lodge in your mind. Her book takes you into some dark and disturbing pElena Ferrante writes with a vibrant and vivid style, with incisive shards that lodge in your mind. Her book takes you into some dark and disturbing places, but all the while, her fascinating writing will draw you through the story.
I definitely recommend The Days of Abandonment, and I look forward to reading her Neapolitan novels....more
This short fast-paced "cerebral" novel packs many surprises, provocative scenes, and humor throughout it. I've never read a book quite like this one bThis short fast-paced "cerebral" novel packs many surprises, provocative scenes, and humor throughout it. I've never read a book quite like this one before, and I look forward to reading her second novel as well. Zink focuses on a character named Tiffany (who apparently includes some autobiographical elements) and her husband Stephen, who live in Switzerland and then Germany. The characters' evolution over the course of the book seems slightly far-fetched, but I suppose that's part of the point. Also, the characters are birders and nature-lovers, which I enjoyed reading about. I wouldn't say that Zink's (characters') description of environmental activist campaigns isn't entirely accurate, but that's a small quibble. I definitely recommend this book....more
This short and interesting novel is difficult to describe. It's a story about a wife, her husband, and their difficulties as a couple and parents. TheThis short and interesting novel is difficult to describe. It's a story about a wife, her husband, and their difficulties as a couple and parents. The wife, whose name we're never told but whose voice gradually emerges, makes all sorts of literary and philosophical connections throughout the book, which appears to consist of sets of brief stories, observations, and aphorisms. I definitely recommend the book if you like Lydia Davis or Nell Zink (and reviewers also mention Renata Adler, whom I haven't read).
One of a few passages that stuck with me as I read the book: "Three things no one has ever said about me: You make it look so easy. You are very mysterious. You need to take yourself more seriously."...more
[This is an excerpt from the book review I wrote on my blog. If you're interested, see http://raminskibba.net]
As long as humans have roamed the Earth,[This is an excerpt from the book review I wrote on my blog. If you're interested, see http://raminskibba.net]
As long as humans have roamed the Earth, they have looked up to the skies, speculating and pondering about the celestial wonders populating the distant cosmos. From the early astronomers and natural philosophers until today’s, people have observed and studied the billions of twinkling dots, all the while wondering whether there are other worlds out there and whether they might host lifeforms like us.
In his first book, “Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars,” Lee Billings explores these and related questions. He chronicles the story of space exploration, planet-hunting and the growing field of astrobiology, while meeting fascinating characters and discussing their research, telescopes, discoveries and challenges. He offers clear and compelling explanations, such as of planetary physics and habitability, and he takes important asides into debates on space exploration budgets and the fate of our own planet, including the ongoing threat of climate change......more
First the ground shook violently, and then a succession of towering waves smashed the island of Honshu. As people sought shelter and braced themselves during a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami—the worst and deadliest experienced by Japan in a century—they had no idea what was yet in store for them. The rest of the world was transfixed as well by the unfolding events when on 11th March 2011, four years ago this week, multiple reactor cores at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had meltdowns and threatened millions with radiation exposure. Today, scientists continue to assess the effects on public health and ecological damage, while the nuclear industry still reels from the worst disaster since Chernobyl.
"Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster," published last year by Dave Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analyzes these events and their implications and consequences in detail. Japanese are still recovering from the disaster, and the rest of us are still coming to terms with it as well, making necessary a thorough accounting of it, Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) handling of it, and the nuclear industry’s response. This investigative and well-researched book manages to accomplish that. [Disclosure: I am a member of the UCS Science Network.]
Lochbaum and Lyman are both senior scientists and nuclear energy analysts for UCS, while Stranahan was the lead reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. They appear to have written the book for a US audience, as they include investigations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the vulnerabilities of nuclear reactors in the US similar to Fukushima’s.
The authors describe the tumultuous week of 11th March 2011, as TEPCO workers with little information about what is happening inside Units 1-4 of the plant, scramble to contain the meltdown and prevent additional radiation spreading to a larger zone and getting into the air, water and land. (Residents who weren’t evacuated were told to stay indoors but remained in danger.) First flooding occurred throughout the plant, backup power generators available turned out to be inefficient, there was insufficient water to keep the reactors cool, workers couldn’t enter buildings as they had already exceeded their allowable radiation exposure, an explosion delayed recovery efforts and scattered more radioactive material, and spent fuel pools turned out to be as dangerous as the meltdowns themselves......more