Saturday, February 11, 2012

Books that Made a Difference: How I got to Dancing Rabbit

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.  
~P.J. O'Rourke

When I was 9 years old I asked my parents if I could learn Braille. Kind of an odd request for a kid with perfect vision. When they asked me for clarification, I explained that the little orange light of the electric blanket control simply wasn’t bright enough to read by. I figured that since I wasn’t allowed to have the overhead light on at night, if I could read Braille then I could read in the dark! What a great idea!

They didn’t go for it.

This did not dissuade me from my passion for books.

When I was 17 or so I invited a friend over for dinner and he said, somewhat venomously, “No. I’m not coming to your house unless you promise not to make me leave with an armload of books. You and your mom are book pushers.” Like that’s a bad thing?

Needless to say books have been a major influence on my life.

Below are a few books, in no particular order, that have shaped the direction of my life path, caused me to veer one way or another, or simply sparked one of those "a-ha!" moments leading to a better understanding of who I am and what the heck I'm doing here. The list answers the question "what books influenced you in your decision to move to Dancing Rabbit?" It also answers questions like "what do you do with your time - you obviously don't clean your house?" and "why are we having cereal for dinner again?"

A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence by Ferenc Mate
This book, more than any other, got me out of my 40-hour-a-week job, over-priced loft apartment and into a life that was more within my values here on the prairie at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Here's a snippet: "This book started five years ago as a book about our ailing environment and how we could cure it by lifting a finger here, tinkering a bit there. But each time I began to write about packaging, recycling or precycling some piece of junk, the nagging question would erupt as to why we have so much damned junk in the first place? How much does it all really contribute to our lives? And, most important of all, how much does it really cost us, not just in environmental devastation but in our being Human? For the sake of our possessions, how much do we sacrifice of the most precious things of all: our family, friends, our time, even our love and joy?"

Your Money or Your Life by Robin and Dominguez. The best book to get you out of debt and understand your money, once and for all. This book was crucial (for me and Kurt) in getting our brains around a change in how we viewed our money. We learned how to use it for what we really wanted, to make our dreams come true.

Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
It took me two years to actually pick up this book after having it recommended to me. I thought it was too “woo woo” for me. Thank goodness I got over my dorky self and read it. It’s an amazing vision of what might/could be. I especially love that it takes place in California, and that it reinforces all of my Northern-California biases - the North is peaceful, matriarchal and environmentally aware. Southern California is warlike, dry, and waging war for water. This makes me laugh with self-righteous embarrassment every time I think about it.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamont 
Sisters are doing it for themselves. This book is a must-read. I viewed menstruation and women and even myself differently after finishing it. Go get it right now if you haven’t already read it.

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey 
Ah, Ed Abbey. Was he a poet, a misogynist, or just a cranky old desert rat who threw beer cans out of the car window?  The son of Abbey’s not-so-fictional character Seldom Seen Smith introduced me to The Monkey Wrench Gang – our first date was a week-long river trip. "Seldom Seen" drove us from Moab to the put-in point on the Green River. As the daughter of an Operating Engineer, I was aghast at the thought of "monkey wrenching," i.e. putting sand in the gas tanks of heavy equipment. On the other hand, I was enraptured with the idea of environmental activism. Dave Forman was apparently also inspired and started Earth First!. As a budding environmentalist, this book sparked a lot of thinking, which got me on my own, albeit less volatile, activist path.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
I love this book, and I push it whenever I get the chance. Hauntingly plausible, bleak & disturbing, it takes place in the north San Francisco Bay Area. In it, the catastrophes mount slowly and innocuously, just as they do in real life. How the two protagonists deal with the changes in their lives is absorbing and deeply affecting.

 Refuge:An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
Utah is a strange and magical place. I went to Brigham Young University in Provo for two years, and spent three years living and working in Salt Lake City. I was torn by my ambivalence towards the Mormon faith in which I had been raised and the beauty of the natural world around me. Terry Tempest Williams, a naturalist, contrasts the flooding of the Great Salt Lake with her mother's breast cancer. She is also a wordsmith who touches my heart and my heritage with this book. It took my breath away.

The Wishing Year: A House, A Man, My Soul  by Noelle Oxenhandler
I read somewhere that this book should be subtitled The Art of Wishing Brazenly – it is both delightful and inspirational. This book brightened my week, and gave me a lot to think about. And even better, I'm finding that it seems to be true - what one fills one's mind with often becomes the reality. Ignore that last sentence - it is clumsy and goofy. But read The Wishing Year - you'll be enchanted.


 Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
Chickens and pigs in West Oakland – who knew? I really enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek at a lesser-known side of the Bay Area. I laughed out loud several times, and her take on the Bay Area food scene is spot on. Check it out:

"I looked around the party. There they were, my friends, standing next to the grill, dishing up salads, drinking beer. I had the sinking realization that the social activities all revolve around sharing food. The act of setting up my 100-yard diet had turned me into an alien visiting from planet Weird in the solar system Healthy.

But then again, everyone at the party was on some kind of Bay Area diet kick anyway. The gluten-intolerant munched on ears of corn in the corner. The vegans had their own grill set up with toasting tofu. The raw-food vegans were sipping on freshly macheted green coconuts. The pescatarians were shoving ceviche into their faces. Defining ourselves by what we eat – that’s what we do for fun around here."

One of the most influential books here at Dancing Rabbit is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander and five colleagues at the Center for Environmental Structure At the core of this book is the simple but profound idea that people should design their own houses, streets, and communities. A Pattern Language looks at 250 "patterns" on how our lives are physically and therefore emotionally structured, from our houses (windows facing the street, cooking layout, and child "caves") to entire communities (looped local roads, clustered housing, an accessible green, public outdoor rooms, and bike paths). Over 1,100 pages long with black and white photographs and line drawings, A Pattern Language is best perused slowly, allowing lots of time to let your creativity and imagination flow. It's a bit pricey- our old copy was $49.95- so this may be best purchased used. Worth every penny!

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
Permaculture's central message: working with Nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. After reading this book it was all I could do to keep myself from running out to the backyard, digging everything up, and re-planting in a more thoughtful way. Get this book, change your life. It's that simple.

Taking responsibility for my own "stuff" is really  hard work. Nonviolent communication (NVC) is an invaluable tool. This is the book. I have found it incredibly helpful.

The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook
When I arrived at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage 12 ½ years ago I became part of a kitchen cooperative. It was a whole new concept for me – 8 or so of us sharing meals and cooking responsibilities. The best part was that each of us only had to cook once a week – the rest of the time we just had to show up and eat a delicious meal. The terrifying part was that I had absolutely no idea how to cook a vegan meal. Fortunately every hippie commune, um, I mean intentional community, has a copy of the Farm Cookbook. Ignore the absolutely hilarious 1970's era photographs and embrace the no-fail vegetarian/vegan recipes. 

Oh, whoops. It's hard to stop when you're a book pusher. Three great websites for readers:
The Writer’s Almanac A poem a day, plus fabulous info on authors and books. What more could a girl ask for? 
Book Mooch Mooch books from other book lovers for the price of shipping. Gotta love it!

Good Reads Like Facebook for readers - compare notes, and keep track of what you've read.

Happy reading. And drop me a line and share what books have made a difference in your life!