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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

If I Can't Dance
distributed 4/1/05 - ©2005

Although I may seem rather fixated on the eco-justice theme, I have a confession to make.

At the end of a long day, when I settle down to read, I don't usually pick up a tome of theological ethics or political commentary. My after-hours "brain candy" tends toward an escapist style, with a mix of sleazy murder mysteries, bizarre science fiction, and some real literature.

Yet, even as I look for a change of pace and a shift of mental gears, it is great fun to find some pleasure reading that meshes with my core values. It adds to my relaxation when an author sees the world the way that I do, and cares about my favorite causes or themes.

And that sort of relaxation and rejuvenation is important. As social activist Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution." We've got to have some fun as we deal with the urgent issues of the world, especially if we want to have the emotional energy to stick with the long-haul struggle.

So, in the spirit of April Fool's Day, here are some of enjoyable reads that I've found recently that have some tenuous connection to the eco-justice cause. Be aware, though, that some of these books may not be appropriate for the Tuesday morning book discussion group at your church. Or, maybe they need a change of pace, too!

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I have to start the list with Carl Hiaasen, of course! Not only is Carl a hysterical novelist, the cause of environmental protection is usually central to the story. I started into his string of novels with Sick Puppy. In that book, Twilly Spree, the trust-fund vagabond son of a beachfront developer, has vowed to make reparations for his father by cleaning up Florida one litterbug at a time. The cleanup expands to take on unscrupulous land developers and corrupt politicians -- all with an absurd but strangely believable cast of characters. Hiaasen's eco-humor is essential reading for dispirited activists.


I've been known to tell people that, if they really want to get close to nature, they should skip the mountains and go to the sewage treatment plant. The same sort of nature-closer-to-home-than-we'd-like message bubbles up in the murder mysteries by Kathy Reich. The central character is a forensic anthropologist, who solves crimes based on the grisly details of decomposition. If you've even wondered about the intimate details of what bugs and bacteria can do to an un-embalmed body, start with Deja Dead.


Late one night, when I was reading Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx, my wife came running out to the living room to help me with my asthma attack -- except my prolonged wheezing came from laughter. These short stories have a marvelous sense of place in small-town and rural Wyoming. Vivid characters illuminate the economic desperation of oil field workers in rotting mobile homes, and get to the heart of rich urbanites who moved West for the gorgeous scenery but who don't understand rural culture. A clear and honest picture of people and the land is important in understanding Western issues -- and this is a delightful way to get those insights.


Also in the "good literature" category is Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. What I loved about this book -- and the same is true in many of her other writings -- is the way the natural world is an intrinsic part of the story. The book jacket summarizes the plot: "Over the course of one humid summer, as the urge to procreate overtakes a green and profligate countryside, [the central characters] find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place. Their discoveries are embedded inside countless intimate lessons of biology, the realities of small farming, and the final, urgent truth that humans are only one part of life on earth." Amen.


If you're not looking for a serious message, but want to reach beyond the human, try Canine Crimes, edited by Jeffry Marks. A gaggle of "top mystery writers" have produced short stories where dogs play an important role in solving the crimes. So who says that humans have all the important skills?


Planet-destroying microbes in Boston Harbor are the ultimate threat in Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller by Neal Stephenson. With a high-profile, Earth First! style environmental activist pulling off wild media stunts on a low budget, getting on the bad side of drug dealers because of a confusion between the drug PCP and toxic chemical PCB, and doing battle with genuinely evil Big Corporations, its easy to know who to cheer for.

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Now remember, to minimize your global impacts, get these books from (1) the library, (2) a used book dealer, or (3) your local independent bookseller. Only as a last resort are you allowed to go to the MegaMall or one of the Online Books Giants.

On this April Fool's Day, and beyond, may you, too, find laughter, joy, delight and fresh understanding in your leisure reading. May your favorite authors affirm your chosen reality, and may you not take it too seriously!

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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