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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Niche Reads: Books for environmental studies majors

If you struggle to find time for fun reading, this is the spot for you. Niche Reads recommends novels that relate to academic (or other) interests so that you can explore a new book while still feeling productive. Check back each week for more cool books.

Middlebury was the first college to offer environmental studies as an undergraduate major, so it’s only fair to offer current majors some book recommendations! Although these books by no means represent the entirety of the climate crisis (in fact, all three happen to focus on the American South), they do provide heart-wrenching insights into the relationship between the earth and humanity, which can apply to people everywhere.

“How Strange a Season” by Megan Mayhew Bergman:

Written by Middlebury’s own Megan Mayhew Bergman, “How Strange a Season” is a beautiful and haunting collection of short stories that focus on gender, history and climate. From the culinary benefits of the invasive lionfish to an obsessive urge to fill a terrarium with endangered flowers, these stories deftly explore the environmental reckoning that humanity collectively faces.

In addition to being a Middlebury Assistant Professor of English and the Director of the Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference, Mayhew Bergman is an environmental journalist, and the climate crisis pervades every story in this collection. The urgency conveyed in her work is gripping, and the strength of her characters is inspiring.

Because it’s a collection of short stories and not a novel, “How Strange a Season” is ideal for the busy college student. Each story is compelling and can be read independently, so readers don’t need to commit to the whole book at once. Once you start, though, you might find it hard to stop!

You should read this book if you are interested in historical legacy, if you like reading about interesting mother-daughter relationships or if you love rich prose.

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry:

This collection of poems by the legendary Wendell Berry beautifully explores the relationship between people and the land they inhabit. Berry writes with a remarkable sensitivity to the earth, and his poems will send you outside with a new respect for the tranquility and beauty of the natural world.

While many people find poetry intimidating, Berry’s writing is easy to dig into, and the simple beauty of it is undeniable. Although this book is dated in some ways, particularly in its attitudes toward gender, it is prescient in its relationship to the environment. Berry’s insistence on tending to the land rather than giving into despair is a welcome reminder for us all.

These poems advocate for a deep connection between humanity and nature, and through their gorgeous language, deep admiration and biting urgency, they make a compelling case. Far from the dense and intimidating conception many have of poetry, these poems are elegant in their simplicity, making them as meaningful as they are readable.

You should read this book if you want to start reading more poetry, if you enjoy descriptive nature writing or if you are looking for a meditative read.

“Strange as this Weather Has Been” by Ann Pancake:

In a small West Virginia town, the introduction of mountaintop removal mining has become the cause for constant fear of a deadly flood. As townspeople watch their beloved mountains die, their houses fall apart and their jobs disappear, they must choose between staying in an increasingly bleak setting and leaving the land that has always sustained them.

With vivid natural descriptions, Pancake makes clear the immediacy of this environmental threat. She explores the social and ecological impacts of destructive mining practices with ruthless clarity, and her unforgettable characters maintain the book’s heart.

From its beautiful and loving descriptions of the mountains themselves to the horrifying destruction wrought by the mines, “Strange as this Weather Has Been” is a book you will feel deeply, and one that will inspire any reader to action.

You should read this book if you are interested in the climate crisis as a social phenomenon, if you enjoy reading about family dynamics or if you want to be swept up in a gripping story.

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