Sunday, October 8, 2023

A reading list for cooler days.


Lynne Cantwell 2023
With the weather turning cooler here in New Mexico, my thoughts are beginning to turn toward hunkering down before a fire with a glass of something warming and a good book. And since I've been blogging quite a bit lately about things like anthromorphism and animism and how Native Americans' concept of history and religion is different from Europeans' -- not to mention this idea that there's more than one god -- I thought it might be helpful to give y'all a short reading list. Just in case you're stuck for something to do, one winter night, and decide to find out why this crazy woman keeps saying the stuff she does.

But seriously, each of these books has stuck with me over the years. As I often recommend them to others, I figured I might as well put them all in one place on the blog. So here you go: some of the books that have shaped my current thinking. I'm not posting links because y'all know how to search Amazon and/or inquire at your local library.

Animism: Respecting the Living World, by Graham Harvey. Harvey has studied the way Native peoples throughout the world relate to beings that most Westerners think are devoid of life. I quoted from this book on my post about sentient balls of moss back in 2020.

The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature, by Emma Restall Orr. I also mentioned this book in that blog post about glacial mice. Orr is a Druid and a philosopher; the text is denser than Harvey's, but her ideas about animism are intriguing, particularly when she talks about how trees must communicate, although clearly they have a different language than humans do. 

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. Speaking of trees communicating, Simard has discovered how they do it: via a network of fungi in the soil. She started on this journey of discovery when she began to wonder why seedlings planted to replace clear-cut forests often don't make it. The answer: old trees supply nutrients and other types of support to young and ailing trees, and when the old trees are gone, that support -- that wisdom -- is gone, too.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She writes beautifully, arguing that scientific knowledge could -- and should -- be enriched by indigenous wisdom. 

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. These two authors put paid to a whole host of ideas about human progress that were basically invented by Western Europeans to convince themselves that they -- we -- represent the pinnacle of civilization. For one thing, that timeline about how humans progressed in a straight line from hunter-gatherers to farmers? It's bogus. Totally made up. It's as true as the idea that "savage Indians" couldn't have been smart enough or advanced enough to build cities like Cahokia or Teotihuacan, or massive earthwords like those in Ohio, so they must have been constructed by aliens, or maybe one of the lost tribes of Israel.

The Mound Builders, by Robert Silverberg. Those Hopewell culture structures have recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which puts them on par for cultural importance with Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and the Great Wall of China. (This pleases me inordinately, as my Transcendence series features some scenes at the Newark Great Circle Earthworks.) Silverberg usually writes sci-fi, but this book is nonfiction. It doesn't get into the archaeoastronomy that's built into the mounds; instead, the author writes about how European settlers "discovered" them and how Western science finally got around to investigating who built them and why. 

God is Red: A Native View of Religion, by Vine Deloria, Jr. I read this book years ago. It's billed as the seminal work on Native American religious views and their relation to Christianity. I think it was the first time that I was introduced to the idea that Christianity, as a source of the belief in human exceptionalism, is responsible for so many of our culture's ills, including genocide and environmental damage. Deloria wrote the book in the early '70s. With climate change whacking us upside the head, it might be time for a re-read.

A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, by John Michael Greer. If you're wondering why polytheism makes sense to educated people like me, read this book. It delves into the philosophical underpinnings of the belief system and demonstrates why polytheism is as rational a way of seeing the world as is monotheism -- or atheism, for that matter. I've heard that Greer has unfortunately turned Trumpy in recent years, but this book was first published long before, in 2005, and remains an excellent introduction to polytheistic thought.

So there you go -- eight books to get you through the winter. Enjoy. And if you read any of them, let me know what you think.


These moments of bloggy reading recommendations have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell

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