My Back to School Reading List


When I graduated college I was so eager to be part of the "real world" that I never thought I would miss anything about life on campus. However, I've come to realize how much of being a part of a college community I took for granted. There were always people around to debate the effectiveness of a carbon tax, or the best way for nonprofits to work with local communities in third world countries. There were dozens of professors I could turn to for advice or knowledge. I held incredibly challenging and rewarding positions as an intern that gave me valuable life experience, and valuable friendships. I was constantly challenged and exposed to new ideas and views. Don't get me wrong, my new hometown of Portland, Oregon has many wonderful aspects, but I have discovered I miss many things about being in school.

Grad school will likely quench that thirst, but I'm not quite ready to take it on yet - partially because, like many people in their early twenties, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly lights my fire. I'm still working on how to figure out what to do with my life - but I know I want to be doing more right now.

So, I've decided to stop wasting time and start challenging myself in some new ways. There are many things I'd like to do, and like to learn to do. I'd like to be more sustainable in my every day life. I'd like to stay up to date with current issues facing my local community, state, and country, and be more of an engaged citizen. I'd like to learn more about the environmental challenges facing our generation, and I'd like to know in what ways I can make a difference.

My first step in this journey was to create a back to school reading list for myself. I hope you'll join me in reading at least a few of the books on my list. Some of the books I've read before and have included for the rest of you, but most of them are new to me. Let me know if you have any favorites I've missed, or what you think of the books!

1. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

Despite the fact that Ecotopia recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, it remains as relevant as ever. A fictional story about the secession of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington to create the country of Ecotopia, it details the impressive technology and lifestyle shift of Ecotopia as well as the underside of the futuristic-backward civilization they have created.

2. Oil & Honey by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben has written so many books that it's hard to choose just one! However, the way that this book deftly covers two major topics at once makes it impossible to ignore. I'm really looking forward to learning about both the big industry issues and the local movements that McKibben covers in this book.

3. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is certainly not a new figure on the scene, but this is being labeled as her most important work yet. I haven't read much about how the economy can help combat climate change since college, and can't wait to hear it from Klein herself.

4. The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond is another author of multiple important books to the environmental movement. Collapse, his second most recent book, is a must read for anyone who hasn't yet. I'm looking forward to hearing more of what Diamond has to say about our society in this book.

5. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

This is a Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times bestselling book, so I shouldn't have to do much to convince you (or myself) to read it. I've already read the first chapter and was excited to realize that I remember learning about some of the research Kolbert references in college.

6. The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen

This book promises to help city dwellers live more sustainably, and considering that's my mission, I can't wait to pick this up. I hope to find many little ways to help myself live with less stress on the planet in this book!

7. Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

I first heard about Wendell Berry from my dad, but it wasn't until many years later that I realized his importance as an environmental activist, especially for the American farming community. He writes soulfully about nature and farming in a way that makes you feel truly connected.

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