The last two books I read took me a long time to read. Not so much because they weren’t good– on the contrary, it was fascinating to learn about concepts like ecology and extinction– but because I was traveling, spending time with friends, reading other books in between, and gardening a lot.
Isn’t this why most of us struggle to find time to read? Life’s details often get in the way of our best reading lives.
The commitment I made to reading two nonfiction books, both The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, was absolutely worth it. I actually stopped in the middle of The Sixth Extinction to find my copy of The Invention of Nature because Kolbert was namedropping Humboldt and I meant to know more about him back in December when I bought Wulf’s book as a Christmas gift to myself.
Reading can be complicated. But it was an excellent choice.
The Invention of Nature was incredible. I had never even heard of Alexander von Humboldt, the democratic polymath who was so influential he established standards and cultivated new ideas in political discourse, scientific exploration, poetry, art, and countless other areas. I’m baffled by the reasons we’ve forgotten who he is as a culture.
This was a man who started talking about deforestation and global warming in 1827.
The Sixth Extinction was equally interesting but in a completely different way. I knew a lot about extinction from reading The Invention of Nature but this was a contemporary focus on the Anthropocene, the name scientists have given our current age of human destruction.
No judgement. I am, after all, mostly homo sapiens myself.
I was fascinated by details such as the fact that homo sapiens of Europeans and Asian descent are 1-4% Neanderthal, according to current research on the genomes of both species, and the study of the effects of mass extinction, which has occurred at least five times on a global scale and is now occurring for a sixth.
As a teacher, I often have to explain the difference between facts and opinions. This is a fact, not a political statement: humans significantly impact global ecology.
The politicizing of these issues is probably the single most successful act of special interest groups supporting the goals of commerce and leading corporations worldwide. However, as someone who has the almost insurmountable challenge of teaching not only the difference between fact and opinion, but how to tell which is which, I assure you this is an apolitical statement: we are changing (and have always changed) the planet. Historically, it’s what we do.
This is an empirical fact, not a political opinion.
We’re all connected. Whether or not there are frogs living in the Amazon may not seem important to your everyday life, but if the frogs disappear, the insects they feed on may increase, which might mean they spread a previously unknown disease, which could travel around the world and, one day, land on your doorstep. We are connected in ways our most intelligent scientists are only beginning to uncover, and they’ve been at it for more than two centuries.
It’s both terrifying and fascinating to think about these facts.
I think this is why I love nonfiction, and why it takes me so long to read it: nonfiction collects the facts fiction helps us process through narrative. When I read nonfiction, it becomes a part of my own narrative. This takes more time– and honestly stresses me out a little bit because it’s a little more work to read– but anything worth doing is difficult. If you get a chance to read nonfiction it gives you the opportunity to widen your awareness of the infinite intricacies hidden in plain sight all around us. The force binding us to the planet is the same force keeping the stars apart.
And that’s life, naturally.