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Earth Day books recommended by Barbara Kingsolver and Paolo Bacigalupi

In honor of Earth Day, we asked authors to tell us about the books that have influenced their relationship with the natural world. Here are their responses (slightly edited for style).

1. Paolo Bacigalupi, author of ‘The Windup Girl’ and ‘The Water Knife’

Without a doubt ‘The Wump World’ by Bill Peet. I was about 7 years old when I first read it. I don’t know how it came into my possession. I remember it as a plain green hardback, which I assume means the cover flap was lost. I assume it must have been a gift from a grandparent. It’s a beautifully illustrated picture book about these sweet critters called wumps, who sleep under bumbershoot trees, drink from clear streams, bathe in crystal-clear lakes, eat beautiful green grass and generally mind their own business. Then one day spaceships shoot down from the sky. Out of the rocket ships pour a bunch of little blue people who are unknowingly called ‘Polluters’. These crazy blue boys happily continue digging up the grass, cutting down the trees, paving the planet and building huge cities. The wumps are driven underground into caves to wait for the apocalypse to crunch over their heads. Ultimately, the pollutants clog the rivers with waste, choke the air with smoke – and then get angry about how dirty it is. So they set off to find another planet to do it all over again (Mars, anyone?). The wumps emerge to discover a shattered world. Slowly, the Wump World begins to heal. But it’s never quite the same.

Raw material for a children’s book, but as relevant now as when it was written.

2. Diane Cook, author of ‘The New Wilderness’

In 1990, the environmental movement had a moment and people celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day by reading the EarthWorks Group’s “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth.” There were less than a thousand books about saving the earth. It seemed there was one: this one. I was 13 years old and bought a copy with my pocket money. I honestly thought we were all going to save the Earth because of that book. The fact that a book pointed out the need for change meant that society – must! – take action. Of course, the “simple things” weren’t enough. Greater changes needed to be made by the people in power, but they messed things up and my young generation saw a movement come to a standstill.

While this book did not teach me how to save the Earth, it did provide me with an important lesson in how to view society’s ruling class: with skepticism. It was the dawn of my political self. I learned that I had to curate my own brand of activism on my own terms. And it led me to build a personal relationship with the environment. So I did, and it’s rich, and it affects almost every aspect of my life.

3. Ash Davidson, author of ‘Damnation Spring’

I first picked up a copy of ‘A Bitter Fog’, by Carol Van Strum, from the stacks of the University of Iowa library in 2010. I tried to understand the long shadow that herbicide spraying had cast over my own family, and ‘A Bitter Fog’ tells the story of ordinary people – mothers, teachers, neighbors – from rural Oregon to Arizona who battled chemical companies and the federal government to stop the aerial spraying of the two herbicides my family had encountered: 2,4-D and 2 ,4,5-T, the active ingredients in Agent Orange. “A Bitter Fog” does for phenoxy herbicides what “Silent Spring” did for pesticides, and deserves to be read just as widely. Van Strum’s book not only made me angry at the chemical companies and the government agencies charged with regulating them, it also made me want to write a book myself. Like “A Civil Action” or “Erin Brockovich,” “A Bitter Fog” lifts you up, breaks your heart, and makes you believe in the power of a few thoughtful, committed individuals to change the world. Van Strum’s archives, which expose safety testing fraud and cover-ups by chemical companies and federal watchdogs, are useful resources for anyone seeking information about herbicide spraying and its effects, and have been digitized at the Poison Papers.

4. Omar El Akkad, author of ‘American War’ and ‘What Strange Paradise’

A few years ago—embarrassingly late in my life, as far as these kinds of revelations go—I read a book that completely upended the way I think, not just about landscape, but about what it means to truly observe. “Horizon,” Barry Lopez’s last book published before his death, is a life story made of places. Six regions, from the Galapagos to Antarctica, anchor an assessment of both humanity’s vast reach through nature and the intimate scope of a life through time. More than reverence or stewardship, Lopez’s writing seems to be an ethic of closeness. You read and you are there, both at the place and with the purpose. You walk beside him the length of the planet, content to observe the movement of the sun. When he describes examples of the stripping of rare and once pristine ecosystems in the modern Western world, it is your skin that the knife rips open. But so does the infectious effect of his stubborn, endless amazement at the miracle of simply being here and woven through this earth, this water, this constellation of life. I’ve read many great books about the aesthetics and workings of the natural world, but “Horizon” is something different, detailed with decades of piercing attention and feverish with love.

5. Barbara Kingsolver, author of ‘Demon Copperhead’ and ‘Unsheltered’

I was in my twenties when I readPilgrim at Tinker Creek,” by Annie Dillard, and it rearranged my soul. I can’t say it made me fall in love with the natural world; that had already happened during the long, unsupervised summers of my youth when I wandered through the fields and woods around our farm. I caught crawfish and turtles and tried to learn the names of everything I saw. But Dillard is a mystic. She approached her usual creek with eyes open to the wonder, and showed me the firmament in a tree full of birds, the Gordian knot of a shed snake’s skin, the resurrection of fertility. Her writing helped me see nature not as a collection of things to know or possess, but as a world of joined lives, sacred and complete, with or without me. She left me with this phrase that has guided my life ever since: “Beauty and grace are performed regardless of whether we want or feel them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

6. Sy Montgomery, author of ‘The Soul of an Octopus’ and ‘How to Be a Good Creature’

Farley Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf” was published in 1963, but I didn’t read it until I was in high school, ten years later. The book is a portrait of a biologist whose findings turned him into an activist. The book moved me deeply. It is true that although it was originally published as a factual account, parts of it were later labeled as fiction. (“Never let the facts get in the way of the truth,” Mowat told me later, when he generously welcomed me into his home while I was researching my first book.) But while I have remained a stickler for facts in my own book , In the process of writing, this book showed me how important it is to also remain true to matters of the heart – and that a writer must not only use the fruits of the intellect, but also respect his emotions and intuition to create a tell a story that drives readers to action.

7. Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of ‘World of Wonders’

“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer brought the voice of a scientist mother to the writing desk of nature that I so desperately welcomed and needed. In evocative and lyrical prose, she uses science to ponder the question: what consequences befall us if we do not care for the land, each other and our collection of hearts? But also, most importantly, what abundance can be achieved when we remember our interconnectedness.

8. Nnedi Okorafor, author of ‘Binti’ and ‘Noor’

I read The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson when I was moving to Phoenix. The novel opens with a deadly heat wave in India. Problems like water shortages and extreme heat were very much on my mind. I knew the brutal summers of Phoenix, but had yet to experience one. The clear step-by-step details of this catastrophic event that killed millions were so terrifying to read that it almost gave me a panic attack. I had nightmares. After reading the first part, I took some very aggressive (and expensive) precautions. “The Ministry for the Future” further opened my eyes to the way the Earth is changing and disturbed me in a way that only great science fiction can.

9. Tochi Onyebuchi, author of ‘Riot Baby’ and ‘Goliath’

By the time I read John Crowley’s “Little, Big,” I had lost my adolescent appreciation for the environment and its meteorological vagaries. I used to be fascinated by the inside of large stones that I could split in two. I used to be grateful for quick, passing rain showers that sometimes gave us raindrops so big you could almost dodge them. But then you outgrow the idea that there is magic in the air you breathe. ‘Little, Big’ gave me back the idea that there might be a world beyond ours. And while the novel isn’t about the environment per se, but about elves and families and houses that are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, reading the book made me look at rain, at grass, and at the sky differently.

10. Margaret Renkl, author of ‘Late Migrations’ and ‘The Comfort of Crows’

I was born with a love for the natural world, but I was shockingly old – in my mid-40s – before I discovered that I could be much more than a passive observer who does less harm in his wonderful, fragile ways. Douglas W. Tallamy’s 2007 book, “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” was a lightning bolt. As the linked disasters of climate change and mass extinction weigh increasingly heavily on my nature-loving soul, there were concrete, affordable actions I could take, that anyone could take, to help our wild neighbors thrive in the built human environment . And it all starts with nothing more than a seed. ‘Bringing Nature Home’ is a miracle: a book that evokes butterflies.