reading

21. How to Do Nothing 22. Braiding Sweetgrass

I read the second because of the first, even though I picked up my copy a while ago. These are mind-expanding books in the best sense, ones that draw our attention to things that exist all around us, overlooked. More than that, they are a mini-course in how to train ourselves to be more aware of what we’re looking at, what we’re overlooking, and what might be going on in that intersection.

These are books that struggle. How to Do Nothing struggles with how to balance what amounts to self-defense of our sanity in this age of the “attention economy,” when vast resources are spent in efforts to herd our gaze and our emotions in the directions desired by, well, mostly by Internet advertisers, with the need to actually engage with the world in ways necessary to have a hope of improving it. The author of Braiding Sweetgrass is a deft navigator between scientific and Native perspectives on plant life, but there were struggles in getting there, and a lifelong effort to reclaim her people’s history, language, and ways–and intertwined with that, the Earth itself–from the harrowing of the past few centuries.

They are both gentle books, largely about cultivation, about gathering both literal and metaphorical. There is a deep love of living things throughout both–humans included–and a fascination with art and craft and the ways we spend our time. There is a love as well of particularity, a strong value on getting to know the place where you are, right now.

If you are of a particular sentimental bent, both of these books will make you cry (if parts of Braiding Sweetgrass don’t make you cry, I am concerned for you, friend), but they are both books that eschew despair in favor of a deliberate determination. There is a lot of work to be done, but for all of our faults, humans are good at work.

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