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Off the Shelves: Celebrate Earth Day with 5 classic reads

POSTED: April 22, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Since this week’s Off the Shelves review coincides with Earth Day, I was reminded of some of the books that taught me the importance of living in harmony with Mother Earth.

So after you work in the garden, plant a tree or clean up trash your neighborhood, here are a couple of good classic books to help your mind get in the “green” spirit as a reminder to respect our environment.

1. “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson: Originally published in 1962, this novel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. And it is still as significant today, in its stand against the usage of pesticides and poisons on the environment, as it was back then.

Carson’s writing not only sparked a national debate about the effects of the insecticide DDT on plant, animal and human life, but it challenged the wisdom of a government that would permit such toxins to contaminate our land and air.

This book brought about new legislations, including the banning of DDT, and many of the concerns she raised in her research are still debated upon today.

2. “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau: I know there are plenty of people who groan when they think of Thoreau’s documentation of the two years of his life living out on Walden Pond, experiencing a life away from society and all its luxuries.

It may be the poetic, sometimes laborious language of the piece that turns readers away, but it is a beautifully scripted argument against the common thought that our only way to survive is to be part of “civilized” society, apart from nature.

The fundamental message is one we should remember in our busy, convoluted daily lives: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

3. “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein: This sweet story about a boy and his tree may look like an ode to unconditional friendship, but there is a subtle message here about man’s stripping away at the environment until there is nothing left.

The tree is always happy to give his boy whatever he needs, whether it is apples to eat, or its limbs and branches to build a house, or its trunk to build a boat to travel in.

But in the end, when there is nothing left to give, will man in his old age be content with the gifts he was granted throughout his life?

4. “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss: Having a more somber conclusion (and therefore I believe a stronger impression on readers) than the recently released Dreamworks film, Dr. Seuss’s book about the greedy, Truffula-tree-chopping Once-ler being confronted by the Lorax, guardian of the trees, is timeless in its message about our impact on the environment for the sake of progress and industry.

5. “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn: While I admit this is an acquired taste for some readers (if you like stories about telepathic gorillas who put out newspaper ads seeking human students to educate with sporadic philosophies), there are some interesting views on mythology, history, human nature and our interaction with the world around us.

Some of the lessons are bluntly elementary, such as what makes someone a “Taker” or a “Leaver.” But others will really make you think, and some of the allegories that Ishmael the Gorilla relates might even give you a chuckle or two.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on


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