Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

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A Year in Reading: Alexandra Kleeman

I think it was this year that I felt my hunger for language, the texture and variety of it, come back full force. For the couple years before, I had felt afraid to look away from The Feed—the persistent, unceasing flow of awful news that felt just a bit less out of my control if I could put my eyes on it.  The feeling was like those days when your fear for a sick family member or friend leaves you unable or unwilling to eat, afraid that any action could disturb some delicate superstitious balance. But this year, I woke up hungry.Some of what I read was related to the fears I felt about the outside world: Marie Ndiaye’s eerie, dreamlike thriller My Heart Hemmed In, where feelings of xenophobia and exclusion circulate in terrifyingly visceral ways, and Jeff VanderMeer’s ferociously creative and beautiful Dead Astronauts, an environmental novel animated by a tremendously tender sense of despair and self-sacrifice. Some of what gave me comfort were novels and memoirs that put me in contact with deeply intelligent, thoughtful, emotional interiorities. At a time when I felt my own interiority continually in flux, dissolving and coagulating, the feeling of pliant, agile mental life that I found in Joanna Howard’s Rerun Era, Dorthe Nors’s Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, and Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women felt like it could glue me together and make me person-shaped again.On a visit to the Small Press Distribution warehouse in Berkeley, Calif., I learned about an incredible press called Timeless Infinite Light that unfortunately has already been shuttered—their backlist is available through SPD’s website. Raquel Sala Rivera (The Tertiary) and Lauren Levin (Justice Piece/Transmission) were my two favorite discoveries from them. Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin (from Daunt Books’s new Originals series) blew me away with its frosty lyricism. I discovered the pocket-sized Forerunners series from the University of Minnesota Press, and especially loved Joanna Zylinska’s The End of Man: A Feminist Counterapocalypse and Robert Rosenberger’s Callous Objects: Design Against the Homeless.In a world where only six percent of mammalian biomass on the planet now comprises of wild animals, I longed for books that pressed me up against the inhuman, that connected me to an inhuman world. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer moved me to actual tears, and Tristan Gooley’s The Lost Art of Reading Natures Signs taught me to see differently, animated my hikes in entirely new ways. Water and Dreams by Gaston Bachelard and Augustin Fernandez Mallo’s Nocilla Trilogy both made criticism and fiction, respectively, feel oceanic, decentered, and world-sized to me. Through these books, I read myself back into the world.

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