Atwood, Water & The New York Times

“Water Is…” leads Atwood’s Pick for Books of 2016

Microsoft Word - Atwoods Picks-NYTimes.docx

ny-times-theyearinreaingEvery year, near Christmas, The New York Times puts out “The Year in Reading” in which they ask notably avid readers—who also happen to be poets, musicians, diplomats, filmmakers, novelists, actors and artists—to share the books that accompanied them through that year.

For the 2016 Year In Reading, The Times asked a prestigious and diverse readership, including Junot Diaz, Paul Simon, Carl Bernstein, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elizabeth Banks, Samantha Power, Philip Pullman, Ann Pratchett, Orhan Pamuk, Drew Gilpin Fause, Anne Tyler, and many others to share their books of 2016.

There was also Booker Prize-winning and celebrated Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood.

atwood-margaretMargaret Atwood is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature as well as the Booker Prize (several times) and the Governor General’s Award. Animals and the environment feature in many of her books, particularly her speculative fiction, which reflects a strong view on environmental issues.atwood-angel-catbird

Several of her latest works (e.g., Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, MaddAddam) are eco-fiction and may be considered climate fiction. Atwood and partner, novelist Graeme Gibson, are the joint honorary presidents of the Rare Bird Club within BirdLife International. Atwood’s highly popular graphic novel Angel Catbird reflects an environmental sensitivity to the balance between wildlife and humans and their pets in urban settings.

Atwood’s choice for 2016 books came from her active, astute and compassionate environmentalism. Suggesting that many of her ‘The Year in Reading’ co-readers would emphasize fiction, history and politics, Atwood chose her books “instead from a still-neglected sector. All hail, elemental spirits! You’re making a comeback!”

Here are the four books Atwood recommends and why:

  1. water-is-cover-webWater Is…: The Meaning of Water” (Pixl Press) by Nina Munteanu. “We can’t live without it, so maybe we should start respecting it,” says Atwood. “This beautifully designed book by a limnologist looks at water from 12 different angles, from life and motion and vibration to beauty and prayer.” Water is emerging as one of the single most important resources of Planet Earth. Already scarce in some areas, it has become the new “gold” to be bought, traded, coveted, cherished, hoarded, and abused worldwide. It is currently traded on the Stock Exchange…Some see water as a commodity like everything else that can make them rich; they will claim it as their own to sell. Yet it cannot be “owned” or kept. Ultimately, water will do its job to energize you and give you life then quietly take its leave; it will move mountains particle by particle with a subtle hand; it will paint the world with beauty then return to its fold and rejoice; it will travel through the universe and transform worlds; it will transcend time and space to share and teach.
  1. hiddenlifeoftreesThe Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World” (Greystone Books) by Peter Wohlleben. In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group. Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.
  1. weeds-mabeyWeeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants” (Ecco) by Richard Mabey. “They’re better for you than you think,” says Atwood. “They hold the waste spaces of the world in place, and you can eat some of them.” Ever since the first human settlements 10,000 years ago, weeds have dogged our footsteps. They are there as the punishment of ‘thorns and thistles’ in Genesis and , two millennia later, as a symbol of Flanders Field. They are civilisations’ familiars, invading farmland and building-sites, war-zones and flower-beds across the globe. Yet living so intimately with us, they have been a blessing too. Weeds were the first crops, the first medicines. Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. Cow parsley has become the fashionable adornment of Spring weddings. Weaving together the insights of botanists, gardeners, artists and poets with his own life-long fascination, Richard Mabey examines how we have tried to define them, explain their persistence, and draw moral lessons from them. One persons weed is another’s wild beauty.
  1. birds-and-peopleBirds and People” (Jonathan Cape) by Mark Cocker. “Vast, historical, contemporary, many-levelled,” says Atwood. “We’ve been inseparable from birds for millenniums. They’re crucial to our imaginative life and our human heritage, and part of our economic realities.” Vast in both scope and scale, the book draws upon Mark Cocker’s forty years of observing and thinking about birds. Part natural history and part cultural study, it describes and maps the entire spectrum of our engagements with birds, drawing in themes of history, literature, art, cuisine, language, lore, politics and the environment. In the end, this is a book as much about us as it is about birds.

“Time to pay attention to the nonhuman life around us, without which human life would fail,” Atwood concludes.

As we enter a new year of great uncertainty, particularly on how we and our environment leaf-water drop copywill fare in a shifting political wind, these books offer diverse insight, a fresh and needed perspective and critical connection with our natural world–and each other through it.

Buy them, discuss them, share them. And save this planet.

Happy New Year!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Launch of “Water Is…” Celebrates Our Connection With Water

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Mimico Creek (photo N. Munteanu)

On June 12th, Councillor Jim Tovey, Mississauga Nation knowledge keeper Nancy Rowe and others helped me celebrate the launch of my long-awaited book “Water Is…” (three years in the making!) with a water blessing of Mimico Creek and various water-engaging activities.

The environmental event “celebrated water and our connection with it” at Islington Golf Course in Etobicoke. The 75 people who attended also included the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Credit Valley Conservation Authority, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Ecologos (WaterDocs), Rethink Sustainability Initiatives, poets, writers and artists.

In her powerful and compelling blessing, Nancy Rowe said, “Water is life, water is healing, we owe everything to water.” Despite the celebration, Mimico’s ironic reality was reflected in the ceremony: “You used to be able to drink this water,” Rowe lamented as she used tap water for the water blessing ceremony.

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Nancy Rowe blesses the water (photo Maureen Pogue)

Vince D’Elia of TRCA gave Mimico Creek a failed report card and spoke about the need to educate the public on water and watersheds. Given that Mimico Creek flows some 33 km within a 77 square km watershed that encompasses three jurisdictions (Brampton, Mississauga, and Toronto); harmonizing efforts is no easy task.

Yasmin Glanville Jim Tovey Travis Belanger Michelle Stone

Jim Tovey with Yasmin Glanville, Travis Belanger and Michelle Stone (photo K. September)

Councillor Tovey stressed connection of individuals, communities and jurisdictions to create awareness and action in re-wilding our watersheds and to foster beauty. He highlighted Mississauga’s extensive planning and investment into these initiatives, saying that they are setting the precedent for all Canadian cities for sustainability planning.

Claire Lawson of LOWaterkeeper proclaimed that, “We are Lake Ontario,” referring to us being 70% water and the constant circulation of water on the planet. She gave us the 6 steps to water leadership: 1) know your watermark; 2) orient yourself; 3) get out there; 4) know the rules; 5)  participate; and 6) dedicate yourself. She told us why sharing our personal watermarks was so important and urged participants to share their watermark–a personal story that connected them with a particular waterbody and event–to help promote meaning and protection of waterbodies around the world.

Ro Omrow, with Ecologos (WaterDocs) invited participants to sign a petition to make Toronto a Blue Community. Initiated by the Council of Canadians, a Blue Community is one that:

  • recognizes water as a human right
  • bans the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events
  • promotes publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services
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Tasnim Jivaji sets up her water art at Nina’s launch/event (photo K. September)

Colleague, Naturalist friend, editor, indexer and poet, Merridy Cox, shared her watermark. Liana Di Marco read her poem “Rewilding the Sacred”, which appears in my book. John Ambury, whose poem also appears in my book read “Moving Waters.”

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Liana Di Marco signing her pledge

Mississauga artist Tasnim Jivaji exhibited her water-inspired art. Originally from Mombasa, Kenya, Jivaji said, “In all my travels, in all the places around the world, it has never been the concrete that takes my breath away; it is always the body of water.”

The event also included a Water Action Station, which featured a three-step process toward successful water-action:

Step 1: buy my book (learning–step one toward water literacy, of course!)
Step 2: pin your prioritized water charity (Pixl Press is donating a portion of book sales toward several water charities; engagement)
Step 3: sign a pledge to Cousteau’s Bill of Rights for Future Generations(commitment to action)
The mission of the Cousteau society and this bill is to “educate people to understand, to love and to protect the water systems of the planet, marine and fresh water, for the well-being of future generations.”

 

According to Tovey, my book “Water Is…” bridges the gap from awareness to appreciation, connection and final action.

This book came from a lifetime’s dedication to water, humanity and our environment–from the moment I realized as a little girl that I felt the planet. I firmly think that water is the “glue” that can help us all connect and this book is the result.

Water is the ultimate gift and connecting force.

In the months and years to come we may see water further commodified, abused, and persecuted, figuring in tensions, take-overs and wars … Or not … That depends on us, everyone of us. We’re over 70% water, after all.

We ARE water…

What we think, feel and do, so does water.

#WhatIsWATER
#TheMeaningOfWater

Images taken by Kevin September (@SeptemberSphere; http://kevinseptember.com) unless otherwise shown.

Praise for “Water Is…” from around the world: 

This book emotionally connected me with water. As a result it fed my perception about the value of life. It reminded me that life reveals in each space a complex system that is full of surprise and beauty. A system of which I am part, without separation.”—Laura Fres, One Deep Sustainability, Barcelona, Spain

A sumptuous collection of treasures…from the basics of matter itself to the social and spiritual aspects of this substance, which touches our lives so much and is still not really understood.”—Dr. B. Kröplin and Regine C. Henschel, “World in a Drop”, Germany

Congratulations, Nina! Water Is… is an adventurous, surprising and inspiring book that could not feel more timely. The writing swept me away on a journey through history, landscape and our entire universe, yet brought me back home in the end with a fresh perspective on the significance of water.”—Emmi Itäranta, author of Memory of Water, United Kingdom

“If you don’t want to read all those other books on water, just read this one.”—John Stewart, Mississauga News, Ontario, Canada

“[Nina] is immersed well enough in water to tell us about how we should think about it. And the way she goes about it in this book is awfully good…A fine achievement.”—Joseph Planta, The Commentary, Vancouver, Canada

This book leaves me impressed. From science to science fiction, from philosophy to religion, from history to fairytale, the role of water is illustrated and illuminated. Water is probably the best investigated and least understood substance on this world, yet we still don’t know how to describe it in a better way than calling it H2O. This book tries to zero in on the missing part, the great unknown of water, and it does it in a very intelligent and charming way.”—Elmar C. Fuchs, scientist, WETSUS Program Manager, Netherlands

Kudus to Nina Munteanu for sharing her deep wisdom, experience and knowledge of humanity’s greatest natural resource!  As Leonardo da Vinci said, “We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” We forget at our own peril and so I am deeply grateful for this book by so highly qualified an author!”—Elisabet Sahtouris, evolution biologist, futurist, author of Gaia’s Dance: The story of Earth & Us, USA