The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015) by anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Anna Tsing is my new hero. She writes so engagingly about (in this case) the supply chains of matsutake mushrooms, but everything I have read by her makes me leap up and say "She understands!" Rather than trying to make a case for saving the planet, she accepts that we blew that opportunity, now we just have to make the best of it and try not to ruin things any more.
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene (2017) Anna Tsing is one of the editors of this anthology of brilliant essays on collaborative survival, creativity and appreciating the more-than-human. My copy is encrusted with post-its marking passages I want to go back to. It is also beautifully designed, two volumes in one.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Future (2020) by Merlin Sheldrake. Now this one is on everyone's list, as it should be. A totally engrossing, delightful read. Merlin Sheldrake will make you appreciate fungi like never before. Unsurprisingly, he references Anna Tsing - in fact, leading me to her.
Having and Being Had (2020) by Eula Biss. This one is also on a lot of lists, deservedly so. Biss echoes so many of the conversations I have been having about how to live ethically in this world. She also references The Mushroom at the End of the World, and one of my great favourites Lewis Hydes's The Gift, again leading me to feel like I am with someone who understands. I got it from the library, but will be buying a copy, just to have it close.
The Red Queen (2004!) by Margaret Drabble. I rarely read fiction, and so was surprised at how engrossing I found this book. I had not been a Drabble fan before, but I have been reading as much as I can of her work since. The way this one travels through time and women's lives is clever and captivating, in a way that never feels fanciful. The link I have given features poor reviews - I disagree.
Watermelon Snow: Science, Art and a Lone Polar Bear (2020) by Lynne Quarmby. I was lucky to read this early, in manuscript form. I was so afraid I wouldn't like it, because author Quarmby is a friend. But I am happy to report that her writing is authentic and engaging, and she grapples with her difficult subject (environmental grief) as one would a worthy enemy. As a scientist on an arctic expedition/artist residency, as a reluctant politician, and as a environmental activist, her voice comes through brave, strong and true.
Sonnet's Shakespeare (2019) by Sonnet L'Abbe. These poems are marvels. I don't know enough Shakespeare to be able to follow what L'Abbe has done with his text, but even in my ignorance I enjoyed her fierce, urgent words and the surreal sense of displacement I felt.
Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto (2020) by Kate Sekules. There were a lot of books about mending this year, and I think this one is the best, encouraging us to think deeply about our consumption and how to change our relationship with the clothes we wear.
The Dictionary of Animal Languages (2019) by Heidi Sopinka. I got really into female Surrealists this year, especially Leonora Carrington. I loved this fictional work that is based on a Carrington-esque figure, who studies animal communication. I loved it so much I bought three copies to share with friends.
The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This just came out today. Gorgeous. A true gift for the season, and for the year ahead. The link will take you to the full essay in Emergence magazine.
Yes, it has been a difficult year. But it has also been a time to pause and imagine the future. To mend our ways. To listen to the voices of others, even the more-than-human. To be humble, and to work with what we've got. To grieve and to rejoice.
Hugs and love for 2021.