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The Sustainable Bookshelf

The following are books that I recommend for your sustainable bookshelf.  The sustainable bookshelf should be stocked with books that you would want in hard copy if you ever lost access to the internet and had to survive by wits alone.  These are some of my must-reads.

(Note:  These are affiliate links.  If you want to add one of these books to your shelf and would like to support FC&G, I would appreciate you access from here.  If that isn't your thing, I would encourage you to seek out a local merchant for your purchase.  I receive no compensation for these reviews; I just love the books!)

Mini-Farming:  Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre is my new gift for myself.  It covers the basics of space-conscious gardening, seed saving, preserving, and raising chickens for meat and eggs.  While it is not an exhaustive resource for a beginner, it does serve as a kind of catalog of what can be done in a very small space, allowing the reader to choose the projects he or she wishes to attempt.  It also makes a subtle but compelling case that those of us on suburban lots could sustain ourselves by our own efforts if the need arose.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is the classic of the modern sustainability movement, and it presents a highly-readable and in-depth argument against the modern food establishment and toward a greater connection with what we eat.  In spite of the indictments against some of our society's agricultural misdeeds, it emerges as an optimistic account of the things we can do to live more sustainably and reap more enjoyment in the process.  This is a winter must-read, if only because it will have you reading the seed catalogs and dreaming of your spring efforts.

Speaking of things that have you jonesing for spring, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle remains one of my favorite books.  In fact, it spends whole weeks sitting on the ottoman where I can reach it and read the bits associated with either my current season or the season I wish I were in.  The book is organized into months and accounts a year in the Kingsolver family's life as they attempt to live nearly solely off the products of their own land and community.  However, unlike some of the "stunt journalism" that sets a writer up to live sustainably with very little experience or knowledge, these folks aren't kidding:  they've farmed for years.  Therefore, there is very little angst and a lot of joy described here. 

Think you can't sew?  If you have a sewing machine and can run a fairly straight stitch, you can do most of the projects in this book.  Projects range from the simple (like napkins and pillowcases) to the slightly-more-intermediate (wrap skirts and PJ pants).  Patterns are included.  I love this book for the inspiration it gives me for projects to try with a yard or two of remnant fabric and a couple of hours, tops.

Stitch 'n Bitch taught me to knit, plain and simple.  After years of trying to knit using the kinds of books you get in the yarn store -- and failing miserably -- this book had me knitting in a couple of nights.  This would be a great gift wrapped with some nice knitting needles (bamboo is sustainable) and some organic cotton yarn.

I learned to crochet from my mom, so I have been doing that for years.  Therefore, I can't vouch as personally for Stoller's ability to teach crochet.  However, what I can tell you is that, with all due respect to those who favor the hook or the sticks, some things you knit and some things you crochet.  Some yarns look prettier knitted, some look better crocheted.  Sometimes you want the texture created by one, sometimes the other.  Learn both.

Country Wisdom and Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land.  While that subtitle may be a little optimistic, this certainly is the go-to reference for some of those oddball intermediate-to-advanced sustainable living questions you may have.

Published in about 6 point font (so get out your reading glasses), this no-frills book has a wealth of information on gardening, farming, raising livestock, butchering, cooking, building, making medicines, carpentry, laying tile, and a few arts and crafts for your "free time."  I have gone to it time and again to answer questions that range from academic to practical, like:
  • What is the difference between a tincture and an infusion, and how do I make them?
  • What is a new recipe for [pick your favorite crop]?
  • How do you skin a rabbit?  (OK, give me a break:  I saw three of them mowing down my beans that day, and I figured it didn't hurt to know one's options....)
One caveat for this book (other than the eye-punishing font):  this is not a book you sit down and read cover-to-cover for enjoyment, and it isn't your first sustainable living book.  If you are brand-new at gardening, for example, you probably won't be able to start on the first page of the gardening section and easily work your way through your steps in chronological order.  However, if you have specific sustainabililty questions and wish to learn the answer, this is the encyclopedia for you.  I'm glad to have it around as a physical reference I know I can depend on to answer my questions.  And with a few tips and tricks from the masters, I'm able to build a better bean fence.

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