The best books to read about resistance

Who am I?

I’m a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction living in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley. I moved here from Mississippi 35 years ago to live in the mountains and write short stories, novellas, novels, but have gotten sucked into decades of battling a recalcitrant U.S. Forest Service intent on building roads and clearcutting in this incredibly unique ecosystem—the Yaak Valley, is the lowest elevation in Montana, the wettest valley, and an ancient inland rainforest that contains 25% of the entire state of Montana’s “species of concern.” Chief among these are the valley’s last 25 grizzlies: one of the rarest subpopulations in North America. Loving a thing deeply is almost always revolutionary. Revolution: to turn. To change. To revolve, evolve, return. To turn around.


I wrote...

Fortunate Son: Selected Essays from the Lone Star State

By Rick Bass,

Book cover of Fortunate Son: Selected Essays from the Lone Star State

What is my book about?

Fortunate Son is a literary tour of the Lone Star State by a native Texan of exceptional talent. The essays encompass a Texas that is both lost and found, past and present. The stories reach from Galveston Bay to the Hill Country outside Austin, and from Houston in the 1960s to today. They are bound together by a deep love and a keen eye for the land and its people and by an appreciation for what is given, a ruefulness for what is lost, and a commitment to save what can be saved.

The books I picked & why

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Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness

By Doug Peacock,

Book cover of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness

Why this book?

Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years is revolutionary on two counts. The tale of a Green Beret medic devastated from his tours trying to sew soldiers and civilians back together in the killing fields of Vietnam, who seeks—and finds—recovery in the American wilderness: Wyoming’s Wind Rivers, the desert Southwest, and, always, the mountains of Montana—particularly Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. That wilderness can save our lives is a beautifully simple and revolutionary concept for many—that it is not a thing to be frightened of, but celebrated, preserved, defended.

In Montana’s backcountry, Peacock was drawn to the grizzlies, observed them at a distance, respectfully, and began filming them. His portraits of them playing show them to be what they are, but what not many had thought—incredibly social, certainly incredibly intelligent, but most of all, incredibly playful sentient beings. What’s revolutionary about this is also so simple: observation, and keen attention to detail, is an act of humility. Humility is the only thing that will save the tentative and late-arriving experiment that is Homo sapiens. Here in the twenty-first century, it is the utmost survival skill.


One of Us: A Biologist's Walk Among Bears

By Barrie Gilbert,

Book cover of One of Us: A Biologist's Walk Among Bears

Why this book?

Dr. Barrie Gilbert’s memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears, is nothing if not a magnificent portrait and case study of humility. A half-century of incisive study and research into the baits, and needs and, perhaps most importantly, social complexity and intense attachments and intelligence of grizzly bears should be the lede here—not a single incident from Gilbert’s youth, when he surprised a mother grizzly with cubs while coming over a ridge into the wind. But so goes storytelling. Imbued with the compassion and generosity of the forgiven, Gilbert’s acute and intimate knowledge of the animal Indigenous cultures referred to as “the Real Bear” is unprecedented and unequaled in the tattered and impoverished remains of contemporary society in which so many have lost—are bereft of—any attachment to the wilderness from which we were birthed.


Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

By Terry Tempest Williams,

Book cover of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Why this book?

Finishing out the nonfiction—though I leave thousands undiscussed here—is Terry Tempest Williams’ seminal Refuge: An Unnatural History of Place. Bold and original in its direct comparisons between the personal and the ecological, the memoir chronicles the deterioration of Williams’ beloved mother, Diane Tempest, to ovarian cancer at the same time their shared landscape, the Bear River marshes of the Great Salt Lake where three generations of the Tempest had gloried in birding expeditions, were succumbing to record flooding. The memoir also details the exposure of Williams and her mother—her entire family—to radioactive fallout from the U.S. government’s atomic testing in the 1950s. Passionate, eloquent, fiery, informative, and wise, it’s a must-read.


Joe

By Larry Brown,

Book cover of Joe

Why this book?

Fiction as literature of the resistance? Larry Brown’s Joe is a top candidate for what I’d call The Great American Novel. There are many entries, of course: as many stories as there are communities, past, present, and even future. 

What I love about Joe is the simplicity of metaphor. A backwoods ne’er-do-well, Joe Ransom makes his living killing—literally—the great wild biodiversity hardwood powerhouse forests of the Mississippi bottomlands by injecting them with poison so that they die, and the rich forest can be converted to the homogenous, fast-growing, essentially sterile monoculture of southern yellow pine. His way of life—wild, reckless, dangerous—is disappearing as well, and as he kills the thing he loves most, he drinks himself ever-deeper into harm’s way and seeks a violence commensurate with the one he is inflicting upon the forest. Worse yet, he begins to train a young acolyte, an orphan disciple, Gary Jones. The sentences are beautiful as the saga is horrific. Where’s the revolution? In acknowledging that wild nature threatens quick commerce; and that which we do to the land, we do to ourselves. Again, simplicity.


All the King's Men

By Robert Penn Warren,

Book cover of All the King's Men

Why this book?

Another contender for The Great American Novel? All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is the classic tale of the Louisiana populist governor who climbs from a hardscrabble farm to the statehouse and incredible power, there are two messages. Each is wrought with lyricism and luminous imagery: the first, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely; and the second, the incredible river-like power of time.


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