Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Nook - Rachel Carson

Hi readers,

I probably shouldn't admit this, but up until recently, I really didn't know who Rachel Carson was.  I'd heard her name from time to time, read a quote of hers every now & had a vague idea that she was a writer, but didn't know about her.  I'd seen one too many reference about her when I finally went out & got a biography about her from the library.  And then I read one of her books.  And now, all I have to say is - Rachel Carson, where have you been all my life?!

The biography I read is titled Up Close: Rachel Carson, by Ellen Levine.  I believe it's technically a juvenile book - but all I was looking for was a quickie, who-is-Rachel-Carson kind of book & this one fits the bill nicely.  It's not super long and in depth, but gives the reader a nice general look at her life.  And of course, since I knew nothing about Rachel Carson to begin with, I learned a great deal from this book.

Mainly, I learned what a cool person Rachel Carson was.  She was observant, tenacious, giving, eloquent......I would have loved to have known her.  I admire her for pursuing her dreams during a time when women were expected to work in the home, let alone a career in sciences.  I admire her for giving up so much for her family and being the breadwinner for basically all of them all her life.  I admire her for her environmental defense and for writing a book that made the world come to its senses.

In a very small side note, there is a little scenario from the book that has stuck with me in the month or so since I've read it that I wanted to bring up.  Rachel recalled when she was a child her mother taking bugs that had gotten in the house back outside, instead of squashing them.  I think it's small acts like these that make a big impact on our children.  I'm glad Maria Carson taught her daughter to love & appreciate nature by being kind to bugs and letting Rachel explore in fields as a child - it was the foundation of lifetime appreciation for nature.  I feel a kinship to Maria Carson, as I am also trying to impart these lessons on my kiddos - I hope that I can do it as well as she did with Rachel.

As I read the biography and read all about how Rachel worked on her books and the impact they had on readers, I couldn't help but want to read them.  So, off to the library I went to get Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's best-known work, published in 1962.

This link is actually to the paperback, but I read the book-on-CD.  Interestingly, it was in perfect condition.  Usually, the books on CD from the library are all scratched up from lots of use, but sadly not this one.  I couldn't help but wonder when was the last time anyone had checked this out of the library?  Even though it is a bit outdated, at the same time it's very relevant.

To summarize the book, it's basically an attack on the pesticide industry and how the pesticides used at the time (mainly DDT) were hurting animals and people and the environment, while not doing much damage to the insects they were targeted for.  Rachel Carson is nothing if not thorough.  Reading between the lines, you can tell she is trying to provide irrefutable evidence on why the pesticide practices of the day were a really, really bad idea.  And indeed, her argument could not be debated - the "other side" ended up attacking her personally (calling her a spinster, etc.) because they could not argue with her data.  If you read the book, you'll know how thorough her case is, and after about 3 chapters, you might be thinking, as I was, Rachel Carson, you had me at hello!

This book is at once depressing and uplifting.  Depressing because the author gives so much information about the horrible effects these chemicals had.  Effects like birds having spasms and dying a painful death due to the chemicals.  Facts such as traces of the chemicals lingering in cells generation after generation.  It's also uplifting because you can't help but be grateful that someone is doing something to stop it.  We are all indebted to Rachel Carson: her book led the way to the halt on DDT use.

As I mentioned, the book was published in 1962 and since it is a cry of alarm to stop DDT and other pesticides of the day, it is a little outdated today.  But there is really a lot of information here that is also very pertinent to today:  Carson addresses issues such as chemicals in our environment & their effect on our health, multiple chemicals and the complexity of their assault when combined, people's relaxed attitude about spraying and not reading the fine print on the package, etc.  I can't help but wonder about pesticide residue on the food we eat, or preservatives in packaged food.  What about chemicals in things like sunscreens or lotions?  If you think about it, we really take for granted the amount of chemicals we encounter every day & assume to be safe for us.  I think a benefit to reading this book today is that you start to question all chemicals.  After all, people didn't think much about DDT back then, right?

After reading her biography, and then her most well-known work, I am interested in reading more from her, maybe The Edge of the Sea next.  I think she would be happy to know that almost 50 years after her last book was published, she is still touching lives.

Cheryl (Team Rachel) 


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