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Orion Reading Lists

William L. Fox’s Reading List

August 24, 2009

For two months I’m in Australia working with artists and climate change scientists for a book titled The Art of the Anthropocene, which is about the co-evolution of Earth systems science and landscape/land art. Here’s my reading list for the first two weeks in June.

The primary scientist I’m interviewing here is Will Steffen, the head of Australia’s Climate Change Institute. I’m reading a paper-in-draft by Will—along with the Nobelist Paul Crutzen, and eighteen other authors—that Nature will soon be publishing, “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity in the Anthropocene.” It will be a tad controversial regarding population pressures.

Another Australian scientist important to my story is Griffith Taylor, a geologist and geographer who was an early 20th-century bellwether about climate change and habitat. Historian Carolyn Strange and co-author Alison Bashford have written a readable and well-illustrated biography of this important figure simply titled Griffith Taylor.

The terrific nonfiction magazine from Melbourne, Quarterly Review, features long essays and responses by notable Australians. Issue 31 from November 2008 centers around “Now or Never: A Sustainable Future for Australia,” by a leading environmental writer, Tim Flannery. Australia is arguably the continent/country most at risk from global warming, and his piece is both frightening and heartening in its specifics and suggestions, a tough balance to achieve.

The art book for this week is the catalog accompanying Mandy Martin’s thirty-year retrospective at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Mandy Martin, Painting 1981-2009. Martin, one of Australia’s most important artists, has been working for decades in both field and studio with scientists, writers, and Aboriginal Australians to produce an astonishing body of work about Australia’s desert and industrialized environments.

I’m also working toward finishing the manuscript for another book, All Along the Line, which is likewise set partly in Australia. For that I’m finally reading what has become an underground classic among geographers and anthropologists, Lines: A Brief History. It’s an interdisciplinary romp through the relationships among writing, walking, and music, among other linear matters, by the British anthropologist Tim Ingold.

For the journal Places I’m reviewing the new book Las Vegas: Urbanizing the Mojave Desert, by Nicole Huber and Ralph Stern. It’s a small but juicy essay-and-photo book about the contradictions posed by the growth the city that art critic Jeff Kelley, who was raised there, once called “the American dream in drag.”

And for fun? The cartographically resplendent novel by Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, as well as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Both are coming-of-age stories and illustrated, which tells you something about what it takes to balance the science readings in my small cranium!

William L. Fox is Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, and author of Aereality. He’s a frequent contributor to Orion; his essay for the portfolio “Mulholland’s View” appeared in the July/August 2009 issue.

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