Good Reading : October 2010
8 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2010 me my shelf i david suzuki Environmentalist and broadcaster DAVID SUZUKI tells us about what he’s reading now, the books he loved as a child, and the books that have most influenced his environmental philosophy. ● What are you reading now, and why? 've just finished a remarkable book, Francis Crick: Discoverer of the genetic code by Matt Ridley. It's about he life of the Nobel Prize -winning scientist who, with James Watson, discovered the double-helical nature of DNA. A remarkable man. I also read Naomi Oreskes's book, Merchants of Doubt, which I think everyone concer ned about the denial of climate change should read.Written by a topnotch academic, it reveals the way a handful of dedicated deniers, supported by industry, have fought everything from the link between secondhand smoking and cancer to ozone depletion by CFCs and climate change. I'm now reading Requiem for a Species, the latest book by Australian academic Clive Hamilton. It's very disturbing because, of course, the species is us. He makes an impeccable case for our inability or unwillingness o act rapidly enough to meet the challenge of the way our lifestyle is altering the very chemistry of the lanet's atmosphere. ● What are some of your favourite books and authors? In my youth I was an avid science fiction fan. Folks like Isaac Asimov, but also Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Now I seem to have abandoned fiction. I'm a big fan of Bill McKibben and Bill Bryson, two very different writers. ● Which books have had the most influence on your lifestyle or philosophy? The first 'grown-up' books I read were by Ivan T Sanderson, called Animal Treasure and Caribbean Treasure. His books were about collecting expeditions he made to exotic places. He filled the books with wonderful line drawings of amazing animals and I was enthralled by creatures I dreamed of seeing someday. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring came out in 1962, just s I was beginning my career in genetics. It was my reat conceit to think I would make a big impact in cience, but she made me realise that the reductionism nherent in genetics hid the impact of what we were doing in a bigger world in which everything is interconnected. ● Which author would you most like to meet and why? Nelson Mandela. To me, he is the most inspiring person alive today. I cannot imagine the inner strength he had, the commitment to ideals, that enabled him to survive so long in prison. ● Do you read e-books? No. ● What are some books that have made you laugh out loud? My in-laws are English, and Bill Bryson's book about his time in England, Notes from a Small Island, had me constantly reading sections out loud to them. ● Which books have you found inspirational? Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and The End of Nature by Bill McKibben. ● When you were a child what did you enjoy reading? Reading was not a tradition in my childhood. My dad read hunting and fishing magazines, but I don't ever remember seeing my mother read. We were extremely poor because during World War II we were incarcerated and then ejected from British Columbia. So my early memories are of my parents working, and when my sisters and I had free time, we were expected to work too. I learned about reading through required book reviews that we had to tur n in starting at about grade six. That's when I discovered Sanderson's books. ● Where are most of the books in your home? In many ways, the books we have -- and we have thousands -- reflect phases in our lives. My wife has a PhD in comparative literature, so there are lear ned books by folks like Noam Chomsky and Claude Lévi-Strauss. She was also an English honours student as an undergrad, so there are shelves of great English literature. My books go through phases of concern about civil rights and Japanese --Canadians, to books chronicling the impact of science on society, to eugenics and then of course, books about the environment. ● Looking at the books on your shelves, is there any one category that dominates? Yes. Environment, science and society. ● When do you do most of your reading? I'm reading all the time, but I do my serious reading and joyful reading when I'm at my cabin on an island in the Pacific. My great challenge is that there are so many demands on me that I don't have blocks of time to simply savour a book without inter ruption. ● Where is your favourite place to read? At my cabin. Do you have a favourite bookshop? My favourite bookshop was in the same building as [the David Suzuki] Foundation. It went out of business this year -- after half a century. I only tried once ordering a rare book online and although I paid for it, it never ar rived. So I continue to order through stores. The Legacy by David Suzuki is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $26.99.