Book Review: Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide

While this book has an amazing amount of information and how-to instructions, it is still a primer — something the authors remind their audience of often in their narrative. There are extensive resources and notes at the end which offer more in-depth information for people to consult on some of the more difficult concepts discussed within.

Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew co-founded the Rhizome Collective, a non-profit organization that existed for 11 years in Austin, Texas and which is currently reorganizing. Juan Martinez’s art is amazing; see more at the Beehive Design Collective. Together, words and illustrations effectively outline how urban dwellers can make use of limited funds and resources to create sustainable, autonomous communities in the face of world economic and ecological collapse. Organized into five broad sections, Food, Water, Waste, Energy, and Bioremediation, this DIY manual outlines the basics of food production, water collection and purification, dealing with waste, and many, many, many, many other key skills humanity will need in the years ahead, since we just can’t seem to break our fossil fuel addiction collectively. The authors also take great pains to define and identify how gentrification is threatening the health and vibrancy of cities due to displacement of people of color and low-income residents, and caution readers against buying into such terms as “smart growth” and “new urbanism”, the equivalents to “all natural” and “green”, frequently bandied about in environmental green washing.

“Recently, gentrifiers have attempted to recast gentrification as having a positive social influence, or to assert its inevitability….An awareness of and resistance to gentrification is critical to autonomous urban communities.” [p. 212]

Get it here or, even better, at your favorite local indy bookseller!


Magazine Review: Orion, March/April 2015

Excellent issue, as usual, especially the special section Passport to Cuba, filled with brilliant examples of Cuban literature including essays, short stories, and poems. Another piece that resonated with me was “Beauty in the Burn” by Philip Connors as wildfire season approaches one of the regions of the country I love most….

Book Review: Ariel Dorfman, WIDOWS

Dorfman’s first novel translated into English, WIDOWS explores the devastating issue of the politically disappeared/ desaparecido. A group of women in an unnamed town in the mountains of Greece (ahem, Chile) gather around the battered body of an unrecognizable man which appears in the river, demanding its release to them for burial by the controlling military government. All of the dozens of women claim the man as one of their own disappeared, which has left the town absent of almost all boys and men. A book that makes you want to yell, laugh, scream, cheer: aloud, all while shaking your fist. An emotionally gut wrenching and important story.

Book Review: Ariel Dorfman, Mascara

Known for his scathing commentary on contemporary issues in Latin America, Mascara is Dorfman’s third novel; also, his first written in English. A dark tale of love and power, memory and betrayal, and the masks we all wear. Told from the point of views of its three main characters whose lives intertwine in surprising and twisted ways: the nameless, faceless man whose story dominates the book, Oriana, a childlike woman both haunted and pursued, and a surgeon whose identity is well known, while at the same time fluid and changing. Concise and complex with sharp prose and Dorfman’s usual acerbic wit.