Caroline Richards ’22
I was told to read this gem of a book by my mother, which, as it happens, is how the best literature always ends up in my hands. At this point in life I pretty much exclusively read books my mom tells me to; one, because I don’t have a lot of extra reading time on my hands at school, and two, because they’re always so damn good. How she has the time to chew her way through all this delicious literature I have yet to discover. It is something I aspire to. But, I digress. This particular case of reference was special. In fact, it was one of the first things she said to me when she came to pick me up from the boat a few weekends ago: “Honey, you have to read this book.” She said it before she asked how school was, or requested any other personal mom-information that gets pelted your way when you return from college after awhile. I think she may have also said, “It changed the way I look at the world,” but I could just be making that up considering it most certainly changed the way I look at the world. Anyway, I knew it was going to be good; the signs were all there, and if you haven’t gathered that this is a sign yet, I will make it explicit: this is a sign to read The Overstory by Richard Powers.
This book is essentially a series of stories woven together to form one gigantic, profound, overarching story that by the end will literally blow your mind.
It follows nine American narratives, from photographers to engineers to artists, and how the natural world has shaped them or impacted their lives in a way that spurs them into action. Specifically, it weaves together the stories of how their interaction with trees force them to confront deforestation and the overall decline of trees in America. It’s deeply heartbreaking at times and uplifting at others, but one thing is certain: it is so dense with worldly wisdom it’s practically an encyclopedia of life. One that reads and excites like a fable.
This book requires you to read very carefully, but each line feels like you’re learning something new about the world; it makes you think differently about yourself, and your place on this Earth. Not only did I find this book to be incredibly relevant given all of the environmental issues we’re currently facing, but I also found it to be refreshingly difficult. It was hard to read, and it required me to pay attention. It’s complexity is staggering because it’s seemingly seamless the way Powers unites all of these people’s experiences in a way that isn’t far-fetched or in any way romantic. He’s vivid and realistic about the human experience, yet simultaneously able to capture it’s intangible magic. The result is a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize Winning, already iconic masterpiece of literature. Powers also went on to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, a prestigious literary award open to virtually any book written in the English language, making it one of the most competitive and sought-after awards in the literary industry. In the case of The Overstory, I can see why this was the obvious choice. It is full of richness, both in language and meaning.
With issues of climate change, one of the many problems activists face is that no one wants to pay attention. With life in general, I find people struggle to pay attention to the things that matter. This attitude has taken a huge toll on both nature and humanity.
This book gives me hope because it seems, for once, to give attention to all the right things. If you don’t read it, you’re only doing yourself and the entirety of the human-race a great disservice.