More than words

These eco-lit reads aren’t just great gift ideas—they’re books to change your life

Some may call it old school, but who doesn’t love receiving and giving books during the holidays? And this year, you can take it to the next level: give a green book that just might spur some meaningful, eco-friendly change in a friend or family member’s life. Any one of the following eco-savvy books would make a great holiday gift:

Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living by Annie Berthold-Bond. This is a useful book for the do-it-yourselfer wanting to make nontoxic house-, body-, pet- and garden-care products. With ideas as varied as basic dishwashing soap made with liquid Castile soap and essential oil; soap-and-Tabasco cockroach repellant; and a more elaborate, Mayan-style “Flora de Mayo” plumeria face cream, this book has lots of good DIY recipes and advice.

This Green House: Home Improvements for the Eco-Smart, the Thrifty, and the Do-It-Yourselfer by Joshua Piven (author of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook). Piven’s book covers a variety of green DIY projects and ideas, from the simple to the more complex and costly. Piven shows you how to build an outdoor solar shower, make your own eco-friendly cat litter, construct a root cellar and grow mushrooms in your basement. He also tells you how to build a cost-saving geothermal heating system, install a micromini wind turbine array and convert your diesel car to one that runs on used vegetable grease (vs. purchased biodiesel).

The Backyard Homestead: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre!, edited by Carleen Madigan. This guide covers everything from gardening (including growing grains) and milking a goat, to making coffee from dried, roasted dandelion roots. It’s an ideal how-to manual for eco-minded self-sufficiency. Learn to raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep, goats and even a cow or two; just remember to check your local laws to make sure this kind of thing is legal. Backyard Homestead also has info on making your own mozzarella, sausage, butter and so on, as well as how to keep bees.

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. With a focus on heirloom varieties, Ashworth’s book is a goldmine of information on seed production and storage for 160 different vegetables. Seed to Seed also includes regional growing recommendations, so you can discover what will work well in Sacramento’s climate.

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. A classic from the 1970s, with a preface by none other than Wendell Berry and an introduction added in 2009 by Frances Moore Lappé (how’s that for cred?). Fukuoka’s book about natural, “do-nothing” farming and having a healthy attitude toward food reminds me of the writing of naturalist John Muir in its heartfelt straightforwardness and the depth of his grasp of the natural world.

Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon. Smart and salty Ohio farmer/writer Logsdon has produced this brand-new, highly readable, well-researched book on the usefulness of every type of manure, from farm animal to pet to bat to human. Wendell Berry gives the thumbs up on this one as well; it’s no stinker.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan. This lovely must-own guide to smart eating includes such advice as “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk,” and “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”

Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation, by Sharon Astyk. I’ve recommended this book a thousand times over, but it’s just one heck of a handy read for anyone wanting to learn about such things as canning and dehydrating, and food security in general.

And so, if these don’t give you gift ideas, then perhaps you should pick these up as a gift for yourself, in hopes to ignite some change in the new year.