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Why Every High School and College Student Should Read Richard Power’s The Overstory

I recently read Richard Power’s Pultizer Prize winning novel, The Overstory. I was captivated by the story’s majestic sweep and impressed by Power’s ability to paint a picture of our environmental crises through story instead of a cerebral delineation of facts. The various subplots illuminate our contemporary estrangement from the natural world and yet our underlying need and even longing for connection with it. Overstory gives the reader a sense of the grandeur of North America before the colonizers and settlers carved it up and felled the trees. Through Powers’s story, the reader gets glimmers of the vast transformation of North America in the last 300 years as well as the scale of difference between humans and trees—how small we are in relation to the forests. Overstory shows how forests are interconnected units that move, migrate, and respond together to pressures and crises. This novel puts the scope of human life in earth’s terms, rather than the other way around as we’re more used to framing this relationship. It calls our attention to the other voices and beings beyond the human ones we’re so centered on in our anthropocentric world.  

Overstory changed me and deepened my understanding of the history of this continent. It’s a book that I’ve added to my lifetime list of most important books. After reading Overstory, I concluded that everyone on earth should read it. Let’s start with all high school and college students.  

This is a story to change the world. It’s a story to change hearts, minds and our collective consciousness. Cerebral facts, lists, charts, and scientific findings may not be enough to inspire the necessary changes for us to derail ourselves from our collision course with the natural world. In the end, it might just be story that leads the way.

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