What Not Reading a Great Book Taught Me About Giving and Receiving
I don’t have enough fingers to mark the number of times folks have told me to read Braiding Sweetgrass. The recommendations always sounded similar. It’s about indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge and plants, they’d tell me. That sounded like a compelling premise to me, but also risked being a dry one. I was in graduate school when the book came out in 2013, and I wasn’t looking for any more textbooks. Still, I’d notice it in bookstores. From time to time, I’d even feel the gentle flex of its many pages in my hands, allow my thumb to cleave the book in two, and start reading. It didn’t take a full page before my eyes would glaze. It seemed to be overrated. After all, I shrugged, not every book is for every person.
Still, the recommendations kept coming, and, after a time, my toes weren’t even enough to count them. I decided to try the audiobook. Listening is my favorite way to ingesting nonfiction, so it seemed like a reasonable thing to try. So I googled to it and pressed play on the audio sample and busied myself with resetting the house for the day, prepared to be carried away by something that warranted the years of enthusiasm I had heard.
If my ears could have glazed over, they would have. While Robin Wall Kimmerer waxed poetic about wild strawberries, I wandered into the kitchen to scrounge for dark chocolate and thumbed around for a podcast.
And then it happened that I was in a bookstore. It was a small one, with exposed brick and big windows. The year was 2019, and I had just taken a writing class nearby and was feeling particularly open to inspiration from the universe. There it was again, Braiding Sweetgrass. It was propped upright with a note peaking out. “Staff recommendation!” It proclaimed. “One of the best books I have ever read. You must read it.” Well. I didn’t have any spare fingers or toes, but I did have a spare Audible credit and a need to get my mind off of some things. I thanked the bookstore for this final nudge by purchasing a different book, downloaded the complete audio book, and braced myself.
This time, no part of me glazed over. Instead, I felt rapt as I listened to the rhythm of Kimmerer’s voice and words. It was as if I had melted into the mind of someone wiser than me, but someone I could become…