Featured Image Credit: Obi Kaufmann
- The California Field Atlas, By Obi Kaufman
- DTLA/37: Downtown Los Angeles in 37 Stories, By Yennie Cheung & Kathryn E. McGee
- In the Not Quite Dark, By Dana Johnson
- Orlando and Other Stories, By Norman Antonio Zelaya
- The Fifty-Year Rebellion, By Scott Kurashige
The California Field Atlas, by Obi Kaufman, Heyday Books
One of Heyday Books’ latest titles is The California Field Atlas. This tour-de-force is over 500 pages with 300 plus hand-painted maps. Author Obi Kaufmann is an Oakland-based poet and painter extolling a principle he calls “Geographic Literacy.” I heard Kaufman speak in Los Angeles in February at the Eugene Debs Center in the hills of Northeast LA. He describes his maps as “an inventory of what we need to conserve.” Moreover, he’s committed to “protecting biodiversity,” “the rewilding of California,” and ending “cycles of extraction.”
Kindred with the principle of Deep Ecology, he sees the process of creating his detailed handcrafted maps as a tool to shift consciousness. “With the right information and the right spirit, and a bit of ingenuity,” Kaufmann writes, “we can ensure that the natural California that our grandchildren and their grandchildren know is in even better condition than it is in today.” His commitment to reminding us of what is here is his method and solution to conserving and preserving the original character of California.
The foundation for this type of consciousness, according to Kaufmann, is “geographic literacy. Geographic literacy involves a basic knowledge of one’s place: it’s systems of ecology, it’s historic narrative, and its political trajectory. Geographic literacy is the baseline for any plan of collective sustainability.” Kaufmann’s rationale and logic are so obvious that most miss it.
In our age of Google Maps and GPS, many are not as geographically literate as we once were because of the instant access to directions and immediate gratification provided by technology. Moreover, in this age, when so many feel disconnected to the world around them, what could be more connective and empowering than paying close attention to the landscape around you? Kaufmann’s maps and the short essays accompanying each are potent reminders that we need to be more geographically literate than ever.
On another level, the idea of geographic literacy applies in more ways than one. It’s about being present, paying closer attention and being really aware of what’s around us on all levels. As Kaufmann writes, “Take a walk. Take a long walk. See the patterns around you. Use all of your senses. Note your observations. Stoke your curiosity. Ask questions.” Kaufmann advocates awareness. He wants everyone to truly see how beautiful nature is and California at large. And though he does enumerate many of the ecological issues at stake and the threatening factors, like air pollution, resource depletion, habitat loss, climate change and mismanagement, he emphasizes the beauty and appreciation of nature even more to inspire people into action.
In an earlier section of the book, he writes: “There is a lot of magic in the naming of things. It is my contention that the more we know of nature’s secrets, the more we can enjoy it. Simply being able to call the elements of nature by their proper names helps us to experience them and allows their beauty to unfold, both intellectually and emotionally.” This idea also, applies on multiple levels. As obvious as it is, most people can only name a few species of trees or plants. Awareness is always the first step in any process.
Though there are too many names of species and places to know them all, the more names we know in nature or geographically, the bigger difference we can make everywhere we go. Kaufmann espouses taking back the language to empower sustainability and passion among citizens. What makes Kaufmann’s work especially potent is that it balances practical analysis with aesthetic inquiry. He goes A to Z breaking down ecological zones and includes a creature as a totem protector for every region he maps. For example, he paints a Tarantula as the totem protector for the map of The Colorado and Sonoran Deserts. The synthesis of science and art is remarkable.
The book is a revelation. Kaufmann educates and delights the reader simultaneously. The aesthetic beauty of each map is matched by the knowledge shared in the brief description. In one moment he reminds us how the Tuolumne River begins its journey across the northern half of Yosemite but that it is stopped by a dam at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which supplies the drinking water for the city of San Francisco, but he also notes, “Hetch Hetchy Valley is now underwater, although for millions of years it was the geologic twin of Yosemite Valley, and, should everyone agree that the dam is outdated and ripe for removal, it will be again.”
He meticulously draws detailed maps covering all of California’s mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, valleys and forests: The Coast Range, Sierra Nevada, Sacramento River Valley, Ponderosa Pines, Joshua Trees, the Salton Sea, Klamath Lake, the unleashed waterscape, these are just a few of the hundreds of landscapes painted and explicated in Kaufmann’s text. Moreover, “most (of the maps) were painted outside in the places they depict.” Whether it be the state’s major mountain ranges, National Parks, rivers or all 58 California counties, there is a map for each location and specific insight accompanies all of them.
There is hardly a corner of California that Kaufmann hasn’t walked. “I have hiked, camped, sweated, slept, dreamed, and continue to adventure in all of these places,” he writes. The vivid descriptions accompanying each map are pithy paragraphs and often not more than 5 or 6 sentences, but they are always poetic prose. The 4th section of the book is titled, “Of Fire and Forests.” One of the paragraphs in the chapter’s Introduction states: “California is a dancing machine of forest ecosystems that best operates in a fine balance between dualities that include fire and water, aridity and hydration, soil and erosion, climatic consistency and variation, and the push and pull between native and invasive plants and animals.” There are dozens of other passages throughout the work equally poignant.
Kaufmann’s Field Atlas is a new take on the standard atlas. His more detailed form is especially appropriate for our time. His next book due at the end of 2018, is about the state of water in California. At Debs Park he mentioned that he has his next three books planned out. On his website he explains further, “The following trilogy: The California Lands Trilogy will consist of three books to come out in 2019 and 2020, again published by HEYDAY called The Forests of California, The Coasts of California and the Deserts of California.”
One of the biggest influences for Kaufmann’s work is the conservationist and ecopoet, Gary Snyder. Snyder’s 1975 book, Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize and espoused Snyder’s philosophy of “ecological bioregionalism.” Bioregionalism is kindred to geographic literacy because it is about living in a place and engaging in the community. Snyder reminds humans to consider their “ethical obligations to the nonhuman world.”
In Snyder’s book of essays, A Place in Space he explicates Bioregionalism on a deeper level in several essays. Snyder declares: “Bioregionalism calls for commitment to this continent place by place, in terms of bio-geographical regions and watersheds. It calls us to see our country in terms of its landforms, plant life, weather patterns, and seasonal changes—its whole natural history before the net of political jurisdictions was cast over it. People are challenged to become ‘reinhabitory’—that is, to become people who are learning to live and think ‘as if’ they were totally engaged with their place for the long future.”
Kaufmann echoes a similar idea when he writes: “The California Field Atlas is preoccupied with asking what kind of stewardship our contemporary society presents and what sustainability for another fifteen thousand years might look like.”
One of the primary threads running through both Snyder and Kaufmann’s work is the idea of taking inventory of the landscape and nature around is and that by acquiring this knowledge it can inspire the passion needed to act. The simple act of focused consciousness on our surroundings can trigger far reaching ripples, akin to the butterfly effect. Kaufmann remains an optimist and the combined substance and beauty of his work is undeniable. He aims to “foster an active respect for all living things.” He believes “that living things are not things at all, but neighbors.”
Kaufmann’s work is in opposition to the anthropocentric ethos that has prevailed in Western culture for the last 500 years. Anthropocentrism is the idea that humans are above other species and the most significant beings on our planet. The idea of placing man over nature is what has led to our current ecological crisis. Kaufmann advocates expanding the lens and considering all of nature, “a bringing together rather than pulling apart.”
“We are beginning to realize,” he writes, “that all of nature’s work in California is part of one dynamic ecosystem and that we, too, are part of it. This perspective, this mindset, is the tool that will become humanity’s greatest ally in the challenges that lie ahead.” And obviously, on a larger scale, the planet Earth itself is a being and a larger ecosystem, but still one dynamic ecosystem that we are all a part of. Obi Kaufmann’s work is timely and more needed than ever.
As someone who has worked for many years as a tour guide giving tours around the American Southwest and writing essays and poetry about geography and California history, Kaufmann and Snyder’s work really resonate with me. I grew up with my grandfather and dad driving around California, looking at maps and studying the landscape. These experiences taught that a basic understanding of the world begins with knowing your local geography and the history surrounding it. After all, if you don’t know your own immediate landscape, how can you know anything anywhere else?
My last book project, Poetics of Location, (published in 2016 with Writ Large Press), touched on themes parallel to Geographic Literacy. One of the main premises addressed is that when a historian, journalist, sociologist, cartographer or poet begin working, the first decision they make is about location. What and where are they writing about? Where from? What needs to be researched? What happens in that location that makes it worth investigating? Geography grounds a narrative in space and history grounds it in time. Therefore, the importance of location can never be overlooked because it concretizes abstractions.
All and all, Kaufmann intends to “empower all of California’s native and adopted children with a useful mythology, a tool belt to help them unlock their own place within California.” His Geographic Literacy calls us to be stewards of our surroundings. His hand-painted maps exemplify the care and concern we should have for the landscape around us. Kaufman focuses on California because it is where he is from, but obviously Geographic Literacy is a principle that can be applied anywhere.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s nonfiction book The Everglades: River of Grass from 1947 was so comprehensive and compelling that it led to the Everglades becoming a National Park. Prior to her work, many thought the Everglades swampland that dominates Southern Florida was worthless. (She lived to be 108 and was an important forerunner of ecocriticism.) There are hundreds of other examples of similar work using geographic literacy to enlighten the masses.
For the second half of this essay, I would like to use the idea of Geographic Literacy as the theoretical framework for a discussion of several books. One of Kaufmann’s key ideas is that the greatest tool we have to improve condition of the current world “is an informed citizenry.” The following books inform citizens and adhere to Geographic Literacy. Some of them are nonfiction and a few are fiction and even though some of these titles are not directly about Geography, they are titles that still manage to map the social, geographic and environmental relations of the regions they are based in. There have always been outstanding novelists that managed to be astute cultural critics within their fiction. What follows are four inspiring books that adhere to their own ethic of geographic literacy and informing citizens.
DTLA/37: Downtown Los Angeles in 37 Stories, By Yennie Cheung & Kathryn E. McGee, Enville Publishing
This collection of vignettes uses portraits of people and iconic places to capture the ever-changing spirit of Downtown Los Angeles. By now, it is no secret that Downtown Los Angeles has tripled its population in the last 15 years and that over 4 Billion Dollar$ in redevelopment has dramatically altered the landscape of the neighborhood. What this collection does is pull the veil back and reveal the humans behind the cityscape. Authors Yennie Cheung and Kathryn E. McGee travel to every corner Downtown to show the people behind the scenes. Beginning with a Yoga Instructor in Grand Park and finishing with Deon Joseph, a compassionate police officer of color in Skid Row, the portraits of people that comprise this text show the humanistic side of the city that the world perceives as much more glamourous than it really is.
The thread or through line that runs through each vignette or subsection of the book is a countdown from 37 to 1. Beginning with 37 students, 36 bunches of bananas, 35 spectators, Night 34, 33 books and so on. The first section talks about Cristina Fernandez, the Yoga instructor in Grand Park and her work with 37 students present on the day her portrait was taken. The next section is about the changing spirit of Grand Central Market and within the short narrative is a portrait of a shopkeeper with 36 bunches of bananas.
The 35 spectators is a passage about the demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge and the 35 people watching it happen. Night 34 is from Union Station on the 34th night of Writ Large Press’s 90 for 90 Literary Festival and this section includes words from poet and publisher Chiwan Choi about his publishing philosophy and why he organizes literary events. 33 books is about the Last Bookstore and includes a portrait of the store’s owner Josh Spencer.
Each section includes several color images from photographers Tim Ronca and Lev Tsimring. Every vignette is about 7 to 8 paragraphs. The authors do a great job of bringing the people and places to life. They not only feature sites like the US Bank Building, Olvera Street, the Central Library, the Disney Concert Hall, Clifton’s, the Japanese American National Museum, the Arts District and the Ace Hotel, they visit small stores in Chinatown, a park in Skid Row, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and Piñata Alley on the edge of the Fashion District.
They explicate the competitive history of the two oldest eateries Downtown: Cole’s and Philippe’s. There’s a section on artist Kent Twitchell and he explains the story of the 30 murals he has painted, including his world famous three-part, eight-story painting on the 110 freeway of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Titled, “Harbor Freeway Overture,” it is one of the best-known murals on the West Coast.
The combination of thoughtful prose and dozens of candid photos equips this collection with verisimilitude. DTLA/37 does an excellent job spotlighting the energy, streets and spirit of Downtown LA. It goes beyond the hipsters and flashy locations to present the true diversity of the landscape. Undoubtedly, Downtown Los Angeles will continue to evolve at a tremendous clip, but this book offers an excellent snapshot of what it looks like in 2018.
In the Not Quite Dark, By Dana Johnson, Counterpoint Press
Dana Johnson’s collection of short stories in this book are more Los Angeles than the Dodgers, the Lakers, Sunset & Alvarado or Wilshire & Western. Best-selling LA novelist Janet Fitch blurbs it by saying Johnson’s stories are “newer than tomorrow,” and Fitch’s assessment is completely accurate.
The 13 stories take place across the Southland from Hollywood, Moreno Valley, LAX and especially Downtown L.A. Johnson captures the stress of contemporary times with truly believable dialogue whether it’s a couple in their loft on Main in Downtown L.A. arguing about how to handle the homeless man who greeted their daughter on the sidewalk or an African American family that moved to the Inland Empire discussing what to do after they were robbed by a neighborhood kid.
Johnson understands the complexities and contradictions of the 21st Century and her work grapples with gentrification, sexual politics and gender power struggles masterfully through the human relationships that dominate each short story. Roxane Gay heralds Johnson for the book’s “exquisite tension.”
The characters endure the tension of the climate, economic conditions and interpersonal relations. For example: “His T-shirt was stuck to his back after driving all the way from L.A. in his beat-up Toyota, which, of course, never had air conditioning. He had driven from UCLA, the coolness of a distant ocean breeze turning into dry desert air the deeper he got into the valley and the closer he got to Palm Springs. His brother, his mother and father, had moved miles and miles from Los Angeles, from crime, to homes they could afford. Driving under an overpass, J.J. briefly thought of covered wagons, all the distances people travelled. But mostly, the landscape reminded him of space, the final frontier.”
Johnson weaves in geographic and historic elements masterfully in the book to illuminate each character. What’s more is that she writes about situations that are very real and the detail she paints them in demarcates her deep knowledge and wisdom about her subject. Her stories also tackle race, gender and class in very humanistic terms using both compassion and humor. The final story in the book, “The Story of Biddy Mason,” begins by talking about the Gilded Age Robber Baron, Henry Huntington and contrasting his privileged journey with the inspiring and unbelievable story of Biddy Mason, a former slave who ended up owning land and becoming a major figure in late 19th Century Los Angeles.
Johnson writes about Mason’s journey and evolution. “How was it possible that she was walking down the street,” Johnson writes, “her own person, in her own place, with money enough, with the hands to bring a dying boy into the world, when just yesterday she was endlessly walking behind oxen? She didn’t know how to say what she felt, except what she felt was church. Some called it luck, some called it hard work, some called it greatness, but Biddy called it God. There is no way, she often thought, no way I did all of this myself. The only explanation was God, so Biddy gave Los Angeles its First African Methodist Episcopal church in 1872, where she worshipped and talked about miracles until 1890, until she was gone.”
“The Story of Biddy Mason,” is a powerful conclusion to a masterful book. Johnson maps the geographic and social relations of Los Angeles with skills akin to Walter Mosley, Naomi Hirahara, Gary Phillips, Nina Revoyr and giants from the past like Chester Himes and Raymond Chandler. Johnson not only demonstrates geographic literacy, she writes with commanding authority. In the Not Quite Dark is an exceptional book of short stories.
Orlando and Other Stories, By Norman Antonio Zelaya, Pochino Press
San Francisco native Norman Zelaya is Nicaraguan-American fiction writer and poet born in the now heavily gentrified Mission District. Zelaya writes about his hometown with the same aplomb and razor focus that Dana Johnson does Los Angeles. His antidote for gentrification and the unbridled consumption sweeping the Bay Area is to reveal the humanity of the native citizens while simultaneously poking fun at the irony and hypocrisy rising around him like high rise condos on every other corner. Zelaya’s precise style celebrates longtime locals and those who have always been there.
One of these characters is celebrated in the short story, “Tommy on the Bus.” Tommy is a guy he runs into on the Mission 14 bus. The story recounts their short reunion on the bus, their ensuing conversation and some childhood memories of knowing the man. “Tommy was a lot like me. Nicoya Mission-born, light skindid, about the same age, poor, single mom at home, he had a little sister, we lived two buildings apart but when I visited his place, I saw how we were different: his apartment was always unkempt, toys and clothes and shit covering the floor, his little sister trying to pick up whenever Tommy’s friends were over, no beans or rice on the stove but pots and pans piled high in the sink,” Zelaya writes. The story exudes empathy and reveals the bigger picture about how Tommy ended up like he is.
“Tommy wasn’t a bad dude, bro, and it probably wasn’t just the weed, it was all kinds of other shit like maybe You ain’t got someone to greet you a good morning/ You ain’t ever tripped too much about school.” The list goes on and on cataloguing how Tommy “Ain’t ever had anyone let (him) in on the secret / Ain’t ever had a thought about where to go / Ain’t ever had someone say I love you, / I love you, homeboy, / I love you, Tommy, No one ain’t ever told you you’re special, young blood, / God damn it, you’re special.”
Tommy had stories, “always jabbering 100 miles a minute about a song, a group, a movie, dinner, a girl, walkmans, the best Chinese food, gold chains, some lost homeboy, remember him, Adidas, weed, menthols, the beach, what it’s like in San Francisco, the flea market, water slides, weather, the California coast, earthquakes, fuckin Niners. Tommy could talk about it all, hitting a cigarette funny and all the time dancing to the music, a hot-footed high step, back and forth, side to side. He still had his stories. And for four more blocks, me to listen to him.”
Zelaya’s spent his lifetime listening and looking at San Francisco. He is deeply influenced by Raymond Carver, Sandra Cisneros, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Charles Bukowski. He spends a lot of time thinking about Carver and Bukowski because they were also poets like he is. Carver specifically has really inspired him. Former United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera states, “Zelaya brings us direct life. He operates in the in-between realm where youth, events, and things gyrate in and out of humanity. All in the midst of compassion gestures and the day-to-day social arrangements we have agreed upon for each other.” Herrera himself spent many years in the Mission District and knows the terrain well. The seven short stories in this collection scream San Francisco, but it’s the inner landscape of love, friendship, violence, religion, substance abuse and the everyday trials and tribulations of those who have always been there, long before tech money and pressed juice.
Zelaya is at his best with true to life dialogue and unrelenting poetic prose describing the city’s characters and electric imagery. Whether it be “Tommy on the Bus,” quoted above or the short stories, “Next Time,” or “Would It be So Bad If Something Happened Between Us.” The stories gain momentum as they go on and read very quickly because they are so charged with life. The dialogue between the young couple in the latter short story mentioned is a witty repartee. Their playful interaction and charged conversation moves from politics to race to the changing cityscape to the dynamics of their relationship to the pristine California coast. The dialogue is quick and the fact that Zelaya does not use quotation marks enhances the sharp shifts between tenderness, sarcasm and tragedy.
The final story “Orlando” is one for the ages. Rather than revealing too much, suffice it to say it’s a story about a boy named Rolando and it follows his journey from early childhood until his early 20s when he moves to Orlando, Florida. The narrator of the story is Rolando’s uncle and he shares several anecdotes about showing Rolando the city and his rite of passage. One of the most touching is one when the boy was no older than about 5 or 6. “We went for spaghetti and meatballs,” Zelaya writes, “and then walked along the Embarcadero as the lights were coming on and they could see the lighthouse of Alcatraz, the lights along the cables of the Bay Bridge and Oakland and the East Bay.”
The passage is so compelling that it feels as if you are walking along the Embarcadero with the characters. Nonetheless, Zelaya tells me, “Orlando is fiction. The only true detail is the event that occurred in Orlando. (The nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016.) I also name some of the victims. I was so hurt by the event that I needed to find a way to connect my community to theirs. Those faces are me, and I didn’t want them to be forgotten, so I imagined a way to get to know them personally.”
Each short story in this collection capture both the city and the authentic characters who bring it to life. Zelaya writes about San Francisco as well as anyone ever has. He recently told me, “San Francisco has gotten away from me, moved past me at exponential speed so much so that I am barely able to live here, or anywhere close for that matter. But there are strong pockets of resistance through writing, especially native San Franciscans (and I mean folks like me born and raised pre-dotcom boom) with Kim Shuck and Tongo Eisen-Martin leading the way.” He also says some other folks doing critical work who have invested their lives in San Francisco include Paul S. Flores.
“It is not the summer of love San Francisco,” Zelaya states, “and it hasn’t been for a long time. It is technology and money like a motherfucker, which has left a community in desperate need of culture, originality and imagination.” Fortunately, Zelaya and his book, Orlando are here to provide the culture, originality and imagination that the city so desperately needs.
The Fifty-Year Rebellion, By Scott Kurashige, University of California Press
Scott Kurashige’s new book uses the last 50 years of Detroit history from the city to break down how the current U.S. political crisis began in 1967 in the once fabled urban region some called “Motor City.” Kurashige’s book brilliantly combines the history of Detroit with the larger changes that have been occurring in America over the last half century.
The book offers an even account of what the future may hold, but before offering the upside the author explains why “the collapse of Detroit, a one-time stronghold of labor and civil rights, should awaken us to see how much the promise of freedom under neoliberalism not only carries hidden costs for ourselves but also comes at the cost of coercive behavior toward others. The drive to put a price tag on every aspect of life and subject it all to the winning and losing outcomes of the commercial market has intensified the suffering of those who are poor, elderly, disabled, and most vulnerable in society. It has breathed new life into ‘survival of the fittest’ discourse that gave rise to Social Darwinism and scientific racism.”
He clearly explicates how the corporate restructuring of Detroit has transformed the city into a divisive and business-friendly climate run by billionaire developers that excludes other segments of the population. Moreover, Kurashige demonstrates how Detroit’s recent quick-fix policies have served as a model for other cities across America looking for quick economic solutions.
The three overarching arguments of his book are: “The counter-revolution is a reaction to a 50-year rebellion, the overlapping political and economic crises confronting us today are a product of the neoliberal turn and despite the immense hardships and disparagement its people have endured, Detroit remains most significant as a city of hope and possibility.”
Kurashige masterfully shows how Detroit over the last half Century serves as a microcosm reflecting both the crises and possibilities of the 21st Century. He explicitly names the economic processes that have happened and how they changed the marketplace and local citizens quality of life. Even though Kurashige’s work discusses more economic factors and business policies it still resonates with geographic literacy because he names the systems and processes that affect Detroit’s landscape. By revealing the trajectory of Detroit’s evolution, Kurashige paints a bigger picture of the changes that have occurred across the United States and the rest of the world.
Kurashige also worked for many years with the groundbreaking activist, Grace Lee Boggs. They coauthored The Next American Revolution. His first book, The Shifting Grounds of Race, spotlights the close connection of Japanese-Americans and African-Americans in Los Angeles, especially within the Crenshaw District. Kurashige’s work is gifted at showing the big picture. As much as he shows the dangers of globalization and the resulting dehumanizing conditions, he also shows how intercommunal activism can remedy social problems. Like the butterfly effect that Obi Kaufmann alludes to that begins with geographic literacy, Kurashige advocates this too.
The final two sentences of The Fifty-Year Rebellion state: “Like the fluttering of butterfly wings that shape a hurricane thousands of miles away, small acts and breakthrough ideas will tilt our society towards a whole new social order that could be more democratic or authoritarian, participatory or exclusionary, egalitarian or plutocratic, sustainable or suicidal. The fate of humanity rests on our capacity to think and act conscientiously.” Kurashige is accurate in his perspective that the small acts and breakthrough ideas matter now more than ever before.
A Final Word
The thread of geographic literacy is used in this essay as a concept that advocates awareness and thinking conscientiously. All the books mentioned above address this idea in their own way. As I quoted from Obi Kaufmann earlier, “Geographic literacy involves a basic knowledge of one’s place: it’s systems of ecology, it’s historic narrative, and its political trajectory.” The fiction of Dana Johnson about Los Angeles and Norman Zelaya’s stories about San Francisco, both offer rich informative portraits of their specific urban landscapes, the historic narratives and their respective political trajectories. Furthermore, Yennie Cheung and Kathryn E. McGee’s DTLA/37: Downtown Los Angeles in 37 Stories, and Scott Kurashige’s The Fifty-Year Rebellion, both provide extensive historical details and the systems of ecology that influence Downtown Los Angeles and Detroit. They are all important books in tune with the zeitgeist of now.
This essay is not proposing that geographic literacy will solve all our environmental ills or economic issues, but that it is an important and overlooked first step. We need to start somewhere. What could be a better start than right where you are? The awareness and understanding that comes from geographic literacy is empowering and a springboard for further action. Now more than ever before, on both the micro and macro level, we need geographic literacy on both the literal and metaphorical plane.