Last month, we began the process of “spring cleaning” our home and having serious conversations about what we truly need in our household. This dialogue prompted us to finally get rid of some big items that we just taking up space in our home: our Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator, my Kala soprano ukulele, and hoards of rock climbing gear that was collecting dust in our closet.

Our communal bookshelf did not remain unscathed by this process. Not only did we nearly empty the entire shelf of all books, but we also moved the piece of furniture itself from the living room to the boys’ bedroom (where it now houses all of their bedtime books). Our living space, which once seemed cluttered, is now clear and functional once again.

I gave away nearly 50 books in the process, but a few favorites dodged donation. I also held onto a couple of books that I haven’t read yet but am determined to do so in the next several months.

Here are some of my faves that still sit on my bedside table.

“Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey

When I first moved to Arizona, I dated someone whose life revolved around the outdoors. He worked for a conservation corps and later became a wildland firefighter… and he consumed all things nature. Especially if it involved the southwestern United States.

Edward Abbey was one of the first names I remember him telling me about… and even after that relationship has come and gone, Ed’s still one of my all-time favorites.

First published in 1968, Desert Solitaire is one of Abbey’s most critically acclaimed works and marks his first foray into the world of nonfiction writing. Written while Abbey was working as a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, Desert Solitaire is a rare view of one man’s quest to experience nature in its purest form.

You must be warned, though: Abbey was a pompous, self-centered, hypocritical womanizer. He advocated for birth control and rallied against immigrants having children… yet he himself fathered five children. He fought against modern intrusion in the wilderness, yet he had no problem throwing beer cans out of his car window. He hated ranchers and farmers… yet he was a staunch supporter of the National Rifle Association. He hated tourists, yet he saw the Southwest as his personal playground, and (my personal favorite) he often advocated for wilderness protection because wild lands would make good training grounds for guerrilla fighters who would eventually overthrow the government.

Despite some of his crazy and ridiculous antics, this book is still a true love song to the American Southwest and Abbey is the Thoreau of the desert. Laugh if you must at the author’s petulance and bigotry. There is plenty of it in this collection of essays. But it is worth it to get past the man and marvel at this eloquent plea for the preservation of the wonders of the Southwest desert.

Desert Solitaire is available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover, and on Kindle.

“Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food” by Megan Kimble

Most Tucsonans are familiar with Edible Baja magazine — a local publication that highlights people and organizations that are doing passionate work in the areas of local food, sustainable agriculture, and culinary heritages. If you live in Southern Arizona and you love food, wine, gardening, and more… then this is a publication you definitely want to subscribe to.

Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja, and in 2012 she published her first book chronicling a year-long journey of eating only whole, “unprocessed” foods. She was twenty-six years old, living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she cared about where food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body: so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods.

During her extraordinary year, Megan milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, milked a goat, slaughtered a sheep, and more — all while earning an income that fell well below the federal poverty line.

What I loved most about this book was its multiple layers. While reading Unprocessed, it felt part memoir, part business psychology, part sociology, and part food history… all wrapped up into this neat little package.

At the end of the day, this book completely changed my mindset not about processed foods, but about local foods. My biggest takeaway was that I, as a consumer, carry much more power behind my spending habits and my dollars than I realized. To quote:

“According to a study by Local First, if you spend $100 at a local business, $73 of it will stay in your community, meeting payrolls, covering rent, creating accountability; spend that same money at a national corporation and only $43 sticks around.” 

Now that’s powerful stuff.

Unprocessed is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Yeah, me too. Hence the whole catalyst for “downsizing our bookshelf” thing.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level… promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The “KonMari Method”, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

The thing that stuck with me most about this book was the immense respect that the author (who feels like my friend after reading this) shows to all possessions. She understands that this is an emotional process, and her ideas are not about guilt. She isn’t saying, “You’re a fool for allowing all of this garbage into your life! Get rid of it all at once!” Instead, she’s saying, “All of these things came into your life for a reason, take your time considering them, and then thank them and let them go onto the next stage of existence.” It’s all so kind and loving and made me not feel guilty or fear the process.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover, and on Kindle.