Richard Powers’ THE OVERSTORY is a tour de force. It’s also a Pulitzer prize-winner which is being made into a movie. When I say a tour de force, I’m not kidding—it’s 502 pages long and it has a complex structure—but don’t be put off by that. And don’t be put off by the fact that the characters are introduced in vignettes that might make you think you’ve come upon an anthology of short stories. By the end of the book, you’ll know each of these characters intimately and you’ll be glad you do. Although there are 9 major characters, the real protagonists are the trees—the Overstory of the world. But it takes the characters to tell the trees’ stories.
Here’s some cool stuff about trees and why we need to care and protect them!
Trees have been around millions of years longer than humans–and humans share 25% of the genes that trees possess. A forest is a community of trees which shares information through their entwined roots and through the air. A fallen tree gives life to countless species. More tree facts: an inch high pecan tree might have 6 feet of root; poplar trees clean soils of chlorinated solvents and willows remove heavy metals; the fungi in the soil feed on the tree roots which provide the fungi with the sugar they need, and the fungi provides the tree with minerals it can’t produce for itself, and when a tree dies, it returns all the minerals to the soil. But most importantly, trees clean the air of the carbon pollution we humans are creating at such a fast rate. Forests mend and shape themselves through subterranean synapses, and in doing so they shape the tens of thousands of other, linked creatures that form it from within. And this doesn’t even touch on the necessary wood that forests provide for building or the countless medicines that have been provided by trees. I bet that many of you are thinking, “But the logging industry is planting a new tree for every one they cut down, so what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that those plantings are cut down within ten years, so a forest never develops and none of the important things I’ve noted above happen.
I won’t tell you how this story ends, but the stories are all very different and all very fascinating. One of the characters in the book—a psychologist shares this: “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” OVERSTORY is a great story.