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From the Desk of Juli Berwald

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Writer Juli Berwald recommends five books that combine her love for storytelling and science.

by Jennifer Xia, Illustration by Madison Weakley

Juli Berwald never thought she could write a book. She majored in math in college and lived with a fear of writing because her roommate was a prolific writer. “I could never write like her,” she remembers thinking. 

During her junior year, Berwald studied abroad in Israel but found herself disconnected from the people and the program. When she stumbled upon an advertisement for a marine ecology course in Eilat, she seized the opportunity and strapped on a mask and snorkel. Berwald had grown up in land-locked Missouri and was struck with awe as she came face to face with bustling cities of coral. 

Berwald became an ocean scientist and worked on satellite imagery of oceans before falling in love and moving to Austin, far from the ocean. But storytelling always tugged at her from the shoreline. After writing for textbooks and magazines such as National Geographic, she found the courage to write a book that came from her heart, Spineless.  

Here are her five favorite science books written by women.

THE DRAGON BEHIND THE GLASS
BY EMILY VOIGT

“Emily literally goes to the ends of the earth to find the wild arowana, the most expensive fish in the world. But she’s also in a situation where she’s engaged and her obsession with this fish is getting in the way of her life with her fiancé. I love these stories where peoples’ lives intersect with the science they’re after. Scientists are people who fall in love and make stupid mistakes about what boyfriends they have. It’s always part of every story. Trying to bash down this wall of ‘science’ and the ‘rest of the world’ is something I really feel passionate about.”

ONCE UPON A TIME I LIVED ON MARS
BY KATE GREENE

“Kate was in this experimental habitat on Maui. She’s also quarantined in a separate space and is dealing with some issues: She’s gay and married going in, but that marriage falls apart. So, she’s struggling with those things, but the book’s also about, ‘What does it mean to be in a small space with many people?’ It’s about what it means to live here on Earth and gives you perspective on what we’re like as humanity.”

SPINELESS
BY JULI BERWALD

“[Diving with the jellyfish] was beautiful and otherworldly. But there was also a feeling of sickness because they’re a sign of an ecosystem out of balance. They walk this line between angel and demon and that’s part of what makes them a great muse to write about. 

I titled it Spineless because it’s about jellyfish and because I had to grow my own spine in order to write this book. But it’s also about the collective spinelessness toward our planet, that we are in a situation where we haven’t recognized how important our environment is to our well-being. We’re still in a place where we have a chance, but collectively we have to grow a spine. That means getting more involved in decision making and recognizing that our actions really matter.” 

GATHERING MOSS
BY ROBIN WALL KIMMERER

“The book is little essays of inspiration that string together science and native spirituality in a way that’s very powerful. This book actually inspired Elizabeth Gilbert to write The Signature of All Things, but Robin is quite poetic in her writing and a very special writer.”

THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING
BY ELISABETH TOVA BAILEY

“This book is really interesting for our COVID-19 times because Elisabeth got very ill and was confined to this room. Someone came to visit and on the way up her driveway, they picked up a little snail and stuck it in the plant they brought her. Elisabeth just observes this wild snail and writes this beautiful book about its biology and how much can be learned by being quiet and just observing. It’s a powerful read for these moments.”


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