The arrival of summer can trigger two very different impulses. It can spark the desire to complete a major project – or work through a long list of minor projects – at home. Or, the rising temperatures and lengthening daylight hours can prompt thoughts of vacations – dreams of doing little someplace else.
For June, Yale Climate Connections has prepared bookshelf lists for both summer activities. The first list, posted last week, offered ideas and strategies for summer projects related to climate change.
This second list covers the sorts of books (novels, memoirs, creative non-fiction) one might read on a plane or train, by a pool or on a beach, while sipping espresso or an aperitif at the street-side table of an elegant café, or while reclining in a lounge chair on one’s backyard deck at the end of a long summer day.
Novels, memoirs and creative nonfiction
The first six titles in this second part of YCC’s June bookshelf are fictional works – five novels and a collection of short stories – that address climate change in some way. All were published within the last year, three in just the past four months.
Memoirs and creative nonfiction complete the list. Four are from figures with resumes of climate activism and climate communication accomplishments: Margaret Atwood, Maude Barlow, and Bill McKibben, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Atwood and Robinson have each published several novels now considered canonical works of climate fiction. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, in 1979 published the first popular non-fiction book about climate change. Previously, Maude Barlow has published books about clean water as a human right.
Rounding out the list are two relative newcomers: essayist and poet Taylor Brorby and planetary geologist Lindy Elkins-Tanton.
All the memoir and creative non-fiction titles were published in 2022, three in just the past month.
As always, the descriptions of the titles are drawn or are adapted from copy provided by the publishers.
Green Rising: A Novel, by Lauren James (Walker Books 2021, 384 pages, $14.00 paperback)
Gabrielle is a climate-change activist who shoots to fame when she becomes the first teenager to display a supernatural ability to grow plants from her skin. Hester is the millionaire daughter of an oil tycoon and the face of the family business. Theo comes from a long line of fishermen, but his parents are struggling to make ends meet. On the face of it, the three have very little in common. Yet when Hester and Theo join Gabrielle and legions of other teenagers around the world in developing the strange new “Greenfingers” power, it becomes clear that to use their ability for good, they’ll need to learn to work together. But profit-hungry organizations want to use the Greenfingers for their own ends. Can the three teenagers pull off a green rising?
The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate, edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Issen (Cstapult Books 2022, 288 pages, $16.95 paperback)
In this riveting anthology, leading literary writers reflect on how climate change has altered their lives, revealing the personal and haunting consequences of this global threat. National Book Award finalist Lydia Millet, for example, mourns the end of the Saguaro cacti in her Arizona backyard. Omar El Akkad contemplates how the rise of temperatures in the Middle East is destroying his home. And Gabrielle Bellot reflects on how a bizarre lionfish invasion devastated the coral reef near her home in the Caribbean. As the stories unfold, from around the world, an intimate portrait of a climate-changed world emerges, captured by writers whose lives jostle against incongruous memories of familiar places that have been transformed in startling ways.
Site Fidelity: Stories, by Claire Boyles (W.W. Norton 2021, 208 pages, $25.95)
Firmly rooted in the modern American West, Site Fidelity follows women and families who feel the instinctual, inexplicable pull of a home they must work to protect from the effects of economic inequity and climate catastrophe. A seventy-four-year-old nun turns to eco-sabotage to stop a fracking project. An ornithologist returns home to care for her rancher father and gets caught up trying to protect a breeding group of endangered Gunnison sage grouse. In lean, lyrical prose, Claire Boyles evokes the bleakness and beauty of our threatened western landscapes. Spanning the decades from the 1970s to a plausible near future, Site Fidelity is a vivid and deeply human exploration of life on the shifting terrain of our changing planet.
My Days of Dark Green Euphoria: A Novel, by A.E. Copenhaver (Ashland Creek Press 2022, 312 pages, $19.95 paperback)
Thirtysomething Cara Foster is, one might say, eco-anxious – perhaps even eco-neurotic. She does laundry as seldom as possible, takes navy showers every couple of days, and is reevaluating her boyfriend for killing a spider instead of saving a life. Then, during a mimosa-soaked Sunday brunch, she meets her boyfriend’s alluring mother, Millie, and Cara finds herself mesmerized. Millie represents everything Cara’s against: She eats meat, has cowhide rugs, drives a car the size of a small yacht, and blithely travels the world by boat, plane, and train. In fact, Cara soon admits this may be why she finds herself so drawn to Millie. My Days of Dark Green Euphoria is a satirical novel of how a life on the edge of eco-anxiety can spiral wildly out of control, as well as how promising and inspiring a commitment to saving our planet can be.
The Devil’s Dictionary: A Novel, by Steven Kotler (St. Martin’s Press 2022, 336 pages, $27.99)
Hard to say exactly when the human species fractured. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn, protagonist of Last Tango in Cyberspace, is the first of his kind – an empathy tracker, with a felt sense for how culture evolves. But when a routine em-tracking job goes sideways, and em-trackers themselves start disappearing, Lion finds himself not knowing who to trust in a life-and-death race to uncover the truth. And when the trail leads to the world’s first mega-linkage, a continent-wide national park advertised as the best way to stave off environmental collapse, Lion’s quest for truth becomes a fight for the survival of the species. Marked by vivid storytelling, The Devil’s Dictionary is Steven Kotler at his science fiction best.
A House Between the Earth and Moon, by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House 2022, 400 pages, $27.00)
For twenty years, Alex has believed that his gene-edited super-algae will slow and even reverse the effects of climate change. His obsession with his research has jeopardized his marriage, his relationships with his kids, and his own professional future. When the founders of the colossal tech company Sensus offer him a chance to complete his research, he seizes the opportunity. The catch? His lab will be on Parallaxis, the luxury residential space station built for billionaires. But less benign experiments are also being run on Parallaxis. Prescient and insightful, A House Between Earth and the Moon is at once a captivating epic about the machinations of big tech and a profoundly intimate meditation on the unmistakably human bonds that hold us together.
Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land, by Taylor Brorby (Liveright / W.W. Norton 2022, 352 pages, $27.95)
“I am a child of the American West, a landscape so rich and wide that my culture trembles with terror before its power.” So begins Taylor Brorby’s Boys and Oil, a haunting, bracingly honest memoir about growing up gay amidst the harshness of rural North Dakota, “a place where there is no safety in a ravaged landscape of mining and fracking.” Now an environmentalist, Brorby uses the destruction of large swathes of the West as a metaphor for the terror he experienced as a youth. From an assault outside a bar in an oil boom town to a furtive romance, and from his awakening as an activist to his arrest at the Dakota Access Pipeline, Boys and Oil provides a startling portrait of an America that persists despite well-intentioned legal protections.
The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, by Bill McKibben (Henry Holt & Co. 2022, 240 pages, $27.99)
As a teenager, author and activist Bill McKibben cheerfully led American Revolution tours in Lexington, Massachusetts. He sang “Kumbaya” at church. And with the rise of suburbia, he assumed that all Americans would share in the wealth. But fifty years later, he finds himself in an increasingly doubtful nation, strained by inequality, on a planet whose future is in peril. What the hell happened? McKibben digs deep into our history and into the latest scholarship – on race and inequality, on the religious right, and on the climate crisis – to explain how we got to this point. He is not without hope. But he wonders if any part of that trinity of his youth – the flag, the cross, and the station wagon – could, or should, be reclaimed in the fight for a fairer future.
The High Sierra: A Love Story, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Little, Brown & Co. 2022, 560 pages, $40.00)
The author of critically acclaimed works of climate fiction like New York 2140 and The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson first ventured into the Sierra Nevada mountains during the summer of 1973. He returned from that encounter a changed man. Since then, he has made more than a hundred trips to the mountains. The High Sierra is his lavish celebration of this exceptional place and an exploration of what makes this span of mountains one of the most compelling places on Earth. It also illuminates the human communion with the wild and with the sublime, including the personal growth that only seems to come from time spent outdoors. Packed with maps, gear advice, more than 100 breathtaking photos, and much more, it will inspire veteran hikers, casual walkers, and travel readers to prepare for a magnificent adventure.
A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman, by Lindy Elkins-Tanton (William Morrow 2022, 272 pages, $29.99)
Deep in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, orbits a massive asteroid called Psyche. One of the largest objects in the belt, it has the potential to unlock the story of how our planet formed. Soon we will find out, thanks to the extraordinary work of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Principal Investigator of NASA’s $800 million Psyche mission. The journey that brought her to this place is extraordinary. Amid a childhood of terrible trauma, Elkins-Tanton fell in love with science as a means of healing and consolation. A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman explores how a philosophy of life can be built from the tools of scientific inquiry. It teaches us how to approach difficult problems by asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers.
Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, by Margaret Atwood (Doubleday 2022, 496 pages, $30.00)
In this brilliant selection of essays, the award-winning, best-selling author of The Handmaid’s Tale offers her funny, erudite, endlessly curious, and uncannily prescient take on anything and everything as she seeks answers to Burning Questions – like why do people everywhere, in all cultures, tell stories? Or how can we live, sustainably, on our planet? In more than fifty pieces, Atwood aims her prodigious intellect and impish humor at the world and reports back what she finds. This roller-coaster period brought a financial crash, the rise of Trump, and a pandemic. From debt to tech, from climate crisis to freedom, from when to dispense advice to the young to how to define granola, we have no better guide to the many and varied mysteries of our universe.
Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism, by Maude Barlow (ECW Press 2022, 240 pages, $16.95 paperback)
In this timely book, Barlow counters the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism that surrounds us and offers lessons of hope that she has learned from a lifetime of activism. She has been a linchpin in three major movements in her life: second-wave feminism, the battle against free trade and globalization, and the global fight for water justice. From each of these she draws her lessons of hope, emphasizing that effective activism is not really about the goal, rather it is about building a movement and finding like-minded people to carry the load with you. Barlow knows firsthand how hard fighting for change can be. But she also knows that change does happen and that hope is the essential ingredient.