For the last month of this discombobulating pandemic summer, Yale Climate Connections offers 12 very new options for your final climate-savvy “beach” read, whether on a river bank, a lakefront, an ocean shore, the edge of sandbox, or just an indoor recliner.
The six non-fiction titles in the list connect with climate change or environmental justice in different, sometimes subtle, ways, but all are engaging reads.
Three of the novels on this list are re-releases of some of the earliest attempts at climate fiction, from 1924, 1941, and 1956 respectively. A note of nostalgia now added to the primal fear.
The three new novels at the end of the list come from the most recent wave of climate fiction, tales in which lead characters must find ways to endure the already too-long haul of environmental injustice and climate anxiety. (Perhaps these might be more appropriately called “beached” novels.)
As always, the descriptions of these titles are adapted from copy provided by the publishers. Where two dates of publication are listed, the second is for the re-released or paperback edition.
The Lure of the Beach: A Global History, by Robert C. Ritchie (University of California Press 2021, 344 pages, $29.95)
The Lure of the Beach is a chronicle of humanity’s history with the coast, taking us from the seaside pleasure palaces of Roman elites and the aquatic rituals of medieval pilgrims, to the venues of modern resort towns and beyond. Robert C. Ritchie traces the contours of beach economies through time, covering changes in the social status of beach goers, the technology of transport, the development of fashion, and the geographic spread of modern beach-going. And as climate change and rising sea levels erode the familiar faces of our coasts, we are poised for a contemporary reckoning with our beaches and their critical ecosystems. The history of the beach is a human story that deserves to be told now more than ever before.
How to Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other, by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster 2021, 336 pages, $17.99)
Warmer temperatures. Fires in the Amazon. Superstorms. These are just some of the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing. The good news is that we can all do something about it. A movement is already underway to combat not only the environmental effects of climate change but also to fight for climate justice. And young people are not just part of that movement, they are leading the way. Full of empowering stories of young leaders all over the world, this information-packed book from award-winning journalist Naomi Klein offers young readers a comprehensive look at the state of the climate and provides the tools they need to join this fight to protect and reshape the planet they will inherit.
My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir, by Katherine Johnson, with Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore (Amistad / Harper Collins 2021, 256 pages, $25.99)
In 2015, at the age of 97, Katherine Johnson became a global celebrity. President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – for her pioneering work as a mathematician on NASA’s first flights into space. Her contributions to America’s space program were celebrated in a blockbuster and Academy-award nominated movie. In this memoir, Katherine shares her personal journey from child prodigy in the Allegheny Mountains to NASA human computer. In her life after retirement, she served as a beacon of light for her community. Her story is centered around the basic tenets of her life – no one is better than you, education is paramount, and asking questions can break barriers.
The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the World and Ourselves, by J.B. MacKinnon (Ecco / Harper Collins 2021, 336 pages, $28.99)
The economy says we must always consume more: even the slightest drop in spending leads to unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure. But the planet says we consume too much. In America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than it can regenerate. And despite efforts to “green” our consumption – by recycling, increasing energy efficiency, or using more solar and wind – we have yet to see a decline in global emissions. Addressing this paradox head-on, journalist J. B. MacKinnon asks, “What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping?” Drawing from experts in fields from climate science to economics, MacKinnon investigates how living with less would change our planet, our society, and ourselves.
Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything – and Endangered the World, by Jocelyn C. Zuckerman (The New Press 2021, 352 pages, $27.99)
Over the past few decades, palm oil has seeped into every corner of our lives. Worldwide, palm oil production has nearly doubled in just the last decade; some form of the commodity lurks in half the products on U.S. grocery shelves. But the palm oil revolution has been built on stolen land and slave labor; it’s swept away cultures and so devastated the landscapes of Southeast Asia that iconic animals now teeter on the brink of extinction. Fires lit to clear the way for plantations spew carbon emissions to rival those of industrialized nations. This groundbreaking investigation by James-Beard-Award winner Jocelyn C. Zuckerman compels us to examine the connections between the choices we make at the grocery store and a planet under siege.
The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean and the Looming Threat that Imperils It, by Helen Scales (The Atlantic Monthly 2021, 304 pages, $27.00)
A golden era of deep-sea discovery is underway. Revolutionary studies in the deep are rewriting the very notion of life on Earth and the rules of what is possible. In the process, the abyss is being revealed as perhaps the most amazing part of our planet, with a topography even more varied and extreme than its Earthbound counterpart. The extraordinary interconnected ecosystem deep below the waves has a huge effect on our daily lives, influencing climate and weather systems. Marine biologist Helen Scales brings to life the majesty and mystery of this alien realm that sustains us, while urgently making clear the price we could pay if it is further disrupted. The Brilliant Abyss is a revelation and a clarion call to preserve this vast unseen world.
Mountains Oceans Giants: A Novel of the 27th Century, by Alfred Doblin (Galileo Publishers (1924) 2021, 700 pages, $17.99 paperback)
The 27th century: beleaguered elites decide to melt the Greenland icecap. Why? – to open up a new continent, for colonisation by the unruly masses. How? – by harvesting the primordial heat of the Earth from Iceland’s volcanoes. Nature fights back, and it all goes horribly wrong… Readers accustomed to following a story via plot and character may at first be disoriented by this epic of the future. Its structure is more symphonic than novelistic, driven by themes and motifs that emerge, fade back, emerge again in new orchestral voicings and new tempi. Originally published in 1924, Mountains Oceans Giants is the work of Alfred Döblin, the German writer and émigré – he fled to the U.S. during WWII – best known for the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Storm, by George R. Stewart, with an Introduction by Nathaniel Rich (New York Review of Books (1941) 2021, 304 pages, $17.95 paperback)
With Storm, first published in 1941, George R. Stewart invented a new genre of fiction: the eco-novel. California has been plunged into drought throughout the summer and fall when a ship reports an unusual barometric reading from the far western Pacific. In San Francisco, a junior meteorologist in the Weather Bureau takes note of the anomaly and plots “an incipient little whorl” on the weather map, a developing storm, he suspects, that he dubs Maria. Stewart’s novel tracks Maria’s progress to and beyond the shores of the United States. Surging and ebbing, the storm will bring long-needed rain, flooded roads, deep snows, accidents, and death. Storm is an epic account of humanity’s relationship to and dependence on the natural world.
The Death of Grass: A Novel, by Sam Youd as John Christopher (The Style Press (1956) 2016, 232 pages, $10.00 paperback)
The Chung-Li virus has devastated Asia, wiping out the rice crop and leaving riots and mass starvation in its wake. The rest of the world looks on with concern, but confident that a counter-virus will be developed. Then Chung-Li mutates and spreads: wheat, barley, oats, rye. Global famine threatens. The British government developments secret plans to preserve the lives of a few at the expense of the many. Getting wind of what’s in store, John Custance and his family decide they must abandon their London home to head for the sanctuary of his brother’s farm in the north. And so they begin the long trek across a country fast descending into barbarism, where the civilized values they once took for granted become the price they must pay for survival.
Migrations: A Novel, by Charlotte McGonaghy (Flatiron Books 2020/2021, 278 pages, $16.99 paperback)
Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool, it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. How much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption? Epic and intimate, Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations is an ode to a disappearing world and a breathtaking page-turner about the possibility of hope against all odds.
How Beautiful We Were: A Novel, by Imbolo Mbue (Random House 2021, 384 pages, $28.00)
“We should have known the end was near.” So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Told from the perspective of the family of Thula, a girl who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
The Inland Sea: A Novel, by Madeleine Watts (Catapault / Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $16.95
Drifting after her final year in college, a young writer begins working part-time as an emergency dispatch operator in Sydney. Over the course of an eight-hour shift, she is dropped into hundreds of crises, hearing only pieces of each. Two centuries earlier, her great-great-great-great-grand-father – the British explorer John Oxley – traversed the wilderness of Australia in search of water. Oxley never found the inland sea, but the myth was taken up by other men, who walked out into the desert, dying as they tried to find it. Interweaving a woman’s self-destructive unraveling with the worsening climate crisis, The Inland Sea is charged with unflinching insight into our age of anxiety; it asks what refuge and comfort looks like in a constant state emergency.