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Reading Into the Weather

Published: September 1, 2020

Over the past six months, our lives have been altered significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been asked to stay at home, minimize interaction with others, and conduct work and attend classes via Zoom. So much of our daily lives is spent alone or distanced from others, yet this is a time when many of us feel an even greater need to connect. Reading can help by opening up avenues of reality, fantasy, philosophy and comedy.  

The environment continues to be on our minds as we witnessed, around the world, temperatures that were hotter than normal. In fact, the trends over the last few decades are clear: each decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the one before, and the five hottest years occurred in the second half of the last decade.

This concern with weather trends directed our reading to books on the environment, and we have selected four titles that we recommend. In keeping with the theme of environmental action, we suggest that you consider borrowing books through a library, or making your purchase through a local bookstore to support small and local business owners in or near your neighborhood.

Independent booksellers often lead readers to interesting titles that larger box store or online retailers do not. For the August Indie Next List, their number one pick was Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, which is one of two fiction books that we highlight in this post. Set some time in the not-too-distant future, it’s a story of one woman’s quest to follow the few remaining Arctic terns on what is likely their last migration. It is a clever reimagining of Moby Dick with the restless Franny Stone, playing Ishmael, and Ennis Malone, the menacing captain who agrees to take Franny on her pursuit, yet spends most of his time below deck. Their quest embodies the humankind vs nature struggle and leaves much destruction in its wake. The reader is left experiencing the intense contradiction of despair and hope, feelings common today.

Jenny Offill's Weather uses a clever diary approach that effectively communicates today’s angst—the rising tide of anxiety about a world threatened by climate change—through the satirical voice of the main character, Lizzie Benson. Lizzie became a college librarian after giving up her graduate work to help her drug-addicted brother. Her side job is answering doomsday emails about climate change for a former boss, and her sharp wit deflects anxiety in everything from research with her husband on “doomsteads” as preparation for the end of the world to dealing with the variety of personalities in her Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s a short read, darkly funny and carries a sense of urgency that is well worth the time to get a sense on how someone else is dealing with “today’s times.”

Humor seems to be a common approach for dealing with anxiety, including nonfiction. In Notes From an Apocalypse, Mark O'Connell tackles his own apocalyptic anxiety by searching for answers on how we should deal with the increasingly unsettled times. O’Connell’s approach is both journalistic and deeply personal as he seeks to understand the common thread running through the worlds of doomsday preppers, evangelical Christians and Silicon Valley billionaires fleeing to New Zealand or trying to colonize Mars as their own. Both his humanity and dry humor guide the reader through his thought processes designed to “do something” about the possibility of the end of human civilization on earth.

Readers looking for hope amidst the doom and gloom of climate change can take heart in how one scientist-turned-advocate is making a difference at the top of the world in the Tibetan Plateau. George Schaller, who has spent the majority of his career in some of the wildest and most isolated places on earth in his quest to understand and conserve threatened species, has written his latest book, Tibet Wild. Although the book can be a bit dry at times—less personal and more scientific—it’s clear that Schaller’s three decades of exploration in the most remote stretches of Tibet captured his heart and fuels his desire to protect the wildlife, culture and landscapes today as human beings disrupt nature yet again. His work with local communities, regional leaders and national governments is making a difference and gives one hope.

There is hope and it comes from people like us. The more we are aware, the better equipped we are to act. Take a step by reading into the weather.

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