The best fictional books about our place in nature

Seth Wynes Author Of SOS: What You Can Do to Reduce Climate Change - Simple Actons That Make a Difference
By Seth Wynes

The Books I Picked & Why

The Crossing: Border Trilogy

By Cormac McCarthy

The Crossing: Border Trilogy

Why this book?

Hundreds of pages into this book is a passage about the detonation of an atomic bomb which you could read and enjoy ten times and yet never catch the historical moment playing out before you. The Crossing is full of these layered, quiet chords that make you question what else you’re missing. No one makes me feel the profoundness of loss that our planet is experiencing more than McCarthy. Already we have lost landscapes and species, yes, but also individual creatures with their own wants and hurts and personalities. McCarthy’s deliberate but gorgeous writing makes you pause and dwell on that loss. In his own words, “Do this and do not let sorrow die for it is the sweetening of every gift.”


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Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

I’ve collaborated with many climate scientists who work hard to convey what an overheated planet might look like for everyday people. But the easiest description might simply be to say, “Go read Parable of the Sower.” Here, Octavia Butler’s portrayal of a post-Holocene future is so convincing as to almost make her vision of the future seem inevitable. It is by far the most detailed and plausible depiction of the climate apocalypse I have encountered. But Parable of the Sower doesn’t get caught up in its own world-building. It’s about vulnerable humans sharing what is good in one another when the good in the world has mostly left them.


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The Overstory

By Richard Powers

The Overstory

Why this book?

I am not the first to say this, but the glory of this book lies in forever transforming your view of forests. Previously I might have walked through a small glade of trees and felt like I was passing by intricate and beautiful statues. Now I feel like I am interrupting a conversation. The revelation of forests as bustling communities, as cities of interaction and cooperation, has never been conveyed more persuasively. More than that, the book is littered with clever ideas that could each stand on their own as the basis for a Vonnegut novel: a flip-book documenting a tree’s growth over generations, a science fiction short story about aliens that come to earth and treat humans like we treat forests. There is a lot to take in.


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The Dharma Bums

By Jack Kerouac

The Dharma Bums

Why this book?

“The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one had asked them to grow, or me to grow.” The joy in Kerouac is stumbling along with his absent-minded musings and finding the stretches of poetry that really speak to you. Dharma Bums is spiritual and inward-focused, but the characters spend time in nature, trying to figure out their place in it. It’s the kind of companion that you want to have with you on a canoe trip or sharing space with you on a hammock on a warm fall day. 


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The Stone Sky

By N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky

Why this book?

The name of the trilogy, Broken Earth, says it all for me. Reading through Jemisin’s descriptions of a fantastical world that is rocky, barren, and volatile engenders a sense of gratitude for the abundance and color of our own planet. The world-building is believable, her characters are rich and the magical mechanics that underwrite existence are creative and fascinating.


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