The best books that capture the grief of living with climate change

Who am I?

I have always felt most at home looking out a window. I should specify I’m not an outdoorsy person - take me hiking and I will simply collapse - but I’m at my happiest when there’s a view out to something green. Reading about the climate and reading fiction that centers landscape both offer me that view, and while I’m not an expert in the particulars of climate change, I am an expert in this: finding books that connect me to the natural world, and books that express the grief of always being a little bit separate from it. The selected books are some of my favorites.


I wrote...

Wilder Girls

By Rory Power,

Book cover of Wilder Girls

What is my book about?

It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence.

The books I picked & why

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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells,

Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Why this book?

David Wallace-Wells’s book is the only non-fiction on my list - perfect for you if you’re finding yourself trying to get a more factual grip on exactly what will happen to the world as climate change continues unabated. But rather than presenting you with a list of statistics, Wallace-Wells explores different scenarios with a frankness that makes reading his book feel like talking to your most informed friend, someone who knows what questions you might have and is eager to answer them. Early sections of this book are especially hard-hitting; when I read it I had to take breaks every twenty pages or so because it made me so anxious, but coming back to the text felt grounding, sobering, and entirely worthwhile.


Annihilation

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Book cover of Annihilation

Why this book?

I first read Annihilation after finishing a draft of my debut novel, Wilder Girls, and found it massively inspiring - not just because it’s impressive on a craft level, but also because seeing VanderMeer weave together themes of personal grief and ecological horror really opened my eyes to what fiction can do in this particular space. If you’ve seen the movie, rest assured there is lots more to be found in the book (and if you haven’t seen the movie, it makes a great chaser after you’ve finished the novel). It is a melancholy and introspective look at living in a landscape that has become a stranger to you, and how we as humans fit into the larger scope of things.


Weather

By Jenny Offill,

Book cover of Weather

Why this book?

If you don’t have much time to read, this is the one for you. Offill is known for her brevity - her 2014 novel Dept. Of Speculation (equally worth your time) is similarly short, and similarly shot through with humor - and for the punch she can pack into a limited space. In Weather, she brings together the mundane grind of daily life with the larger existential terror many of us experience when we think about climate change, and bridges that gap, forcing her characters to confront how their daily lives are in fact not separate from these bigger concepts at all.


The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

Why this book?

I am almost certainly not the first person to recommend The Fifth Season to you, but in the event that I am, yes, you should read it. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is set in a world that, every few hundred years, experiences a season of cataclysmic climate change referred to as the fifth season. Jemisin makes the metaphor literal in The Fifth Season, writing about people with an ability to connect with the earth and manipulate its energy living in a society that reviles them. Over them all hovers the specter of the fifth season and the coming destruction. While you may not be able to relate to the specific plight of a magic-user, Jemisin’s characters will feel familiar as they struggle to go on in a world that feels doomed.


Light from Other Stars

By Erika Swyler,

Book cover of Light from Other Stars

Why this book?

This book has practically nothing to do with climate change. Instead, it’s about space, and fathers, and memory. But more than that, it’s about grief, and loss, and the effort to preserve something that’s already gone, which makes it a pretty perfect fit. This book was my favorite read of 2020 and made me sob (and sob and sob and sob). It feels like such a true expression of how it feels to watch the possibility of a “normal” future get further and further away, and how it feels to want to, in turn, look to the past, and hold on even more tightly. 


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