In Daisy Hildyard’s The Second Body, she shares this admission:

“In a technical way, I believe in climate change, but I do not much act as if I do. (I take flights.) I don’t really inhabit it. I have never bought a book with Climate Change in the title because I feel that I wouldn’t find anything real inside it.”

The way that she works to embrace the contradictions, between what she believes and what she does? That inherently appeals to me.

These are tough questions. And, should she ever change her mind, there are plenty of books about “climate change” that don’t include those words in their titles.

Like Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (2015), which is published by Two Dollar Radio (a press Reese has remarked upon too).

As with Ling Ma’s Severance, the focus is on everyday life, quotidian details of work and memories of work relationships, against a backdrop of committed relationships, in short and scenic chapters.

The climate has changed enough that the crops suitable for growth in specific regions have changed, the cost of food is high, and even more people have been displaced from their homes recently, due to disasters.

Talk has shifted from conservation to survival, but there’s also talk of advances in tech and space—new opportunities in industry.

Protests and rallies against public budget cuts, reduced healthcare, dwindling pension funds, rising unemployment, water shortage, drought and famine provide the backdrop to a personal story about remorse, reconfiguring, and resilience.

(There’s also a couple of Christmas chapters, for those who enjoy holiday reading but prefer less traditional choices.)

Nina Munteanu’s novel Diary in the Age of Water (2019) will not suit every reader. Much of the narrative can also be read in her 2016 work of non-fiction Water Is….

It’s hard to resist identifying the author with Lynna, the most prominent character, who also works as a limnologist, although her employment is increasingly precarious, as her timeline hastens toward ecological devastation.

A predominantly female cast, a mythic framing narrative and, most saliently, the focus on water, all made this an interesting read for me.

The book’s epigraphs are from Maude Barlow and the chapters’ epigraphs from textbook definitions (sometimes excerpts from limnology texts), and there are even cutaway diagrams that you’d expect in a lecture hall.

Ultimately, it exists in an in-between place, some mystical elements of the generational tale possibly alienating the dedicated science-y readers and the instructional elements possibly alienating fiction devotees. And, yet, I read on: strangely compelling.

Nina Lakhani’s Who Killed Berta Cáceres? (2020) is published by Verso Books, an independent publishing house that releases a hundred titles a year. (Lakhani is the Guardian’s first environmental justice reporter.)

Cáceres frequently worked with indigenous Lenca communities across western Honduras, but it was their resistance to the construction of a hydroelectric dam, on the Gualcarque River in the community of Del Blanco, that preceded her murder.

Though just a year after winning the Goldman Environmental Prize, her renown offered no protection. “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources, and this colonialism isn’t over. But we have power, compañeros, and that is why we still exist.”

Cáceres’ story also draws attention to the fact that 340 environmental defenders were murdered in the Americas between 2016 and 2019.

Business interests triumph over personal rights. It’s helpful to understand just how pervasive these attitudes are, how essential it is to speak up.

Watch Your Head—an anthology of poems and stories, essays and artwork—is a response to the climate crisis.

For instance, Barry Pottle’s series of photographs, De-Iced, calls attention to global warming from an Inuk perspective.

And Eshrat Erfanian’s series Tres-pass alternates addresses of Middle Eastern oil refineries with polluted landscapes in Ontario and Quebec from the 1950s.

Underpinning the collection is an awareness that “the extractive industrial practices driving global warming…are an extension of a historical colonization built upon the theft of the lands and bodies of Indigenous and Black peoples”.

The contributors are diverse and offer “warnings to be heeded directions given, field notes from the midst of the disaster, offers of refuge, shelter in the storm, high ground marked out, refugia demarcated and carefully tended, pleas, modes, and methods of survival”.

You can peek here. Something for every reader. (Edited by Kathryn Mockler and others.)

Catherine Bush’s second novel, The Rules of Engagement, was one of the first contemporary Canadian novels that I reread as soon as I finished. There’s a precision and density to her prose, consistently.

With four epigraphs for Blaze Island (2020), readers are signalled to anticipate allusions and echoes: T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare (from “The Tempest”, this is one of many Miranda stories), Elena Ferrante, and Tracy K. Smith.

As in Lauren Carter’s Swarm and Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, the focus is on character over plot, on world-building (re-visioning) over action.

Things do happen, but Bush prioritizes the interior lives of her characters; readers looking an emphasis on another kind of story would prefer Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

Parenting trumps page-turning, but without the brazen brutality of Diane Cook’s novel (below).

Climate Chaos (2020) is a collection of ecofeminist essays more likely to be found on professors’ bookshelves than in the laps of enthusiastic readers.

Last fall, I started reading Ana Isla’s introduction and the first essay she’s contributed, with the subtitle: “Mother Earth under Threat”: they secured my desire to read on, but it took me about a month to work through the first essay.

Still, for those with an interest in social justice, this volume is an excellent resource for current scholarship; each essay is immediately followed by relevant endnotes and references, inviting those with a keen interest on that particular subject to explore further.

There are names I recognize and expect to find here—like Hannah Arendt, Mary Daly, Naomi Klein, Winona LaDuke and Vandana Shiva—but I’ve been introduced to many more activists and scholars too, and I particularly appreciate the global focus on indigenous protectors.

And now that I’ve adjusted to the academic tone, I can rely on the subheadings and bullet points, bolded text and list-making, to guide me through topics that I yearn to understand but would find overwhelming in a booklength work.

Love after the End (2020) is an anthology of nine speculative stories by two-spirt and queer Indigenous writers, edited by Joshua Whitehead.

Some established writers and some relatively new to the craft or, between, with publication credits in magazines and journals: a fresh and surprisingly hopeful collection to be discussed in this spring’s Quarterly Short Story post.

Impressed by her debut collection of stories, Man V. Nature (2014), preoccupied with questions of “sanctuary and exile, restoration and devastation, mortality and morality”, I was equally impressed and unsettled by Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness (2020).

Cook plays with distance and intimacy, with power and alienation; at times, as a reader, I marvelled and, at times, I winced: “Dying was as common as living.” Okay, there was a lot of wincing.

I left the final section of the novel unread for weeks. (I didn’t forget anything. Even though part of me wanted to.)

This is one of those books that many might admire (it was on last year’s Booker shortlist, for instance) but a story that few will love.

Cook respects her characters, who are credible and complicated; they have embarked on an experiment, in the future, in an area of land demarcated as the Wilderness, but none of that matters because, in the end, they are unapologetically human. That makes for tough reading.

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg (2019) made me chuckle more often than the novel I kept in my stack alongside to lighten the mood.

Schlossberg writes: “I am nothing if not a savvy businesswoman, evidenced by my decision to become a journalist writing about the world’s most popular, easy-reading topic.”

Nobody yearns to read about the climate crisis; Schlossberg knows this and works to erode the natural resistance that readers have to this unpopular, heavy-going topic.

Readers can dip into a topic like Food or Fashion in a few pages or follow up with the endnotes or a booklength recommendation shared in the essay’s body.

Schlossberg exposes and contemplates contradictions, which I appreciate. She reveals her investigative (and ruminative) process, shares her facts, and admits when she’s gone as far as she can go (without getting prescriptive).

She doesn’t shy away from the need for systemic change coupled with personal responsibility:

“Living in a way that honors your values is important, even if your personal habits aren’t going to fix everything. We need to remember what is at stake, and the small sacrifices we make may help us do that, if you need reminding. If we know what our sacrifices mean and why they might matter, we might be more willing to make them.”

Even though my stack of current reading always has several options, something for every reading mood, I’ve adopted the habit of having only one or two books about the climate crisis in the mix simultaneously (usually one, but there’s always a non-fiction volume in there, too, and sometimes that’s on the topic of the climate emergency too).

Reading about the climate crisis is one way to narrow the gap that Daisy Hildyard identifies—the gap between what we say that we believe and what we do about it.

For bookworms, who sometimes feel more comfortable with books than with people, who have come to rely on books to bridge the gap between their insides and the world outside, reading can open the door to making other changes.

What have you been reading about the climate crisis? Do you have a specific read to recommend? If not, does one of these books look like it could be a door into a subject you’ve been avoiding?