During the past year, I’ve read sixty-three books, fiction and non-fiction, related to the climate crisis.

Just this week, I finished Katłįà’s (Catherine Lafferty’s) 2020 novel Ndè-ti-yat’a (Land-Water-Sky)–an unstoppable read.

Maybe this new habit has an element of contagion: have I convinced you to read one?

Earlier in 2021, I focussed on a few other climate emergency reads; maybe you have a favourite to add to my list.

Maybe you’ll recognize or find a new favourite below.

Ko-eun Yun’s The Disaster Tourist (Trans. Lizzie Buehler, 2020) is going to stick with me for a long time.

I would shelve it with books like Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet, Ling Ma’s Severance, and Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory (Trans. David Boyd). But it also belongs with Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness and Daisy Hildyard’s The Second Body.

On the surface, a young woman works for a company that offers tours:

“We’ve got earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, avalanches, droughts, floods, fires, massacres, wars, radioactivity, desertification, serial killers, tsunamis, animal abuse, contagious diseases, water pollution, asylums, prisons and more. The packages Koreans like are those with something exotic, the spirit of adventure.”

Her supervisor asks her to investigate a specific location whose popularity has waned, to consider whether or not the tour should be cancelled, and a curious concept in theory becomes fascinating with a closer look.

Ko-eun Yun takes readers on a remarkable tour; she questions the way we respond to disasters—while entertaining and engaging us.

It’s thrilling and horrible and almost-unputdownable.

Winona LaDuke’s To Be a Water Protector: The Rise of the Windigoo Slayers (2020) is from Fernwood Press (“critical books for critical thinkers), which does have an online store for those without access to an indie bookshop.

An enrolled member of the Mississippi Bank Anishinaabeg, LaDuke works on the White Earth Reservation in what is now called Northern Minnesota.

Averaging six pages, and moving from Hawai’i to North Dakota, from the Amazon to New Mexico, these short essays are accessible and varied.

Many times, a piece feels like part of a conversation—her tone is so casual, despite an abundance of detail (and, in some cases, endnotes).

But the longer pieces—like “A Pipeline Runs through It” and “Beyond Reconciliation, Just Transition”—prioritize data and information, so there’s no mistaking her scholarship and experience.

Particularly helpful is the balance of information about the past alongside the enduring conflicts in the news today, including the essays with the photographs of the water protectors, the aunties and the grandmothers.

Saleema Nawaz’s Songs for the End of the World (2020) was one of the novels in this stack I resisted most (you’ll soon understand why), and it turned out to be a favourite.

Her other fiction, too, is built on the concept of how we are bound to one another; her Bone & Bread, for instance, is a heartful exploration of a relationship between two sisters living above a bagel shop in Montreal, and one of the short stories in her debut collection, Mother Superior, was actually connected to this novel too.

Songs, however, maintains this theme but also incorporates its darker side—what happens when our society has to cope with a runaway novel coronavirus, when everyone is suddenly and painfully reminded of just how interconnected we all are.

A novel idea for a novel a few years back; a startlingly pertinent story for spring 2020.

The current pandemic adds urgency to this read, but what remains timeless is the author’s capacity to observe human relationships in direct and surprising ways. Like Elliot’s observation of his parents, for instance:

His parents never called him separately, only at the same time on different extensions of the landline in the house where he’d grown up, as though he were a group project for which they were each determined to do exactly half of the work.”

But he’s just one character in a cast which is sprawling enough to warrant a reference diagram, the kind of thing you’d draw in elementary chemistry classes, in which particles revolve around one another, except in this story (and in life) the orbits are not concentric circles; they overlap, they intersect, and they align and diverge into the kind of story that I (committed lover of the puzzle novel) found irresistible and uncomfortably thrilling.  

(Don’t let this diagram, housed on an inner flap, put you off: you could also simply choose to attend to a couple of characters more closely and allow the others to flow past you.)

Catherine Hernandez landed on my reading radar with her debut novel, Scarborough.

In Crosshairs, she employs a similar structure—a variety of voices, rooted in a city neighbourhood—but she sets her story in the near-future, when the climate crisis has worsened just enough to intensify today’s social inequities and injustices.

The fragmented feel of Scarborough boosts that story, a reminder to readers that this is a diverse community one can barely contain in a single volume; as little more than sketches, readers’ expectations are satisfied with simple arcs and resolutions.

Crosshairs delves deeper into the emotional experiences and lives of several queer community members (and allies), whose historical experiences of injustice are exacerbated by the climate emergency and related political tensions.

These deeper explorations, however, require an equal investment in bridging support between the related narratives; boosting the connective tissue–to solidify readers’ burgeoning investment in these characters–would have intensified the power that resides in their storylines.

Hernandez’s characters are consistently credible and the opening chapters of the novel are particularly engaging; readers who are already socially and politically engaged in justice work will recognize and respond to the validity of her arguments.

Crosshairs is a commentary on the present-day, with a near-future setting, and its intention—to galvanize readers to work for a different kind of future—is a laudable one.

All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson (2020), is the kind of book that I approached with a sense of duty.

Its scope, its theme, its contributors: all together, it seemed like the kind of book that would lodge itself on my shelf and proclaim my interest in the subject even while the idea of reading it was relegated to a matter of “good intentions”.

In fact, the subject headings and titles of the works were often engaging, suggesting new slants on familiar themes, and invited a closer look straight away.

The spare use of contrasting ink and marks in the margin to draw attention to key passages drew me in further.

So, at first glance, it looked to be a useful reference, but the variety of perspectives and topics was honestly inspiring—and the focus on action rather than despair makes it an essential read.

Buy or borrow a copy and read it with a friend: begin your day with a poem or essay and allow a concatenation of ideas and possibilities to take hold and nourish your consciousness.

A series of tweets in the coming weeks will showcase some of the pieces that spoke to me.

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Cornac’s The Future We Choose (2020) is such a slim book that I kept my expectations in check yet, together with All We Can Save, readers can look forward to being both informed and invigorated. The two books, for me, suit complementary reading moods.

Here we begin with an epigraph from Rabindranath Tagore:

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them.”

There’s a strong throughline in this text; one has the sense of a powerfully polished presentation.

The authors’ expertise is relayed directly and clearly. (There are many endnotes but they seem to fade into the background while reading with their seemingly effortless prose.)

They offer the simplicity that many readers crave, beginning with Two Worlds, moving through Three Mindsets, and suggesting Ten Actions.

We learn, and then we learn what to do with what we’ve learned. What’s missing, of course, is the kind of nuance that one finds in the anthology above, but this is a volume that I would press on friends and loved ones to read.

It’s been years since I read a novel that gave me this many nightmares on consecutive evenings: Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu (2018) will remain lodged in my mind for years.

It’s also been years since Lai’s previous novel, Salt Fish Girl (2002). In some ways, The Tiger Flu could seem to have oozed out of that earlier work, with fish and salt peppering and permeating the story.

That earlier novel’s futuristic elements were also grounded in the past. (True, too, of her 1993 debut, When Fox Was a Thousand, which had a mythic vibe that wove into and connected with centuries’ old tales and figures.)

The Tiger Flu contains mythic elements too, but they all appear to be eerily present and prescient.

But even so, in a time which is numbered differently than ours, the past remains important:

“’In order to survive in the world that is coming, we need to know our history,’ says Myra. ‘Knowledge, my sisters, is the most important tool we have.’”

Sandrine Collette’s Just after the Wave (2018; Trans. Alison Anderson, 2020) won the Landerneau Prize for crime fiction for her English language debut (Nothing but Dust, also translated by Anderson).

By the sounds of it, family dynamics and an inhospitable environment feature in that novel as well.

Here we witness her control of pacing and revelation. There is a delightful push-pull of “Well, I never” and “Of course it had to be that way” throughout.

Just after the Wave feels like half Enid Blyton novel and half Stephen King novella.

When I picked it up, I was fresh off Larissa Lai’s novel and feeling tender (and weary, after a string of nights short-on-sleep).

I thought I would read the opening pages of Collette’s story, ponder how it connects with how other writers’ watery stories, and return it to the library.

So that’s how it was: I wanted to stop reading. But: “There is no more island, no more hill, not a chance.”

And I couldn’t stop. If you’re not sure you want to read about the climate crisis, this story will reframe the idea of choice.

Bina Venkataraman’s The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking ahead in a Reckless Age (2019) also confronts the idea of choice.

It reminds me of Daniel Levithin’s books, hundreds of pages of anecdotes and footnotes about psychology and human tendencies. Fascinating and curious: it’s just my cuppa.

And Venkataraman’s book is connected to the climate crisis in that how people respond to this situation dictates the outcome.

Her belief that “we have the possibility to act like better ancestors, and act on our own [behalf], for the sake of our own futures” is a welcome addition to the landscape (this interview is a great introduction).

This volume, accessible and rooted in essential questions, offers another way into the topic that’s removed from the measurement of degrees in temperature and species extinction.

Michelle Nijhuis’ Beloved Beasts (2021) has appeared on a few different climate emergency reading lists recently; it’s a new addition to the field and reads like Elizabeth Kolbert, if she’d had a couple glasses of wine (bird-friendly, locally produced—presumably).

The subtitle, Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, reveals that the emphasis remains on survivability; the way she handles time in her narrative allows readers to feel more comfortable than the subtitle suggests.

Her chapters often begin in the past, featuring individuals whose names will be familiar to anyone who has dabbled in eco-reading over the years; she situates them in the context of a broader struggle to preserve and conserve.

It’s surprising to learn that some figures you’ve thought of in a certain light had surprising motivations and methods, some individuals you’ve associated with specific achievements were actually only players in that scene and not taking the lead.

She presents information succinctly and supplements with photographs and most chapters include a component that complements the historical, to feature contemporary figures who seek or are having success in this regard today.

This is the kind of book that I thought might contain some interesting chapters, but I enjoyed her tone and style, and she held my interest until the end.