Daylight is waning, leaves are falling, and your favorite comfy chair is calling. The season of long nights and cozy reading is upon us, and Orion has some environmentally-influenced recently published recommendations just for you. Whether you prefer breathy thrillers, dystopian fiction, climate science, natural history, memoir, poetry, or bite-sized delights, there is something for everyone here.
So you like novels?
On the run from a desperate past, the girl at the center of Lauren Groff’s new novel embarks on an anti-adventure fever dream, immersing herself in the ravenous open space of the new world for no reason beyond an instinctive hope to outlast her troubles. Spiriting through a landscape of near-death episodes, the girl slowly abandons her identity—her name, her body, and, eventually, the boundaries between herself and God—and the book grows into a meditation on the abusive systems we create under the fear of the divine, and the views we open once they disintegrate. (Penguin Random House)
C Pam Zhang
Smog caused by poor agricultural conditions engulfs the world, causing extreme food shortages. The Uber-Rich form a mountain-top paradise to escape the majority of its effects. These sentences, which read like headline news from the near future, encapsulate the main premise of C Pam Zhang’s new novel. In the new country of the Land of Milk and Honey, scientists and meteorologists gather with chefs and socialites to create a perfect world: extinct species live again, ecological balance has been achieved, and no food is off the table. However, this fragile perfection quickly begins to crumble as the outside world cries for a crumb of salvation. Zhang shows us that to put a price on life, to choose who lives and who dies, is to doom us all. In the novel’s explosive conclusion, she offers a future in the form of finding even the smallest joys in a dying world. A future that arrives by not giving in to fear or division, but by believing that life will always find a way forward. (Riverhead Books)
Who among us, contemplating a more rapid climate change than the models predicted and witnessing declines among even common species, hasn’t wished for a miracle, for someone else to answer the questions and provide the pathway out? In the first half of Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood we meet the idealists struggling to find these answers and the billionaire who doesn’t struggle at all to provide them seed funding. The collaboration and conflicts between these characters who exist on opposite sides of social divides—one landed, wealthy, unprincipled, and old, the other visionary, young, idealistic, and landless—frame a world where the reader might hope for a tidy resolution. Might wonder how they were ever going to get out of this mess and who was going to be redeemed. In the end, Catton reminds us that the answer to that question may be no one. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Or maybe you’re more in the mood
for environmental nonfiction?
“When heat comes, it’s invisible.” That’s how the award-winning climate journalist Jeff Goodell opens his artful and startling new book, The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet. From there, the master storyteller paints vivid portrait after portrait of a world wracked by extreme heat, a phenomenon all the more dangerous, because, unlike sea-level rise or wildfire, you can’t see it. Like Goodell’s previous books, this one is meticulously researched and brimming with profound insights into what it means to live in a rapidly changing world—and how we might prepare for what those changes will bring. (Little Brown and Company)
Nearly 40 million miles of road crisscross the planet, funneling us humans nearly anywhere we want to go. They are ubiquitous to the point of near invisibility. Not so for the myriad plants and wild animals who are subjected daily to the danger and destruction wrought by this infrastructure. But Ben Goldfarb is here, with compelling humor and curiosity, to open our road-weary eyes to how humans have reshaped ecosystems, and how emerging science and engineering might mitigate some of this damage and work toward safer road ecology. (W.W. Norton)
Ken Keffer, illustrations by Emily Walker
A lovely book to have and to hold, Knowing the Trees makes a fine gift for any tree lover. This lavishly illustrated volume provides a naturalist’s glossary of forest-related terms and concepts from cone-robbers and Krumholtz to mangroves and mistletoe. It is a thoughtful response to Emerson’s quip, The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more. (Mountaineers)
Poetry or. . . almost poetry?
Magnificent in empathy, sensuous in detail, bright in clarity. Hirshfield’s poetic legacy is wise, generous, and vast. Simply put, this book is a treasure chest—the riches are golden leaves and purple artichokes, crickets and moonlight. (Knopf)
What do Michael McDonald, paper menus, garlic bulbs, and pumpkin-eating squirrels have in common? They’re all things that delight Ross Gay, of course. In this follow-up to The Book of Delights, his first genre-defining collection of essayettes, Gay continues to wander and wonder. He is vexed, he is soothed, he is surprised, and yes, delighted, always delighted, by the small daily gifts and complications the world provides to those who would notice and take them as nourishment. (Algonquin)
What about a memoir?
“I glanced up at the building ahead of us: it was two stories high and pointed a pale blue, and on the wall facing us was a mural depicting a lush equatorial landscape with a waterfall that cascaded all the way from the roof to ground level, the flowed sideways into a small brook that ran through a rainforest teeming with greenery and brightly colored flowers.” This is what greets Ahmed Naji on his first day in prison—a meticulous reproduction of the natural world on the walls of a deeply unnatural environment. In 2016, Naji became the only writer in Egyptian history to be imprisoned for “offending public morality.” (No kidding: some guy read an excerpt from his novel, got heart palpitations, and the Egyptian authorities came knocking.) Rotten Evidence chronicles the relationships, realities, and roaches of Naji’s absurd incarceration, as he struggles against authoritarian censorship. (McSweeney’s)
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Where, on the thin border between history and memory, can I remember myself? Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen examines personal and collective memory and the legacy of war and displacement while balancing the cultural power of America with his own family’s “epic and quotidian” refugee experience. His unconventional memoir is as searing, sardonic, and insightful, as it is vulnerable and open-hearted. (Grove Press)
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