This month we’re swimming in the deep ocean with Laline Paull’s dolphins, grieving, reflecting and exploring resilience in the company of memoirists Ben Goldsmith and Charlie Hertzog Young, finding inspiration with the incomparable eco-philosopher Joanna Macy and much, much more. Enjoy our hand-picked cornucopia.
Spinning Out by Charlie Hertzog Young
This debut from a young researcher, writer and award-winning activist begins with a harrowing account of the suicide attempt which left him a double amputee, and morphs into an uplifting road-map to a positive, liveable future. The climate and ecological despair that led Herzog to the brink of death is becoming endemic in his generation, yet remains relatively unexamined. Which makes his meticulously researched, deeply moving and sublimely-written account essential reading for anyone struggling with climate grief or working with those who do. This empowering and uplifting book may start by making you cry, but it will end by making you think. And it may even change you. – Liz Jensen.
The Nerves and their Endings by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson
“My attempts at making sense of the climate crisis have changed and adjusted repeatedly. They continue to shift and to quake.”
Although it looks quite slim, this is a really big, ambitious, global book that speaks very clearly to lots of aspects of the present moment. It insists on an intimate relation between the individual body and the whole environment. – Toby Litt
Bird Girl by Maya-Rose Craig
In deciding to write a personal memoir at the age of 20, the ornithologist and activist Mya-Rose Craig has shown considerable courage. Not only has she travelled the length and breadth of Britain, she has visited every continent on Earth, rising at dawn, sleeping on ice, walking up mountains and baking in deserts in order to view over 5,000 different birds. Throughout the book, her passion for these animals takes centre stage, and leads her to an environmental activism that feels both necessary and urgent. – Natasha Walter
Active Hope by Joanna Macy
“Active hope is not wishful thinking….Active hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act.” The eco-philosopher Joanna Macy’s ground-breaking work explores how humankind can face the challenges of a turbulent age through the cultivation of interconnectedness and positive change. At the heart of reaching a more compassionate, spiritual, and sustainable world is the enactment of “The Great Turning”: a civilizational shift from industrial growth to ecological and social wellbeing.
God is an Octopus by Ben Goldsmith
Sparked by the sudden death of his teenage daughter Iris, Goldsmith’s memoir of grief, loss and regeneration is a celebration not just of her life, but of the living world and all its inhabitants. Wise and beautifully written, it’s an inspiration to anyone with access to a patch of land, however small. And a reminder to anyone who has lost a loved one that the best way to honour their memory is to cherish the planet. – Liz Jensen
Entropia by Samuel Alexander
When industrial civilisation collapsed in the third decade of the 21st century, a community living on a small island in the South Pacific Ocean found itself permanently isolated from the rest of the world. With no option but to build a self-sufficient economy with very limited energy supplies, this community set about creating a simpler way of life that could flourish into the deep future.
Determined above all else to transcend the materialistic values of the Old World, they made a commitment to live materially simple lives, convinced that this was the surest path to genuine freedom, peace, and sustainable prosperity. Seven decades later, in the year 2099, this book describes the results of their remarkable living experiment.
Pod by Laline Paull
Ea has always felt like an outsider. She suffers from a type of deafness that means she cannot master the spinning rituals that unite her pod of spinner dolphins. When tragedy strikes her family and Ea feels she is partly to blame, she decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave. As Ea ventures into the vast, she discovers dangers everywhere, from lurking predators to strange objects floating in the water. But just as she is coming to terms with her solitude, a chance encounter with a group of arrogant bottlenoses will irrevocably alter the course of her life. In her terrifying, propulsive novel, Laline Paull explores the true meaning of family, belonging, sacrifice – the harmony and tragedy of the pod – within an ocean that is no longer the sanctuary it once was, and which reflects a world all too recognisable to our own.
‘Laline Paull succeeds splendidly in rising to the most important literary challenge of our time – restoring voice and agency to other-than-human beings’ – Amitav Ghosh.
Shortlisted for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2023.
Archipelago by Monique Roffey
Inspired by the flooding of her brother’s house in Trinidad in 2008, British-Trinidadian Monique Roffey’s novel is an immersive account of a father’s flight to the Galapagos after a catastrophic flood kills his infant son. With its sharp insights into the legacy of colonialism and the havoc wreaked by a warming planet, Archipelago is both a love letter to the quixotic Caribbean Sea and an electrifying portrayal of life lived on the front line of the climate and ecological emergency.
‘There’s a warmth to this book, an exuberance and a wisdom, that makes the experience of reading it feel not just pleasurable but somehow instructive. It’s funny, sometimes bitingly poignant. A brilliant piece of storytelling.” — Andrew Miller, author of Pure, winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2011.
The Swarm by Frank Schatzing
The creatures of the world’s oceans have had enough of being mistreated by humankind – and they’re taking violent revenge: within days, the whole globe is under attack from whales, toxic jellyfish and exploding lobsters. Is some unknown force coordinating their revolution, and if so, can a Norwegian marine biologist and his colleagues save the day? Gripping stuff, full of plausible extrapolations from real science. – Liz Jensen
Snow by Gina Inverarity
This clever retelling of Snow White takes place in a land of perpetual winter, post-climate breakdown and post-cataclysm. When Snow runs away from a hunter in the forest, she begins a lengthy and arduous journey with only a bear by her side. This is a “fairy tale for the future.”
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien
Mrs. Frisby is a widowed field mouse. And when the field in which she lives with her four children is threatened, some extraordinary rats (who can read, write, and operate machinery) come to her rescue. This science fiction book was originally published in 1971, but is still much-loved by readers aged seven to eleven
Rebel Talk by Extinction Rebellion
Responding to a call from poet Rip Bulkeley’s call, sixty-three poets contributed to the anthology Rebel Talk. As Philip Gross’s Foreword explains, the poems “…seek to show what, uniquely, these times are, and why it is once again so urgent that creative artists respond to the challenges they pose, in particular to the climate emergency.
Each poem is an individual response to this challenge: as a collection, they possess a wealth of language and imagery, by turns hard, laconic, diamond sharp, down-to-earth, tender, urgently lyrical. What are these times? Almost – not quite – too late.”
Rebel Talk is divided into six chapters, exploring themes and emotions which draw together responses to the climate emergency. The opening chapter, ‘Earth’, rejoices and grounds itself in nature’s diversity and cosmic unity. Here is a vision of a natural world which we can recognise and respect, in which we can flourish and thrive because we know what we must do to make sure we don’t damage it.
Poem of the Month
Our poetry editor has selected one of the highly commended poems, NASA Announces Plans for a Peopled Mission to Mars by Grant Clauser, from the Gingko Prize Anthology 2022/23. A link to the anthology can be found here: https://ginkgoprize.com/
The Ginkgo Prize is a major international award for ecopoetry, funded by the Edward Goldsmith Foundation and organised by the Poetry School, London.
The 2022/2023 Gingko Prize Ceremony took place recently at London’s Southbank Centre a link to a recording of that event can be found here: https://ginkgoprize.com/ginkgo-ceremony/
NASA Announces Plans for a Peopled Mission to Mars by Grant Clauser
I want to talk about how perfect
this brook trout is, not how fragile.
How cold and clear the creek
that ambles like a child running
her fingers over the smooth stones
of the mountain, not how it suffered
a century of coal mines and clear cutting.
Instead let’s look at the rust red
stripe on a salamander’s back,
its spine curving like the current
pausing around my ankles. It’s true
what smart people say — every day
something beautiful is disappearing.
Every day another piece of hope
is bleached or broken or hunted
into history. I want you to know
how hard this trout fought, leaping
dams, dodging hawk and mink,
shedding parr marks for ruby spots
like wild strawberries. Today
there’s light hanging from hemlock
branches, deer hair snagged on a thistle.
Consider the smell of pine needles
and rhododendron webbing the air,
how fine and fleeting it all is, how
the tendrils of fungus under the earth
bind it all together, one breathing
lumbering beast, one spectacular
world, by god, dying under our feet.
Contact our Librarian if you would like themed book lists to support teaching about climate change.
We’re always looking for contributors to our growing collection of literature to explain and explore the climate and biodiversity emergency. If you’re a writer or poet and would like to share your work or ideas, please get in touch! Contact email@example.com for prose or firstname.lastname@example.org for poetry.