Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Five Novels For Environmentalists

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

You’ve read your Rachel Carson and your Amory Lovins, even your Paul Hawken, William McDonough, and Ray Anderson. But where do you turn when simply want a good yarn about environmental issues? Here are five suggestions:

1) Want Not, by Jonathan Miles — Greed leads to waste in this sobering, funny, and clever conscience-kick of a contemporary novel just published in November (it also happens to be one of my favorite novels of 2013). Miles strings together three separate story lines, each about how rampant consumerism and its resulting greed is leading to no less than the decline of civilization. The stories and these characters, though, are much more down-to-earth, and they converge at the end in absolutely shocking fashion.

2) Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn — Do you want to be inspired? Read this novel! It’s essentially a conversation between a boy and a talking gorilla named Ishmael, which sounds weird, but for me, and for many others, reading this book was nothing short of a revelation; a book that quite literally can change your life. The point, or the question this novel asks us to consider: What if we are made for the Earth, and not the Earth made for us? The novel posits that it’s the ultimate arrogance to assume that evolution has concluded with humankind. And therefore, we’re poisoning the well (in a very real sense) for whatever it is to come next.

3) Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver — A huge swarm of beautiful Monarch butterflies alights upon a small rural town in eastern Tennessee, their migration pattern disrupted by climate change. As scientists and media descend up on the small town, it becomes ground zero for the debate on not just whether climate change is happening, but also how this issue is reported and discussed in the media. But this is also a deeply human story about what it takes to challenge long-held beliefs. Our main character, a poor woman named Dellarobia is a strong, determined woman, and it’s her story that makes this novel compulsively readable. (See also: Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.)

4) When the Killing’s Done, by T.C. Boyle — Environmentalists take on animal rights activists in this modern tale of competing interests and debate over whether there really is a “moral high ground.” An invasive species (rats) are killing the wildlife on an island off the coast of California, and idealistic young biologist named Alma wants to rid the island of the rats so it can return to its natural state. But a dreadlocked dude named Dave wants to save the rats, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Things get predictably messy. But it’s a fun read that asks readers to really examine their own opinions when two normally complementary issues are at odds.

5) The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam), by Margaret Atwood — Environmental ruin (and lots else, too) results from corporate greed in Atwood’s harrowing dystopian trilogy.

And here are two books to antagonize environmentalists: State of Fear, by Michael Crichton, is essentially the Bible for the climate change skeptic. In this thriller, an “eco-terrorist” organization tries to rig weather events to show the world how “real” climate change is. Solar, by Ian McEwan, is a satire that shows how some have taken to environmentalism with near religious zeal.

What are you favorite works of fiction about the environment?


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