A New Digital Book Club Explores the Beauty and Fragility of Our Planet
In 2018, when writer Amitav Ghosh appeared at the Brooklyn Public Library to discuss his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Joel Whitney, who manages arts and culture programs at the institution, took note. “I was surprised by Amitav’s main idea: that contemporary fiction has a hard time dealing with climate change,” he says. The Climate Reads book club, a yearlong digital initiative launched by Whitney’s department and the advocacy group Writers Rebel NYC earlier this fall, suggests otherwise, with climate-focused fiction titles including Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel, and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk on its roster. The club plans to tackle a handful of nonfiction books, too, such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, and Why We Swim—the focus of next month’s meeting—by swimmer and surfer Bonnie Tsui.
Anyone in the world can join the group, which convenes monthly over Zoom, to discuss a different book in a conversation moderated by scientists, professors, and other climate-justice figures (participants can download a reading guide ahead of each gathering). Librarian Karie Schulenburg, one of the minds behind the club, points to Parable of the Sower, a 1993 sci-fi novel written by Octavia E. Butler that kicked off the series, as the title from the lineup that struck her most so far. “It’s such an accurate portrayal of our country today,” she says. “One can’t help but wonder if Octavia was a real prophet.” It’s books like this, Schulenburg continues, that make Climate Reads a “critical contribution to our nation’s collective effort to understand climate change, fall in love with our environment, and do what it takes to protect our planet.”