GRACE NOTES - APRIL 2024

This Earth Month, we’ll revisit some classic and current cli-fi. Some of these novels were published decades ago, when the climate emergency that we find ourselves in today was every bit as urgent, but more manageable. The Cassandra cry of these books has, to a great extent, fallen on the deaf ears of those with real power to address climate change - corporations and politicians. While we as individuals can contribute in small ways - recycling, eating less meat, putting pressure on our elected representatives, donating to environmental non-profits, voting - the real change must come from those who hold the reins of power. What is needed now is political and corporate will. The science is in. Now is the time for action.

Published in 1993, Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian classic The Parable of the Sower imagines a future (2024-2027) in which society has broken down due to the ravages of a warming planet. While the direst of her predictions were somewhat premature, all signs point to the probability of fiction becoming reality. Her characters experience food and water shortages, droughts and wildfires, tribalism and police brutality. Sound familiar? Coastal cities are being submerged, refugees flock to higher ground, workers are exploited, and the rich get the lion’s share of social services.

Told from the perspective of Lauren, a smart, idealistic, tough-as-nails teenager, the book is an edge-of-your-seat story of survival in violent times. It is also a commentary on how community and found family are often what get humans through intense hardship. When the book opens, Lauren and her family are living in a community that has walled itself off from the chaos and violence that exist outside. Lauren’s birth mother was a drug addict who passed down to her a condition called hyperempathy. She physically experiences the pain and anguish of those around her. This condition serves as more curse than blessing throughout the course of the novel.

Lauren’s father is a preacher, and though Lauren has to a great extent rejected her father’s religion, she develops her own faith, Earthseed. The main tenet of the religion is that God is change, and “exists to be shaped” by believers. She clings to the questionable belief that the salvation of humans exists beyond our planet.

When their walled community is breached by violent scavengers, Lauren loses her family and is forced to flee north in search of safety and sustenance. The second half of the book relates her harrowing story of survival in a parched, lawless land. Along the way she cautiously gathers traveling companions, vetting each to make sure that they are trustworthy and able to withstand the journey. She continues to hone the principles of Earthseed, and convinces some of her followers to embrace its nebulous, embryonic dogma. Though the way is difficult, with violence and starvation dogging the travelers’ every step, Lauren manages to find love. Bankole, a man who has lost his family as well, is Lauren’s equal in every way - sturdy and resourceful. Though he, along with others in the group, casts a side-eye at Earthseed, he accepts and loves Lauren even with the baggage of her religious zealotry and fledgling Messiah complex. Their story continues in The Parable of the Talents, a book that is every bit as prescient as this one (including the use of a certain catchphrase used by an authoritarian U.S. President. You know the one.)

Butler eschews florid prose in favor of a tight, sinewy style that allows her character development and plotting to propel the narrative irresistibly forward. Parable of the Sower laid the groundwork for much of the dystopian fiction that followed from the 1990’s to the present. Anyone who has read The Road cannot deny the debt that Cormac McCarthy owes to Butler for her grueling descriptions of a post-apocalyptic America. This important work should have a place on the shelf of anyone who cares about the future of humanity.

 

Many authors of fiction have imagined a world ravaged by the effects of climate change and the lives of the people who fight against it. Here is a brief list, not comprehensive by any stretch, of great fiction to get you thinking, and better yet, acting.

The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

Nobody does dystopia like Atwood. This trilogy about the fall and rise and fall of civilizations and the havoc that humans wreak on their environment is a monumental achievement.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Set in the seemingly idyllic environs of New Zealand, this is a tragic story of how idealism can be too easily coopted. The tension in the narrative is a slow simmer that escalates to a screeching boil in the last few pages. Birnam Wood is an intelligently rendered page-turner, as relevant as today’s headlines.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

A pregnant Ojibwe woman tries to return to her birth family in a time of war, environmental breakdown, and religious tyranny. A chilling tale of devolution, the perils of religious extremism,  and the oppression of women.

The Deluge by Stephen Markley

Stephen Markley’s epic stands out as an impassioned call to action and a warning signal for what we can expect if we ignore that call. Markley eschews the speculative cli-fi dystopia of much modern science fiction for hard realism. The politics of the United States and the state of the world in the very near future that he depicts are plausible to point of feeling inevitable.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic survival story is a monument to parental love. Bleak and intense, it plumbs the depths of human desperation, yet manages to leave the reader with the slenderest hope of redemption.

Weather by Jenny Offill

Offill’s characteristic spare prose and dry humor make this book a compelling read. Lizzie is trying to cope with the everyday drama of her crumbling family while her fears of impending environmental doom knock her even further off-balance.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This stunning novel is a deep dive into the life of a single tree and its impact on the lives of a disparate group of individuals. The multiple viewpoints add not just color, but a sense of empathy.

 

April is National Poetry Month. So many great collections of poetry have come out in the past year! Here are a few mentioned in previous posts that I’d like to re-recommend -

You: Poems by Rosa Alcalá

This collection of prose poems is blunt and direct, yet pulls irresistibly at the reader’s heart. Each poem is written in second person, adding an immediacy to the words. Alcalá tells women’s stories with righteous anger and uncompromising passion, not shying away from baring the battle scars that come with being a Latina in America.

Freedom House by K B Brookins

This visceral collection of poems casts a stark light on what is is to be black and trans in America. Brookins’ writing is formally eclectic and at times experimental (e.g., a poem written in the form of a CV, and one in the form on an order to a certain large online retailer), but it is always direct and accessible. They write with a frank, bruising ferocity, yet their resilient heart and compassionate voice radiate on the pages.

The Palace of Forty Pillars by Armen Davoudian

Armenian poet Davoudian’s collection is an intimate self-portrait. Using traditional rhyme schemes and forms, he portrays the pain and joy of being a gay man, an immigrant, a son, and a citizen of the world, and does it all with a light, graceful touch. An elegant debut.

[...]: Poems by Fady Joudah

Raw as the open wound that is Palestine today, Joudah's collection challenges us to face the oppression and injustice that his people are living and dying through on a daily basis. His anger simmers just under the surface but his grief is tactile, as he delicately unwraps and reveals the human toll of intolerance. This devastating collection could not be more relevant or important.

The Kingdom of Surfaces by Sally Wen Mao

Poet Sally Wen Mao uses the materials that have characterized Asian art through the centuries, such as silk, porcelain, and pearls, and uses them to build metaphors for the racism and misogyny that have beset Asian women through the years. Addressing subjects such as the sex slavery in 19th-century America to the killing of Asian-American women as scapegoats for Covid, her poems are at once livid and lyrical. She pulls no punches in her cries against violence and appropriation, yet her work contains a weary elegance and musicality.

Mental Fight by Ben Okri

Booker Prize winner Okri has written en epic poem on the most crucial topics facing humanity - racism, hatred, and environmental destruction. He reaches back into ancient history  and forward into the distant future to give context to his sweeping, disquieting words. While this might sound like a daunting read, it all leads up to the gleaming ray of hope that is the final poem, in which he stitches together book titles to form a path forward for humanity.

The Blue Mimes: Poems by Sarah Daniele Rivera

This striking debut is a study of landscapes - physical, emotional, political - and how they play on the human soul. Rivera is of Cuban and Peruvian descent, and she seamlessly weaves together Spanish and English in an expansive study of how the personal and the political are inextricably entwined. 

Modern Poetry by Diane Seuss

Pulitzer Prize winner Seuss is back with a finely-honed new collection. Though she uses traditional forms, her observations are anything but the stuff of musty relics. Wry, wise, and rich with pathos and irony, these works cast a shrewd side-eye at the modern condition.

 

And a few samples to whet your appetite for Poetry Month - 

a dream or a fox    

               after Lucille Clifton

plane landing in Berlin, i saw a fox

           on the tarmac

 

beneath the wind, the fuselage,

          its eyes barbed like concertina

 

wire, was it a dream i do not know

            and dangerously, i took

it as a sign my ache would end.

 

          it didn’t, but that’s

okay, what we would all give

for moments like that: pure hope

 

materializing on the bodies

           of animals we’ve seen lurching

in those places they don’t belong,

 

how they refuse to recede,

           how they hold on,

proving every human wrong.

                          ~ Sally Wen Moa

 

Spring Loves   

the boldness of coldness, the diamond

 

edge of rimy

moons, mushrooms

 

sleeping in their rooted

tombs, the night

 

blizzard that flaps

like a voluminous black

 

bedazzled

blazer in early March.

 

Spring hates:

to be the one to break

 

the news, rousing

bluebells

 

wearing green

house shoes.

                    ~Diane Seuss

 

 

Poeticus Eficacciae

You can judge

the moral fiber of a political regime,

a political institution

or a political man,

by the degree of danger they consent to

by way of being observed

through the eyes of a satirical poet.

                        ~Roque Dalton (from Historias y poemas de una lucha de clases/Stories and Poems of a Class Struggle)

 

Who’s getting excited about the eclipse? I’m getting excited about the eclipse!!! Let’s hope for a sunny April 8 so we can witness this historic event. But be safe! We have CE certified eclipse glasses at the store if you haven’t picked yours up yet. ($2 per pair, limit 10 to a customer.)

In the meantime, here are some books for readers of all ages to get you in the know about what we’re about to see -

A Few Beautiful Minutes: Experiencing a Solar Eclipse by Kate Allen Fox, illustrated by Khoa Le

This beautiful picture book features poetic language and rich illustrations to tell the story of how the eclipse affects humans and animals, bringing all of nature together under a darkened sky.

American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron

Baron writes a compelling history of eclipses throughout the ages. An exhaustively researched, absorbing read.

Totality: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024 by Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak

With its eye to the upcoming eclipse, this book is packed with information, maps, photographs, and illustrations. From the mythology that has surrounded eclipses over the centuries to what to look for on April 8, this book has everything you need to know.

Eclipse: Our Sky’s Most Dazzling Phenomenon by Kelsey Oseid

This appealing little book is an all-ages delight - packed with facts and charming, informative illustrations.

What is a Solar Eclipse? by Dana Meachen Rau

This installment in the What Is? series for young readers maintains the series’ excellent blend of educational rigor and breezy, accessible writing.

 

Great reads are popping up like May flowers next month! Here are a few previews - 

All Fours by Miranda July

July’s protagonist, an artist of moderate acclaim, is teetering on the edge of menopause. She embarks on a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York, leaving her husband and young child behind. But a few miles from home, she spontaneously checks into a motel and sets out to reinvent her life. In an effort to stave off irrelevance, she explores the boundaries of sex, friendship, and family and pushes them up to the breaking point. Audacious, funny, sexy, and oddly touching, All Fours is a portrait of a woman at a crossroads.  Q: Which route does she take?  A: All of them.

The Education of Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley

This book is a follow-up to Pugsley’s his debut, Aubrey McKee, but can be read as a stand-alone. In this one, we find Aubrey in Toronto in the early 1990’s, where he is swept up in the world of literary strivers. He falls in love with Gudrun, a brilliant but troubled poet whose chaotic existence threatens to absorb his own. They and their friends bounce around the city from bars to bookstores to literary events, living on the razor-edge of the written word. The dialogue is snappy and quippy, the characters sharply etched, and the city of Toronto, on the cusp of gentrification, has never been portrayed with more Bohemian gleam. Breezy yet literate, it’s a smart, crisp read  about the messiness of love.

The Story Game by Shze-Hui Tjoa

Tjoa reinvents the memoir in this brave, original work. She tells her story as an invented series of conversations with her younger sister, who serves as her conscience as she struggles to reveal the truth of her troubled past. The conversations take place in an imagined room, which may or may not be a safe space. The layers of her story unfold like a paper fortune-teller, each flap revealing more details, gradually bringing her life into sharp, startling focus. The Story Game is fearless, devastating, and utterly original.

 

For further reading - 

Eclipses have been plot points in fiction over the centuries. Click here for some recommendations.

Anyone who has read Annie Dillard knows of her exquisite skills as a nature writer. Click here to read her account of an eclipse that took place in 1979.

Click here to hear celebrities such as James Franco, Jeremy Irons, and Tamsin Greig read poems about climate change

Fady Joudah's revelatory collection [...] îs one of my favorite books of poetry published in the past few months. Click here to read about how the war in Gaza impacted his writing

 

Books: 
Parable of the Sower By Octavia E. Butler Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781538732182
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Grand Central Publishing - April 30th, 2019

MADDADDAM TRILOGY BOX: Oryx & Crake; The Year of the Flood; Maddaddam (The MaddAddam Trilogy) By Margaret Atwood Cover Image
$50.90
ISBN: 9780804172318
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Anchor - August 12th, 2014

Birnam Wood: A Novel By Eleanor Catton Cover Image
$19.00
ISBN: 9781250321718
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - March 5th, 2024

Future Home of the Living God: A Novel By Louise Erdrich Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780062694065
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper Perennial - November 13th, 2018

The Deluge By Stephen Markley Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9781982123109
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - November 7th, 2023

The Road: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Vintage International) By Cormac McCarthy Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780307387899
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 28th, 2007

Weather (Vintage Contemporaries) By Jenny Offill Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780345806901
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - January 19th, 2021

The Overstory: A Novel By Richard Powers Cover Image
$18.95
Email or call for price.
ISBN: 9780393356687
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 2nd, 2019

You By Rosa Alcalá Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781566897013
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Coffee House Press - April 9th, 2024

Freedom House By Kb Brookins Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781646052639
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing - June 6th, 2023

The Palace of Forty Pillars By Armen Davoudian Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781959030362
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Tin House Books - March 19th, 2024

[...]: Poems By Fady Joudah Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781639551286
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Milkweed Editions - March 5th, 2024

The Kingdom of Surfaces: Poems By Sally Wen Mao Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781644452370
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - August 1st, 2023

Mental Fight: An Epic Poem By Ben Okri Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9781635422900
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Other Press - October 10th, 2023

The Blue Mimes: Poems By Sara Daniele Rivera Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781644452790
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - April 2nd, 2024

Modern Poetry: Poems By Diane Seuss Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781644452752
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - March 5th, 2024

A Few Beautiful Minutes: Experiencing a Solar Eclipse By Kate Allen Fox, Khoa Le (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Kate Allen Fox, Khoa Le (Illustrator)
$18.99
Email or call for price.
ISBN: 9780316416924
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - September 26th, 2023

American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World By David Baron Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781324094692
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Liveright - February 13th, 2024

Totality: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024 By Mark Littmann, Fred Espenak Cover Image
$18.95
Email or call for price.
ISBN: 9780198879084
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - October 19th, 2023

Eclipse: Our Sky's Most Dazzling Phenomenon By Kelsey Oseid Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9781984859464
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ten Speed Press - February 6th, 2024

What Is a Solar Eclipse? (Who HQ Now) By Dana Meachen Rau, Who HQ, Gregory Copeland (Illustrator) Cover Image
$5.99
ISBN: 9780593660911
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Workshop - February 6th, 2024

Pre-Order Now Badge
All Fours: A Novel By Miranda July Cover Image
$29.00
ISBN: 9780593190265
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Riverhead Books - May 14th, 2024

Pre-Order Now Badge
The Education of Aubrey McKee By Alex Pugsley Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781771965835
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Biblioasis - May 7th, 2024

Pre-Order Now Badge
The Story Game By Shze-Hui Tjoa Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781959030751
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Tin House Books - May 21st, 2024