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by Tina Chesterman
Most nature and environment books are written by and about men. White men at that. This is no surprise considering the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white and run by men. To resist this, members of the publishing, book-selling, library, blogging, and other book-adjacent communities have been working to diversify their fields, promote works by women authors, and elevate BIPOC voices.
There are a number of celebrated environmental works written by women. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is perhaps the definitive environmental science book, credited with helping spark the environmental movement through an exploration of the effects of pesticides on the environment. In a different but similar vein, Barbara Kingsolver is praised as a contemporary novelist who often centers environmental themes in her works. I don’t think anyone needs to hear yet again to go read Silent Spring or pick up Flight Behavior.
The following list is meant to highlight new environmental books, both fiction and nonfiction, written by women in recent years. These books explore the urgency of the climate crisis, the intersections of environmental and social activism, and the complex relationship between environment, place, and self. Perhaps together they are proof of successful efforts to promote and amplify environmental books by women.
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (August 11, 2020)
A mother-daughter story set in a perhaps not-so-distant future devastated by climate change and overpopulation. The story follows Bea Day on her journey to save her daughter, Agnes, from wasting away from the effects of air pollution. Together they join a self-sustaining community in the Wilderness State, the last true wilderness, where they must learn to live off the land as nomads. This is a dark, suspenseful, eco-thriller about survival, relationships, and our complicated connection with nature.
Cook is a celebrated short story writer, but this is her debut novel. It has been longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.
Tags: Fiction, Adult, Science Fiction, Eco-thriller, Post Apocalyptic, Survival, Climate Change, Environment
Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan’s Mountains & Coasts in Search of My Family’s Past by Jessica J. Lee (July 28, 2020)
In her memoir, author Jessica J. Lee sets out to trace her family’s history from Taiwan to Canada. While doing so, Lee explores the geographical and political landscape of Taiwan, reflecting on this history and the natural world around her.
This is a compelling story about relationships and belonging that is both personal narrative, nature book, and historical introduction to Taiwan.
Two Trees Make a Forest is praised by readers as an important, anti-colonial reclamation of travel and nature writing.
Tags: Nonfiction, Memoir, Asian Literature, Travel, Nature, Environment
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler (August 4, 2020)
An eco-thriller, dark comedy, and social commentary on climate change, feminism, and society’s fascination with disaster. This story follows a young professional named Yona, who while working at a travel company specializing in vacations to destinations devastated by climate change, is victim to workplace sexual assault. To silence her, Yona’s boss offers her a trip to one of their disaster zone destinations. There, Yona must grapple with the consequences that her industry has on the people and land they exploit, and herself.
Written by award-winning Korean author Yun Ko-eun and translated by Lizzie Buehler, The Disaster Tourist is a fantastic new read to celebrate women authors in translation. With August’s Women in Translation month wrapping up, it’s important to continue to celebrate and promote books written by women in non-English languages.
Tags: Fiction, Adult, Eco-thriller, Science Fiction, Climate Change, Feminism, Women-in-translation
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (September 1, 2017)
A young adult novel set against the backdrop of a future world ravaged by climate change where people have lost the ability to dream–only North America’s Indigenous people are immune. The root of their immunity lies in their bone marrow, which holds the cure to the widespread madness caused by dreamlessness. The story follows a First Nations boy named Frenchie and his group of companions who must fight to avoid capture and ultimately death by the recruiters who want their bone marrow. This is a cautionary tale of the consequences of climate change and a commentary on the historical and continued colonial exploitation of Indigenous peoples.
Cherie Dimaline is an author from Georgian Bay Métis community in Ontario. She is a champion of Indigneous writing and the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library.
Tags: Young Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction, Indigenous, Post Apocalyptic, Environment
Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It by Jamie Margolin (June 2, 2020)
Written by climate justice activist and Zero Hour founder, Jamie Margolin, this guide empowers young people with the skills and organizing knowledge to create meaningful change. In this essential guide, Margolin shares her experience and expertise as a youth activist while also featuring the work of other prominent young activists.
In recent years, young people around the world have been mobilizing in massive numbers to demand government action on climate change. Through this book, Margolin uses her platform to continue to encourage young people to have the confidence to be change makers. It is a deeply relevant and empowering read.
Tags: Nonfiction, Social Justice, Activism, Climate Change, Environment
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Oct. 15, 2013)
The long title of this work says it all: This is a book about Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the notion that plants and animals are profound and generous teachers and have something profound and generous to teach us. This is a book about understanding the earth and our relationship to it. Kimmerer’s powerful hold of language and poetic meditations on nature have placed this book among the most lauded nature writing of the 21st century.
Kimmerer is a plant ecologist and professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a fierce advocate of Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
Tags: Nonfiction, Science, Indigenous, Philosophy, Natural History, Environment
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy (November 10, 2015)
This book is part memoir, part social history. In Trace, educator and Earth historian Lauret Savoy traces her family history through the history of American land and an examines our understanding of “place” in relation to race and our collective memory.
Savoy is a celebrated thinker and writer. She teaches environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Her work “explores the stories we tell of the American land’s origins.” Savoy’s perspective on place, race, and memory, as a woman of African American, Euro-American, and Native American heritage, is distinct and invaluable.
Tags: Nonfiction, Memoir, History, Social Justice, Race, Environment
Tina is completing her Masters in Library and Information Science at the Pratt Institute and holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from McGill University. When not reading or eating, she can be found bothering people with Oyster facts. You can find her talking about books on Instagram @bookoyster.
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