My readers told me in December’s survey that they want suggestions of good books to read, both fiction and nonfiction. Today’s post does that. Both books that I’m reviewing today share a theme of coping with change, i.e. a world that is warming.
I read books to get deliciously lost in worlds and lives different from my own. I also read books to get down-to-earth advice on the exact world and life that I am living in. The two books I’m recommending today do both these things. The first is Flight Behavior, the new novel by Barbara Kingsolver. The other is Making Home, a nonfiction book by Sharon Astyk (the full title is Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives To Settle In Place).
Sharon Astyk writes like a friend sitting across your kitchen table, giving animated advice as you sip hot mugs of coffee. The great thing is that she’s listening to you, too, i.e. she knows that good advice depends on your particular situation. Live in a city? The suburbs? A rural area? Her body of thought navigates nimbly as a cat, landing on its feet to include everyone. Making Home is about adapting in place, being as self-sufficient as possible right where we currently live. She turns upside down our core assumption in the U.S. that we can always move somewhere else, where things will be easier. Ms. Astyk is a fun-loving, multi-skilled optimist who is also keenly aware that we (and those we love) are vulnerable to peak oil, climate change, extreme weather, possible job loss and home loss. Her message is about resiliency: how we can live and even thrive with our declining resource base. She writes about everything from growing food in bad soil, to getting along with extended family in very cramped quarters, to washing clothes without a machine, to caring for the elderly and disabled children (her oldest is autistic), to working a family farm with a Ford Taurus as the only vehicle her family owns. Ms. Astick is holistic, loving and ruthlessly practical. My recent post on staying warm in winter was inspired by Making Home’s chapter on staying warm and cool in cold and hot weather. , She assumes that fossil fuels or infrastructure will eventually fail, temporarily or not so temporarily. Ms. Astick is all about maximum creativity and resourcefulness, and getting ahead of the curve. Relevant, ultimately, to pretty much everyone on earth.
Cut to Flight Behavior. We are in rural Tennessee. Dellarobia is a restless mother of two on a small sheep farm, a woman who is both smart and poor, which reminds me of a year or two in my own life (like, the 80’s and 90’s). She resembles the heroine of the great memoir Wild in that she is in her 20’s, orphaned, and battling a sense of quiet desperation. Dellarobia discovers that her mountain has suddenly become home to millions of monarch butterflies that normally overwinter on a mountain in Mexico. Why are these beautiful, fragile creatures migrating to Appalachia? She learns from a handsome, warm-hearted scientist who arrives on her property to study the butterflies that the answer is climate change. And how can Dellarobia grow beyond the confines of poverty and a stunted education? It turns out that climate change triggers her own change and growth: her lifelong struggle with impatience calms and gets channeled as she enters the world of biology. This heroine’s relationship with her best friend Dovey is priceless, and her relationship with her mentor piercingly true to life. I’m overjoyed to find a novel that addresses climate change, social class issues, science, religion and the crucial, failing role of the media — all with so much wit and humor that I constantly burst out laughing as I flew through Flight Behavior.
Like Kristin Kimball’s lively, funny memoir The Dirty Life, these two books depict rural life accurately, neither romanticizing it, nor failing to show its integrity and beauty. Let me offer an insight here on the urban-rural divide, that mental, often political enmity that’s been going on a long time between city folk and rural folk. Each of us has the power to dissolve that divide, no matter where we live, by being respectful of those who live where we don’t. Reading thoughtful books like these two I’m recommending help cultivate that respect.
As an aside, I am amazed by how many books Ms. Kingsolver and Ms. Astyk have each written, given that they both also run small farms and raise children. I recently completed my own first book, a novel called Revelle (which is finally now available on Amazon, thank you, Jesus). Books are so hard and time-consuming to write that I’m thinking these two women could next pen bestsellers on time management and thriving on five hours of sleep per night. (You can tell I envy their brilliance and productivity.)
Both Making Home and Flight Behavior are about dealing with a world that’s changing fast as our climate is warming. That would be the world we are all living in. Ms. Astyk and Ms. Kingsolver masterfully show us we can keep our joy and our humor as we learn new skills, and change in response to our warming world.