Fiction can be a unique catalyst for change. As Richard Powers writes in The Overstory, "The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story."
Here are eight novels to change the way we think about – and act upon – the most urgent story of our times: the climate crisis. These wild, surprising and essential reads have been brought together in the beautifully designed Vintage Earth collection, a series of outstanding writing on the power and beauty of nature.
"Now a fresh tilt of the aircraft’s wings turned him into the sunlight and a view of west London and, just below the trembling engine slung beneath the wing, his improbable destination, the microscopic airport, and around it, the arterial feeds, and traffic pulsing down them like corpuscles, M4, M25, M40, the charmless designations of a hard-headed age…
"These days, whenever he came in over a big city he felt the same unease and fascination. The giant concrete wounds dressed with steel, these catheters of ceaseless traffic filing to and from the horizon – the remains of the natural world could only shrink before them. The pressure of numbers, the abundance of inventions, the blind forces of desires and needs looked unstoppable and were generating a heat, a modern kind of heat that had become, by clever shifts, his subject, his profession. The hot breath of civilisation."
"It was April, time of the leatherback migration south to Black Conch waters, time of dry season, of pouis trees exploding in the hills, yellow and pink, like bombs of sulphur, the time when the whoreish flamboyant begins to bloom. From that moment, when that red-skinned woman rose and disappeared as if to tease him, David ached to see her again. He felt a bittersweet melancholy, a soft caress to his spirit. Nothing to do with what he’d been smoking. That day, a part of him lit up, a part he’d no idea was there to light. He had felt a sharp stabbing sensation, right there in the flat part between his ribs, in his solar plexus.
"'Come back, nuh,' he said, soft soft and gentlemanlike after his mother-tears had dried and his face was tight with the salt. Something had happened. She had risen from the waves, chosen him, a humble fisherman."
"Yet reindeer forage very delicately. When they pass through a meadow, they nibble lightly so that hardly a blade of grass is harmed, and what should be green remains green. When they eat birch and willow leaves, they just take a few mouthfuls and move on, leaving the tree lush with branches and leaves…
"Reindeer were certainly bestowed on us by the Spirits, for without these creatures we would not be. Even though they once took my loved one away, I still adore reindeer. Not seeing their eyes is like not seeing the sun in the day or the stars at night – it makes you sigh from the bottom of your heart."
"When he’s thirteen, the leaves of his sister Leigh’s elm turn yellow long before autumn. Adam sees the withering first. The other kids have stopped looking. One by one, they’ve drifted out of the neighbourhood of green things into the louder, flashier party of other people.
"The disease that gets Leigh’s tree has been coming their way for decades. Back when Leonard Appich planted his first child’s tree in a fit of fifties optimism, Dutch elm had already ravaged Boston, New York, Philly and Elm City, New Haven. But those places were so far away. Science, the man figured, would soon come up with a cure.
"The fungus gutted Detroit while the kids were still small. Then Chicago, soon after. The country’s most popular street tree, vases that turned boulevards into great tunnels, was leaving this world."
"Atile’i soon discovered that there were many sorts of coloured bags all over the island. They were different from the burlap bags of Wayo Wayo in that they could hold water, though with some of them the water whooshed out as soon as you picked them up, leaving mussels, sea stars and other odds and ends high and dry. There were bags like this on Wayo Wayo, too. The elders said the white man had left them behind, but the past few years you often found them floating in the sea as well. The islanders used them to hold water, and they were more resistant than rock to the ravages of time. He pried open a few of the mussels and ate them raw. He even tried drinking some of the water inside. It had a stench, but no doubt it was fresh. Atile’i was so grateful he almost started to cry. With water he could live."
"So there I was in a wild and strange meadow in the middle of the forest and suddenly I was the owner of a cow. It was quite plain that I couldn’t leave the cow behind. It was only now that I noticed bloodstains on her mouth. She had obviously been desperately running against the wall, which was stopping her getting home to her byre and her people.
"There was no sign of those people. They must have stayed in the house when the catastrophe happened. The drawn curtains over the little windows convinced me yet again that all of this had happened in the evening."
"The anakoodu was built of bamboo and dark mossy wood, with a high tin roof that chattered when it rained. A fence split the space into his and hers, each furnished with a stuffed burlap sack and nothing else, only the ghosts of other calves who had come before them. The air sagged with their smells.
"During the day, the Gravedigger ran his trunk around the bars. He patted the ropes that bound them together. He climbed up the bamboo with his front feet, reaching his trunk through the slats. His snout closed like a fist around passing scents. Even after he grew tired of climbing, he kept tracing the knots, crisscross, crisscross. It became a thing he had to do, for buried reasons."
"Seeds were carried on the wind, too, so as the water reappeared, so did willows, reeds, meadows, gardens, flowers and some reason for living.
"But the change came about so slowly, people got used to it and took it for granted. Hunters coming up into lonely places after hares and wild boar had noticed lots of young saplings, but they put it down to the whim of nature. That was why no-one interfered with what the shepherd had done. If they’d suspected what he was up to they’d have tried to stop him. But no-one did suspect it. How could anyone, whether in the villages or in government offices, have imagined such perseverance, such magnificent generosity?"
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