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Water Cooler: Environmental reads for smoke season

Aug. 2, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 3, 2021 at 10:30 a.m.

Fire season in the Inland Northwest doesn’t seem to be cooling down anytime soon. Pick up a book that discusses environmental concerns and expand your knowledge on the topic. Both fiction and nonfiction offer great selections.  (Pixabay)
Fire season in the Inland Northwest doesn’t seem to be cooling down anytime soon. Pick up a book that discusses environmental concerns and expand your knowledge on the topic. Both fiction and nonfiction offer great selections. (Pixabay)

Smoky skies aren’t very inspiring for summer beach reads, but for better or worse, it does set the tone for environmental literature that speaks to our love for nature. Here is a mix of titles you can check out from adventurous and reflective nature writing, to imaginative environmental fiction, as well as some non-fiction for those wanting to take a deeper dive.


“Oryx and Crake,” by Margaret Atwood – A love story meets a fascinating and terrifying imagining of the future. Snowman might be the last human on earth, but he continues the struggle to find others. He once went by Jimmy, before humanity succumbed to widespread plague. He travels through great cities now overgrown with wilderness alongside the green-eyed Children of Crake in search of answers.

“Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia E. Butler – Lauren Olamina lives with her family on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It is one of the only safe places to live after water shortages, the proliferation of drugs, war, and disease ravaged the surrounding areas. Lauren’s family does their best to help others, but Lauren struggles with her hyperempathy which makes her especially sensitive to the pain of those around her.

“White Noise,” by Don DeLillo – Jack Gladney lives a middle-class life in Middle America. He teaches college and does his best to live a good family life with his fourth wife against the backdrop of brand-name consumerism. The humdrum of life comes to an abrupt halt with the arrival of an “airborne toxic event.”

“The Highest Tide,” by Jim Lynch – Adventure seeking teen, Miles O’Malley, sneaks out one night to explore the tidal flats of the Puget Sound and to his surprise, discovers a rare giant squid. His discovery makes him an instant public sensation, but his newfound celebrity starts to take him away from his childhood and the things he loves.

“The Word for World is Forest,” by Ursula K. Le Guin – Interstellar travel brings Terrans to a world populated by green-furred inhabitants whose culture is centered on lucid dreaming. The Terrans set up a logging colony and their greed begins to disrupt the native ancient society.


“Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” by Annie Dillard – An exploration of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains filled with contemplations on nature and life alongside scientific observations of the local fauna and flora. Dillard reflects on the mystery, violence, beauty and death found in the natural world.

“Under the Sea Wind,” by Rachel Carson – A celebration of the beauty and mystery of sea birds and other sea creatures, with emphasis on the magic of the sea’s seemingly limitless discoveries. Considered a definitive work of American nature writing, Carson writes of the delicate interactions between sea organisms and their environment by personifying each organism’s perspective.

“Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout,” by Philip Connors – After leaving a career in journalism as the editor at the Wall Street Journal, Philip Connors chose to work at one of America’s last fire lookouts in a remote area of New Mexico. This book is the result of half a year spent in the lookout taking field notes of an area that is off limits to industrial machines and on average gets hit by more than 30,000 lightning strikes a year. With only his dog Alice to keep him company, Connors reflects on nature and humankind’s place in it.

“Biophilia,” by Edward O. Wilson – A biologist reflects on the natural systems of the world and civilizations attempts to control it. Although it laments the loss of biodiversity and other damaging changes to the natural world, Wilson offers up surprising bits of optimism about nature’s resilience..

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