As you doomscroll through your phone, it’s tempting, likely even, to believe that the world as we know it is coming to an end. The world refugee population is growing exponentially, bounty hunts are underway in Texas, streets are flooding, the earth is shaking, and a virus continues to ravage the world’s population. Those in power horde vaccines, write think pieces on the ownership of bodies they’ve never piloted, and shove their hands deep into their pockets sadly musing aloud that nothing can be done. This may be the end times or these may simply be dark times but either way, here’s some reading recommendations for when you’re able to put your phone and your posters down and find some relief.
If you’re worried about climate change
You should read Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
The oceans have emptied of fish and the rest of the world’s wildlife is following quickly. Franny Stone, an exiled researcher incapable of staying still arrives in Greenland to follow Earth’s last Artic terns on their migration to Antarctica. As Franny journeys south, she must reckon with her past alongside humanity’s and ultimately answer: what is she willing to lose to find healing? McConaghy’s novel is everything at once: masterful suspense, critical literature, devastating cli-fi, feminist manifesto. Migrations is so evocative and freeing, we are left to wonder if it is still art or simply a reflection of our inner (and sometimes outer) lives, a piece of that devastating but realistic hope we carry with us.
If you’re upset about the recent Texas legislation
You should read Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Abortion is illegal and five women in a small Oregon town wrestle with what that means for their lives. There’s Ro, who’s trying to get pregnant and writing a biography of a polar explorer, Eivør who is a polar explorer, Susan whose life is falling apart, pregnant teen Mattie, and Gin the mender who just might be a witch. Zumas’ book has often been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale which is equally fair and unfair. It’s a book about abortion as much as it a book about whales. It’s a story about justice and motherhood, how we fall in love and what happens when we find our family. Even as we feel hopeless we are reminded that blood is still in our veins and communities are built on the backs of individuals strung together.
If you’re consumed by the refugee crisis
You should read The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Part memoir about fleeing the Vietnam war, part reflection on parenthood, Bui’s graphic memoir tells the story of her family’s escape from Vietnam in the 1970’s, her journey into motherhood, and the history of her people. Some distance from current contexts may be a good change of pace while still maintaining a grasp on the refugee crisis and how it feels to be displaced. To be home but not home.
If you’re frustrated with the government
You should read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Even in the midst of the world’s most reclusive and oppressive regime, there is also love. Demick’s landmark book tours North Korea in its most turbulent time through the eyes of six defectors, former ordinary North Koreans. Some are devout supporters of the regime during their time in the DPRK, others had been hostile, if submissive, to the regime. Two are secret lovers, one is a mother trying desperately to hold her family together, another is a doctor fighting between ethics and safety. Each has a unique vantage point and fight for survival. A remarkable achievement in every sense of the phrase, Demick’s non-fiction account will have you hooked. Completely accessible to the reader terrified of reading something true, Nothing to Envy‘s characters bleed with nuance and accountability, revealing that even the thing we are most sure about may not be entirely true.
If you’re wondering if the apocalypse will have snacks
You should read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Told in the days shortly before, and the years after, a pandemic wipes out most of earth’s inhabitants, Emily St. John Mandel primarily follows a theater caravan that wanders the wasteland performing Shakespeare for villages. As their world begins to change, we have to wonder if art can really save us all or if we’re doomed to become shells by the wastelands we inhabit. Partly post-apocalyptic fiction, but mostly a love letter to humanity and all that we produce, Station Eleven structures itself as a book you can read again and again, always finding something new to sink your teeth into.
If you’re having a general unease about death
You should read From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, everyone’s favorite mortician, travels around the United States, and the world, in search of the good death. Majority culture America’s nervous avoidance of death and aging is an outlier to the rest of the world. Doughty’s travelogue documents death practices and perspectives from a variety of non-Western cultures, peeling back the fear and appreciating the beauty of the Great Beyond and what’s left of us when we leave. Artist Landis Blair offers striking illustrations and the people Doughty meets remind us we might just be okay, even if it doesn’t feel like we could be.
If you’re trying to care about the world but your personal life is in shambles and you don’t know what to do
You should read The Autumn Balloon by Kenny Porpora
Addiction has ravaged Porpora’s family. He knows this as he watches his mom write messages on balloons above Long Island. As she turns more and more to the bottle, the family loses their house and is forced into exile in the Arizona desert. Full of drug addicts and devastation, Porpora is finally able to escape into the walls of the academy. A mix of humor and sorrow, resilience and suffering, The Autumn Balloon is the book that has made me sob the loudest and feel the most whole.
If you’re trying to care about the world but you just can’t get out of bed
You should read The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Petersen
Written for young readers but dark enough for all of us, The Wingfeather Saga books follow The Igiby children – Janner, Tink, and Leeli – as darkness threatens to take over their homeland. The four-book saga follows the children on an adventure as they learn who they really are, what they are capable of, and how to save the world. Beautifully written with monsters that will terrify you, The Wingfeather Saga proves we are all children at heart and all capable of surviving that which tries to kill us.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Goodreads.
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