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Looking for a new ecolit book to read? Here are 20 from which to choose…

I’m happy to be participating on a unique promotion, organized by Margi Prideaux, that showcases 20 environmentally themed eBooks on Instafreebie.

And, yes, these book are free to download. All you have to do is sign up for the author’s email list.

To see the full list of books, click here.

The promotion goes from today until June 15th.

And I think I speak for all authors by saying that if you enjoy the book we welcome your reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. These reviews really do matter — and not just to our egos.

 

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ASLE announces 2017 book award finalists

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment has announced the finalists for their bi-annual book awards. The ASLE book awards “in the areas of ecocriticism and environmental creative writing recognize excellence in the field.”

 

Creative Award Finalists

The judges were Emily McGiffin, the winner of the ASLE Creative Writing Award in 2015, who lives in Vancouver, BC; Rich King, a finalist for the 2015 Creative Writing Award, a research associate with The Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport; and Tom Hallock, who teaches in the Visual & Verbal Arts Department at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

Branch, Michael P.  Raising Wild:  Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness.  Boulder:  Roost, 2016.

“A beautifully-written collection of essays that splices memoir with natural history as it carries us deep into the unsung terrain of domesticity in the wilderness. Michael Branch is keenly observant and unfailingly witty as he schools us in the natural wonders of his home.”

 

 

Hanson, Chad.  This Human Shape.  Northfield, MN:  Red Dragonfly, 2016.

“A beautifully-written collection of essays that splices memoir with natural history as it carries us deep into the unsung terrain of domesticity in the wilderness. Michael Branch is keenly observant and unfailingly witty as he schools us in the natural wonders of his home.”

 

 

Moore, Kathleen Dean.  Piano Tide:  A Novel.  Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2016

“A beautiful, unique, and suspenseful novel. Kathleen Dean Moore has somehow channeled the ecology and humanity of E. Annie Proulx’s Shipping News and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row into Good River Harbor, an imaginary town in Southeast Alaska. Even while focusing on the details and spinning a page-turner, Moore encompasses most of the major issues of the twenty-first century in the Pacific Northwest: salmon, water, tourism, jobs, global warming, wilderness, and the lives and legacy of First Peoples. Howard, her straight man caught in the middle, begins to think the same as Nora, the eco-activist: Imagine how you can live in a place without wrecking it.”

Raymond, Midge.  My Last Continent: A Novel. New York:  Scribner, 2016.

My Last Continent is a love story. Raymond teaches us how and why to love Antarctica. She lures us into loving her nuanced protagonist, a field ornithologist named Deb Gardner. And Raymond shows us how and why to love all the other scientists and romantics who spend part of each year at the bottom of the world:” those who have run out of places to go, and those who have run out of places to hide.” Can a drama of romance and shipwreck and penguins also have something to say about ecotourism and climate change? Yes. My Last Continent is what happens when a nature writer crafts an event like the Titanic.”

(Midge Raymond is an EcoLit Books contributor!)


Savoy, Lauret Edith.  Trace:  Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2015.

“Well researched, timely, gracefully written; particularly intriguing on the connections between landscape, memory and race.”

 

 

 

Sutherland, Kate.  How to Draw a Rhinoceros:  Poems by Kate Sutherland.  N. p.:  Book Thug, 2016.

“Surprisingly insightful in its contemporary adaptations of earlier natural history traditions.”

 

 

 

 

Tevis, Joni.  The World Is on Fire:  Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse.  Minneapolis, MN:  Milkweed, 2015.

“Some of the most explosive prose I’ve read in some time. Unsettling.”

 

Ecocriticism Book Award Finalists

The judges were Nicole Seymour, winner of the the winner of the ASLE Ecocritical Book Award in 2015, Tom Lynch, founding coordinator of the ASLE Book Awards and editor of the journal Western American Literature, and Molly Westling, Professor Emerita at the University of Oregon and author of The Green Breast of the New World: Landscape, Gender and American Fiction.


Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures (University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

“This book is a rich, very original extension of Alaimo’s influential concept of “transcorporeality” from her previous scholarship. Exposed explores the radical ways such a perspective erases illusions of human separateness from the rest of the living world, thus leaving Cartesian objectivism far behind. With ingenuity and nuance, Alaimo here applies queer theory, marine biology, feminist posthumanism, and exciting aesthetic analysis to insist on human embeddedness in the deep material reality of earth and especially sea on the one planet where we belong and whose climates are rapidly, dangerously changing.”

 

Derek Gladwin, Contentious Terrains: Boglands, Ireland, Postcolonial Gothic (Cork University Press, 2016)

“An original, richly theorized examination of the deep landscape histories embodied in Northern European boglands, especially in Ireland, and literary treatments of their meanings by writers from Bram Stoker, Frank O’Connor, Sean O’Faolain and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney to more recent poets and playwrights and remarkable geocultural nonfiction writer Tim Robinson. Gladwin as a Canadian ecocritic brings fresh postcolonial approaches to consider these shifting spaces that are part water, part earth and that have moved and changed in radical ways over geological time and more recently through empires from Celtic and Roman to Viking and Anglo powers.”

 

Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

“Heise brings her formidable analytical skills and erudition to an analysis of how we think about and respond to one of the main aspects of the Anthropocene, extinction. Makes a strong case for the importance of the humanities in how we understand what is often considered to be a purely scientific problem. Well written, this will be a key text in the field for years to come.”

 

Erin James, The Storyworld Accord: Econarratology and Postcolonial Narratives (University of Nebraska Press, 2016).

“James adeptly combines three fields often seen as distinct: ecocriticism, narrative studies, and postcolonial studies. Of special note is how the book uses narrative theory, supplemented by cognitive neurobiology, to explain how readers come to inhabit the world of stories, helping us to move beyond the poorly theorized “mimesis” conundrum that has bedeviled ecocriticism. Surprising and innovative insights on every page.”

 

Jesse Oak Taylor, The Sky of Our Manufacture: The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf. (University of Virginia Press, 2016).

“This book fills a significant gap in terms of ecocritical work on both Victorian studies and modernism. Indeed, Taylor makes a persuasive case for literature of that period as Anthropocene literature – and, in so doing, offers a stronger account of the notion of Anthropocene literature than I’ve seen elsewhere. This book seems as important to ecocriticism/environmental humanities as it does to studies in the novel, modernism, Dickens studies, etc. – which I think is quite a feat. It’s also elegantly written and displays highly original thinking.”

Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment. (University of Arizona Press, 2016).

“This book also fills a significant gap — in this case, when it comes to coverage of Latinx/Chicanx literature and culture. I believe it’s the first book-length ecocritical study of Mexican-American literature. While groundbreaking in these ways, the book also provides a nice complement to extant work on African-American, queer, and other minority traditions of eco-engagement. It makes a bold, counterintuitive but ultimately crucial case against terms such as “environment” and “environmentalism,” showing how they are coded in racially exclusive ways. I also appreciate how the preface models the importance of the personal in the scholarly.”

 

Winners will be announced in June.

ASLE

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Q&A with Mary Woodbury of Moon Willow Press and Eco-Fiction.com

I’m pleased to welcome to EcoLit Books an interview we conducted recently with Mary Woodbury, founder of Moon Willow Press and Eco-Fiction.com. Mary also played an instrumental role in getting Ecofiction added to Wikipedia!

You’re a writer and a publisher. Can you tell us a bit about your writing and how you came to found Moon Willow Press?

Most of my writing these days is in the form of nature writing and posts for my running blog and interviews and essays at the main site. However, I have written several short stories and two novels. One novel (Back to the Garden) is published under pen name Clara Hume at Moon Willow Press; it fits in perfectly with the natural-world-in-fiction focus I am building at the press and is quite Aracadian, a genre seemingly forgotten among current fears that lead to grim outlooks in fiction. I’m also writing another novel that I describe as ecological weird fiction. It’s set in futuristic Ireland, and I’m basing it off places I’ve visited and mythologies surrounding them. The novel is inspired by Yeats, whose physical poetry said essentially that embracing nature could set us free. Not just embracing it as a concept but being in it, celebrating it, preserving it, admiring its power, and understanding and accepting the side of nature that isn’t comfortable to us humans who like climate-controlled abodes and plenty of materialistic conveniences (our trappings). I have run in Sleuth Wood mentioned in “The Stolen Child,” and boated to the “Lake Isle of Innisfree” (a small island in Lough Gill). The idea of going “to the waters and the wild” is my muse.

My life-long love of fiction, and the great outdoors, led to Moon Willow Press, which not only focuses on nature fiction and nonfiction but has a strong environmental ethic regarding energy used in the office, using only recycled or sustainably acquired forest products, following a print-on-demand (PoD) model, and so on. I’ve also been donating to tree-planting programs since I opened in 2010. So far, I’ve donated to the planting of 1,312 trees, which are planted in areas that are economically and ecologically depressed.

What books do you have in the works?

I have two scheduled novels for 2017 so far and am accepting more for 2018—though I’m considering getting my masters in 2019 and may put submissions on hold then. The first, coming this spring, is Cave Walker, by Donelle Dreese. She is an author and professor of Environmental and Multicultural Literatures, American Women Poets, and writing courses at Northern Kentucky University. Her novel is about a woman who has a family secret: she can foresee the future, like the other women in her family who came before her. Each had a different way of dealing with this talent (or curse), which in several cases foretold the death of their significant others. To figure out her own future, she travels through caves, which is interesting and serves as a metaphor for walking through time. Donelle pays strong attention to the natural world’s past, present, and future as well.

The other novel, coming this summer, is by Annis Pratt, whose early academic publications studied the way poets and novelists use myths and symbols. Dylan Thomas’ Early Prose: A Study in Creative Mythology (Pittsburgh University Press, 1970), was about pre-Christian Welsh mythology. Her next book was Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction (Indiana UP, 1981, published in England by Harvester Press). I’m breaking pattern by publishing the next in a series of Annis’s Infinite Games novels. I’ll be publishing volume 4. The series starts when a young girl, Clare, opens her eyes to industrialization taking advantage of her people’s marshlands. I fell in love with this adventure series, which Annis has been so far publishing on her own. She’s a terrific writer, and her style nods to the simple beauty of earlier pastoral literature.

You’re based in Canada. What’s the ecoliterature market like up north?

It’s looking good. One of the larger presses here, Talon Books, publishes a lot of First Nations authors and aims to preserve Canadian cultural and natural history through fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Another publisher in Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, “asks probing questions about the world around us,” and has some eco-fiction titles.

We also have many authors who put the environment into the center of their stories: Stephen Collis (poet), Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Katherena Vermette, Wade Davis, Richard Wagamese, Eden Robinson, Naomi Fontaine, Claudia Casper, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Katie Welch, Thomas King, and many others. I have worked with a few in the past on special projects, including in fall 2016 when we had an Eco-fiction stage at Vancouver’s biggest literary festival, “Word Vancouver.”

Tell us about your website Eco-Fiction.com.

I was researching other novels about climate change when I was writing my own novel, beginning in 2008. I found that the approach to novels about climate change ranged from dystopian to apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic to romance to adventure to fantasy to science fiction, and everything in between. It’s reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s calling climate change “everything change.” There is no one genre that can contain these novels, and authors and readers alike are drawn to a variety of different types of books, from literary fiction to genre fictions. These novels may be realistic, based upon current events, futuristic, mildly speculative, or wildly speculative.

Before ever starting the website, I wrote an article listing the novels I could find that approached climate change head-on (many other novels are far more subtle). I noticed that no other site was curating these titles, so I began to do so in the summer of 2013, after my book was published. I thought it would be an especially good resource for academics and readers of nature novels. Over the next several months I looked at a broader range of novels that were beneath the umbrella of eco-fiction and expanded the site to beyond just novels about climate change. It was (and is) a voluntary project affiliated with Moon Willow Press. All my life I have been enamored of stories that have elements of the wild in them. This project has been both a learning and teaching experiment and has drawn me close to many others who enjoy these books.

What can environmental writers do to be a part of Eco-Fiction.com?

The submission guidelines are at the site. I ask that novels be at least somewhat notable, though in the early days I was thrilled to find any decently written book about nature or the environment. I’ve become stricter lately about notability and also just began a feature specifically about prominent authors who write about climate change. And I spotlight popular books each month on a sidebar. The database has hundreds of books, and I like to be able to point the reader to the well-known works in this field.

As long as authors have a somewhat notable book, with positive reviews in the media and on book sites, they can get involved and I will add their book to the site, which also auto-adds their book to a sortable database of books. Authors can also submit a short sample of their book at the subsite Green Reads. And I interview authors whose books are getting good reviews. If the author is new, they can join our Google newsgroup or Facebook page—both titled “Ecology in Literature and the Arts,” and both with a wider range than just fiction. Members are free to post their comments and writing at either place, though it is good to get involved first and get to know the other members rather than just posting a new book and never appearing again. The Facebook community is very new, while the Google group has been around a couple years and is over 1,000 members.

What books inspire you and do you feel deserve a wider audience?

Though I do work awfully hard to get environmental books noticed, I simply like well-written books that tell a good story, and some of my favorite categories of fiction are mysteries and mythological stories. Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy was my favorite set of novels read in 2016. I think he definitely has a following already, and the novels are being adapted to film; the first should come out this year and is being directed by Alex Garland. I interviewed Jeff after the trilogy was published and began to read some more weird fiction that has an ecological slant. Jeff and his wife Ann edited The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, which had some great stories, but my favorite inclusion in that anthology was an older novella called The Other Side of the Mountain (originally La montagne morte de la vie), by Michael Bernanos—published in 1967. He had spent time in the wild forests of South America, and the beauty of the book (and yeah, the horror) mesmerized me. I like how Gio Clairval, from Weird Fiction Review (November 21, 2011), described it:

“His intent was to move us by the terrible beauty of his images, without rational explanation, only following the inspiration of an author who wrote as a visual artist would have painted. Poetry, yes, but not so much in the choice of words or the music of sentences: the interest of this novella is not on the paragraph level; it rather lies in the author’s ability to create an atmosphere of staggering landscapes, unearthly storms and constant psychological disquiet.”

These things inspire me, much like I would imagine our early Earth, before humankind began destroying it.

What’s your outlook for the next few years in regards to environmental literature?

There’s definitely a niche of readers, like me, who seek well-written environmental novels, yet I also hope that the novels are not known just for their category but for their impact overall. I’ve noted before in conversation with others that impact is greater than intent. I made the mistake of being a little didactic in my first novel, though I still think it’s a good story and the intent was unique for its time. Impressions happen, however, by subtle appeal and human relatability more than preachiness on environmental (or any other) issues, and readers will be turned off unless they are in the choir already.

I think also that we are entering a dark age, given the last presidential election, wherein we cannot stop climate change but could still avert some of it; is it even possible now with Trump at the wheel? I say this with a positive outlook: that maybe the worst won’t happen and people will rise to do the right things, but with a corrupt leader of a powerful country not even believing in climate change and promising to deregulate environmental plans in both government and corporate branches, we may be headed down a black path. I strongly believe that the candles to light this path will include art and literature.

Also, Ron Melchiore’s Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness (the most recent published memoir at Moon Willow Press) has become quite popular and is getting good reviews. The following for this book, and others like it, shows some evidence of the growing number of people seeking out information on prepping, living off-grid, DIY, sustainable living, and homesteading. Like John Muir said nearly a century ago, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wildness is a necessity.” I think most of us can relate to this today, more than ever.

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Announcing the 2016 Siskiyou Prize finalists

This is the third year of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature (which is sponsored by Ashland Creek Press, which also sponsors EcoLit Books).

We’re pleased to see the Siskiyou Prize gaining momentum and awareness. Now more than ever we need a chorus of creative and passionate voices speaking up for the planet and all of its species.

This year, we received more than a hundred submissions, which included a wide range of fiction, short story and essay collections, memoirs, nonfiction nature books, and a number of previously published works in all categories. We began reviewing submissions when the contest opened in September of last year and have been reading steadily since then.

Every manuscript was given careful consideration, and the decision-making process was very difficult, given the exceptional quality of this year’s entries. As much as we love this contest, the hardest part is having to narrow the list down to only a few titles. It’s a completely subjective process, of course, and we thank all who contributed their work to this year’s prize.

We are delighted to announce the finalists and semifinalists:

FINALISTS

Three Ways to Disappear
A novel by Katy Yocom

Small Small Redemption
Essays by Sangamithra Iyer

The Heart of the Sound
A memoir by Marybeth Holleman
Published by Bison Books

Song of the Ghost Dog
A novel by Sharon Piuser

SEMIFINALISTS

Karstland
A novel by Caroline Manring

Rumors of Wolves
A novel by C.K. Adams

The Harp-Maker of Exmoor
A novel by Hazel Prior

The four finalists will move on to final judging by JoeAnn Hart.

We hope to announce a winner in the next month or so. To be among the first to hear the announcement, stay tuned to this blog or subscribe to the Ashland Creek Press newsletter.

Again, thanks to everyone who submitted and everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place.

The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

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Book Review: What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe

It’s difficult to think of another title that is more important to the oceans—and therefore to the earth’s entire ecosystem—than What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe. Not only does Balcombe introduce us to the fascinating, complex lives of these sentient creatures, he shows us how devastatingly we are treating them, to the point of endangerment and extinction.

While fishes aren’t usually at the top of the list of animals that elicit human sympathy (“We hear no screams and see no tears when their mouths are impaled and their bodies pulled from the water”), Balcombe writes that it is only because of their differences that we do not see their suffering: “Crying out in pain is as ineffective for a fish in air as crying out in pain is for us when we are submerged.” Fishes do feel pain, of course; they just express it in very different ways, and we must adjust our way of thinking in order to see it and acknowledge it.

And of course, fishes feel so much more than pain; What a Fish Knows is divided into sections about what a fish perceives, feels, thinks, and knows as well as how it breeds and how it suffers. (Balcombe chooses to use the word fishes rather than fish to acknowledge that they are individuals with personalities and relationships.)

Each section in this book is more interesting and engaging than the last, with information on the habits, abilities, and perceptions of many of the 30,000 species of fishes in our waters. The facts about fishes’ uniqueness and diversity are fascinating in themselves—for example, that ocean sunfishes carry 300 million eggs while sharks reproduce via one live birth at a time—but what’s most interesting are the scientific and anecdotal stories of how alike fishes are to other animals, shattering any misconceptions readers may have about fishes being dull or unperceiving. In fact, Balcombe writes, “A small squid can learn mazes faster than dogs do, and a small goby fish can memorize in one trial the topography of a tide pool by swimming over it at high tide—a feat few if any humans could achieve.”

Fishes not only have excellent hearing (which makes them sensitive to human-generated underwater noise), they can tell the difference between classical music and the blues. Their keen sense of smell allows them recognize one another and warn other fishes of danger. They have more taste buds than any other animal, and they enjoy the touch of one another and of humans, as Balcombe shows in several anecdotes, including one about a fish who “even rolls side to side to be petted properly, as a dog or pig will do.”

In addition, What a Fish Knows portrays the ways in which fishes form close bonds (goldfishes, for example, should never live alone in a bowl or tank), as well as how they learn, play, parent, form relationships, and problem solve. They have good memories and express flexibility, curiosity, determination. They cooperate and they deceive.

Of note in this book is something that is all too frequently missing from other books about animals’ sentience: the irony of the impact of the scientific experiments that prove to us that these animals experience the range of emotions that they do. As Balcombe writes, “Fishes show the hallmarks of pain both physiologically and behaviorally,” and he acknowledges the cruelty of the experiments fishes endure for us to gain this knowledge. He writes of the “pain, distress, and ensuing disorientation caused by blinding salmon” and assures us, after one experiment, that “the surgeonfishes were returned to their homes on the reef.”

Perhaps the most important part of this book, especially after reading everything up to this point, is the section on humans’ exploitation of fishes—not just because it is shocking but because we have the power to change it. The number of fishes killed by humans each year is between 1 and 2.7 trillion (which does not include the great numbers of fishes caught illegally, recreationally, as bycatch, in “ghost nets,” or as feed for fish farms). After learning so much about the individual personalities of fishes, this number is especially staggering.

And, Balcombe points out, the fishes “do not die nicely.” They are crushed to death in nets; they are suffocated; they suffer decompression, in which the esophagus turns inside out, the eyes bulge from their orbits, organs are displaced, and hemorrhaging occurs, among other horrors. Fishes raised in captivity fare no better—they are electrocuted or decapitated and left to bleed out. Even if the amount of toxins in fishes (“Fish flesh is the most contaminated of all foods”) isn’t enough to prevent one from eating fishes after learning about their emotional, intellectual, and social lives, the brutal practices of an industry that subjects them to such torture should offer more than enough incentive.

Balcombe also addresses the fact that recreational fishing and farmed fishing are not better alternatives to the commercial fishing industry, as well as the problems of “ghost nets” (the up to 640,000 tons of netting and other equipment lost by fishing boats) and “bycatch” (those fishes and other animals caught unintentionally by the fishing industry). The main victims of ghost nets are dolphins, seals, turtles, and seabirds, and bycatch (whose victims include seabirds, whales, seals, and penguins) is responsible for 40 percent of the global fish catch. All of these animals are, because they are unwanted, thrown away. Because we have reduced predatory fishes (the ones humans like to eat) by more than two-thirds, Balcombe likens eating fishes to eating wildlife, and he quotes Sylvia Earle: “Think of everything in the fish market as bush meat. These are the eagles, the owls, the lions, the tigers, the snow leopards, the rhinoceroses of the ocean.”

This powerful, accessible book will ensure that we never look at a fish the same way again, whether it’s a pet or one in the sea—and it will certainly inspire us to keep them off our plates.

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