Hurricane Harvey and Happenings in Novels

Major real-life events can make fans of literature think of…literature. Such is the case with Hurricane Harvey — the catastrophic storm that has people focusing on lives lost, lives drastically disrupted, immense property damage, overdevelopment that eliminates water-absorbing open space, and…certain books.

I thought of novels that depict the devastating consequences of human-caused climate change, as do Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I also remembered fictional works in which water-related disasters are prominently featured — with those books including George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (huge flood), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (epic rains near the novel’s end), Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Jack London’s Martin Eden (drowning scenarios), etc. And one can’t ignore a novel titled The Year of the Flood — the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic/eco-drenched trilogy that starts with Oryx and Crake and ends with MaddAddam.

Parable of the Sower, a 1993 dystopian sci-fi novel I finished this morning, is also prescient about several other things besides climate change — including the evils of profit-driven privatization of public entities. Heck, the horrific Hurricane Katrina, which happened twelve years after Butler’s book came out, resulted in charter school operators taking over the public school system in New Orleans and worsening education there as they monetized it. Parable also has a lot to say about race, gender, religion, and nasty/soulless corporations — topics Donald Trump has helped turn into disasters of another sort in 2017.

Of course, novels featuring ship voyages are often going to have water-related disasters. Two examples — one from literary lit and one from popular lit — include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with its ill-fated Pequod vessel and Paul Gallico’s The Poseidon Adventure with its capsizing ocean liner that turns upside down.

I haven’t read this novel, but Julie Barnes’ All Flavors includes a Florida hurricane as a significant presence.

For you, what fictional works (if any) came to mind after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas?

You’re also welcome to mention novels you were reminded of by non-hurricane tragedies of any era. Examples include Albert Camus’ The Plague, Mary Shelley’s plague-filled The Last Man, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (cyclone), and books that use real-life disasters in a fictional setting — such as Pete Hamill’s Forever (the 9/11 attacks) and Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked (which ends with Pompeii’s 79 AD volcanic eruption).

Trump’s unwelcome Twitter storms don’t count…

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, about going back to school but not about going back to school, is here.

It’s Earth Day in Some Parts of Planet Literature

Yesterday, April 22, was Earth Day. Our planet is in deep ecological trouble, and America’s Predator-in-Chief is making things worse with his profoundly anti-environment policies. I guess he’s also the Polluter-in-Chief.

Anyway, I began to think about novels that have directly or indirectly focused on the environment, and the first one that came to mind was Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

That book is many things — including a compelling portrayal of a rural Tennessean’s dissatisfaction with her life and marriage, and what she does about it. But Flight Behavior is also a novel about climate change — including how butterflies are devastatingly affected by it.

Kingsolver addresses ecological matters in Prodigal Summer, too.

One of the ultimate environmental catastrophes takes place in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach when nuclear radiation bears down on Australia after ruining much of the world.

Then there are novels in which environmentalism is perhaps not the biggest theme, but an important theme. For instance, the harming of Oklahoma land by greedy agribusiness is a big reason why the Joad family of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is forced to uproot themselves to try their luck in California. The evil forces in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings certainly lay waste to a lot of Middle-earth land. And Anne Shirley’s keen appreciation of nature is one of the endearing elements in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Also, the shrinking of the American wilderness is a poignant backdrop in James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels (The Last of the Mohicans, etc.). Heck, protagonist Natty Bumppo is more comfortable with the eco-friendlier ways of Native Americans (such as his close friend Chingachgook) than he is with the eco-destructive ways of his fellow whites.

Of course, sci-fi, speculative fiction, dystopian novels, and post-apocalypse books often address environmental issues in direct or indirect fashion — as when they show the Earth abused by corporations and humankind in general. Examples include Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and various other books. There are also the death throes of Earth at the end of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

In the children’s-book area, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is considered a fable about how corporate greed does a number on nature.

What are some of your favorite fictional works that touch on environmental issues?

Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book¬†Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time¬† — which earned a “Best Seller” tag on Amazon for a time this weekend.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.