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Six degrees of separation, FROM Fleishman is in trouble TO …

February 1, 2020

Here we are at our second Six Degrees of Separation meme of 2020. For those of you who don’t know what this meme is and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Once again, but I’m used to this now, I haven’t read Kate’s starting book, Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. However, I devised a lovely – well, I think it was – chain for it. Then, as the fires and smoke in my area just got worse and worse this week, I decided to go off script and riff off the title to create my own theme for this post, Australia is in trouble! I’m not going to link my books, but just share six that I’ve read which address, in some way, climate change.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I write”, George Orwell lists four main purposes for writing, the fourth being:

Political purpose: Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

The other purposes, if you want to know, are “sheer egoism”, “aesthetic enthusiasm”, and “historical impulse”. Orwell goes on to say that “in a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.” Of course his times were different, so his issue – totalitarianism – is different to the ones confronting us now (though, then again, perhaps not!) Anyhow, my point is that in this post I’m going to share six works by writers who also write with a political purpose.

Melissa Lucashenko’s “How green is my valley” (2006) (my review): an essay in Griffith Review’s climate-change-focused issue (12), Hot air: How nigh’s the end. Indigenous writer, Lucashenko addresses climate change, recognising that many non-Indigenous Australians also love the land. She suggests that a “bicultural” approach, which spans the chasm “between industrial and indigenous views of the ‘good life’ and what constitutes a proper society”, would be a good place to start.

Jane Rawson’s A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) (my review): set in a bleak climate-damaged Melbourne of 2030, where it’s very hot, and clean water is harder to come by and more expensive than beer. Its main protagonist, Caddy, is living rough, having lost her husband and home in a heatwave-induced fire a couple of years before the novel opens.

Annabel Smith’s The ark (2014) (my review): set in the 2040s, during, as Smith describes it, “a post-peak oil crisis. The polar ice caps have melted. Crops are failing. People are starving and freezing to death.” Interestingly, given my George Orwell intro, a major theme of this novel is how, in such a world, charismatic-despotic leaders can come to the fore.

Alice Robinson’s Anchor point (2015) (my review): a family drama, but one framed by farming and the land. Climate change hangs over this novel, with its depiction of father Bruce and daughter Laura struggling against drought, bushfires and land degradation to keep their farm going. By 2018 (a little into the future at the time the novel was written), Laura has given up the struggle, because “the climate had long stopped being something she understood”.

Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here where we live (2016) (my review): a collection of short stories about the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, and the relationship both have with the land. Although not specifically a cli-fi book, concern about land, the environment, and climate change suffuses the stories. In the last story, a terrible storm occurs, and a character says:

‘It’s climate change, of course,’ you say knowingly. ‘They say that these one-hundred year storms are occurring so frequently now that the name no longer bears any meaning. But we need to keep the name so that we can understand that this kind of storm is so severe it should only occur once every hundred years. We need the name so we understand that something has gone wrong.’

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland (2017) (my review): set in the Illawarra region south of Sydney, and tells the story of the Australian continent, post-white settlement, from 1796 to 2717. One of its five time-periods is 2033 in which climate-change has caused utter devastation to the land and a dystopia is playing out.

So, a different Six Degrees post, and one not necessarily featuring all the most obvious Australian climate-related books. Although all mine are by women, men have written some too. It’s just that I haven’t read them. The main point is that writers are addressing this issue, doing their best “to push” all to see that Australia is in trouble. The question is whether the people who need to read them are in fact reading them?

And now, the usual: Have you read Fleishman is in trouble? And, regardless, what would you link to? 

35 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2020 10:25

    An interesting list, Sue. I’ve only read Storyland and I loved it. It was one of those books that didn’t really get the attention it deserved. Also, it always amuses me to see you use the Six Degrees header I created for my blog because it’s been so long since I actually participated someone else may as well use it 🤣

    • February 1, 2020 12:02

      Yes I agree re McKinnon, kimbofo.

      Re the Six degrees header, have I done the wrong thing? I got it from Kate’s blog and thought participants were supposed to use it? I’m not an expert at meme culture.

      • February 1, 2020 14:34

        No, not at all. But I took the six degrees pic from Kate’s blog and used photoshop to put a header on it in the same pink and font that’s on my blog. Feel free to use. I just thought it was amusing when I saw it 😊

        • February 1, 2020 15:13

          Oh, did I get it from your blog? I thought I got it from Kate’s! I probably saw it on yours and thought it was the same and just grabbed it. Shows you how much attention I pay to visual content!! Thanks for letting me keep it.

  2. Meg permalink
    February 1, 2020 10:49

    Hi Sue, I read and enjoyed Fleishman is in Trouble. So I followed the theme, and my selections were: Heartburn by Nora Ephron, State of the Union Nick Hornby, Maybe the Horse Will Talk, by Elliot Perlman; The Landing by Susan Johnson The Life and Loves of the She-Devil by Fay Weldon; and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

    • February 1, 2020 12:05

      Good one Meg. I’ve only read Heartburn of those but at least I know all the other authors and have read something by all of them. I think, though, that only Susan Johnson is on my blog.

  3. February 1, 2020 11:15

    Interesting to link up the climate booms by Aussie women. I don’t read anything dystopian because it frightens and depresses me so consider my head in the sand for the future. I worry about it a lot and for the young people though the young people give me hope.

    • February 1, 2020 13:12

      Thanks Pam … it makes me sad but for some stupid reason I’m a bit of a Pollyanna and have enough optimism to hope it won’t be as bad as it sounds! That’s probably a different head in the sand!

      • February 2, 2020 18:25

        I think along the same lines. Denial to an extent is okay. I just wish the leaders in this country were more effective and enthusiastic about it. Maybe soon??

        • February 2, 2020 19:44

          It’s not so much denial – I certainly don’t deny it – it’s more that I somehow believe we’ll pull it out of the worst scenario. Whenever I’m confronted with a terrible possibility I . But yes, I wish the leaders would pull their fingers out.

  4. February 1, 2020 12:08

    This was innovative! Despite my best intentions, I didn’t read the book, but put together a New York themed chain:

  5. February 1, 2020 13:51

    Well said WG! I enjoyed Storyland OK, though I think it contained elements of ticking all the right boxes. Rawson’s was far more genuinely innovative, and fun as well. Here where we live is floating around my family somewhere (that’s 3 houses and a dozen bookshelves) and I’ll get to it. And I really must make a start on Lucashenko.

    • February 1, 2020 14:13

      Thanks Bill. I can see why you’d say that about Storyland but I think she ticked those boxes really well and interestingly, and I thought it was creative and innovative. But I agree that Rawson’s book is very clever. It sticks in the mind.

      (BTW Dare I say you have read Here where we live and wrote a wonderful review of it? I’m glad I’m not the only one who sometimes forgets what she’s read!)

  6. February 1, 2020 15:47

    What a great response, Sue:)
    I’ve read the four novels you suggest, and I liked them all.
    Now, I’d better go see what I can come up with for Fleishman …

  7. February 1, 2020 17:07

    Love your pick of environmentally themed books. Later this year, in a town near where I live, will be the Mountain Writers Festival – focussing solely on themes of environment, nature writing and place. Already have some fabulous writers lined up – more info coming soon!

    • February 1, 2020 17:15

      Oh, how wonderful Michelle. That sounds great. I wonder if I could make it coincide with at trip to Melbourne? I’ll try to keep an eye on it.

      • February 1, 2020 19:35

        17-18 October, 2020. In the village of Macedon (an hour on the train from Southern Cross Station, and ten minutes from Hanging Rock). I’m very glad you’re tempted!

        • February 1, 2020 22:18

          Thanks Michelle. I’ll try to keep an eye out — it will just depend on how the year falls out.

  8. February 1, 2020 17:37

    What a lovely chain, and so relevant. My heart just breaks when I hear about these fires and all the damage. Take care, be safe and let’s hope it ends soon. Such a beautiful country with such resilient people, while it will be hard, I know you can all come back from this.

  9. February 1, 2020 23:29

    A very clever and relevant chain, Sue. Shamefully, I haven’t read any of them (!) however have Storyland and the Rawson on my shelf.

    And since you asked the question, I’ll answer with ‘I fear they’re preaching to the converted…’ 😦

    • February 1, 2020 23:59

      Thanks Kate … I can recommend them all (funnily) but those two you have on your shelf are really good reads.

      And haha, thanks for your answer. I have heard people say that it doesn’t hurt preaching to the converted because you keep them fired up and on-side, so, I haven’t worried about that so much anymore! Still, it would be good to have others read them too!

  10. February 2, 2020 04:49

    Brilliant idea for creating your chain on a timely topic.

  11. George permalink
    February 2, 2020 06:43

    I have not read Fleishman is in Trouble, but gathered from the reviews that it concerns a man behaving badly as he is getting divorced. If one simply followed the theme, the difficulty would not be in getting to six degrees, it would be in stopping while still in two figures. I can think of at least two of Saul Bellow’s novels with that situation, maybe three, and could multiply examples from other authors.

    So how about a chain of words? “Fleischmann” appears to be a variant form of “Fleischer”, butcher. I’ll start with Butcher’s Crossing, a novel by John Williams, set in the Kansas and Colorado of about 1870. Next, Crossing the Line, Alvin Kernan’s memoir of WW II naval service. Third, The Thin Red Line by James Jones, a novel following an Army rifle company through the fighting on Guadalcanal. Fourth, The Red and the Black by Stendhal. Fifth, The Black Swan by Thomas Mann. Finally, The Wild Swans at Coole by W.B. Yeats.

    • February 2, 2020 08:27

      Haha, loved your opening paragraph, George! I think others considered Bellow, but I’m not sure anyone actually did link to him. I like your links. Linking on words like that us clean and elegant, and, in one sense, random.

  12. February 2, 2020 17:23

    Relevant indeed, just as I opened your link I got another pop up notification warning of yet another fire that has ignited in my 20km radius.
    Thanks for sharing your chain of recommendations

    • February 2, 2020 19:06

      Oh no, it’s very disconcerting isn’t it shelleyrae. We had announcement bars running across the bottom of the TV through most of the tennis match last night.

  13. February 4, 2020 08:38

    Very sobering and a great round up of books. I have not read Fleishman but I have heard it’s pretty good. Your city is making the news here. My heart is breaking for your country right now. Stay safe.

    • February 4, 2020 16:05

      Thanks Stefanie. Am currently driving to Melbourne to see our kids and the smoke is intense.

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