My reading for October 2023 was dominated by the climate crisis and the horrific situation in Gaza.
I’ve been travelling a lot and have got behind with these roundups, and with blogging in general, so here’s an attempt to restart. In October, I read mostly non-fiction books inspired by the twin crises overshadowing everything right now: Gaza and the climate. It sounds quite heavy, I suppose, but reading is the only way I know to cope with things that feel overwhelming, and I find that the context provided by a good book often helps.
Planet on Fire by Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton
There’s an urgency to this manifesto, which feels appropriate to the scale of the climate crisis and the speed with which things are moving in the wrong direction. The ten-point manifesto essentially involves repurposing the economy so that financing is directed towards the necessary green transition instead of profit, and more value is given to things like care and cooperation.
This quick sketch isn’t doing it justice, but it’s a vision that sounds like common sense to me, and yet it’s incredibly radical in a world hurtling in the opposite direction. The book was published during the pandemic and makes a good case for using the rupture as an opportunity for rethinking the way forward, but it feels as if that moment has already passed.
Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism by Kate Soper
Kate Soper makes a valid and important point: environmentalists often talk about the sacrifices we need to make to live more sustainably, and yet the science shows that over-consumption does not lead to happiness. So is giving up the misery-inducing grind of consumer life really such a sacrifice? Soper suggests that it may, instead, be a chance to discover an alternative hedonism.
Light in Gaza ed. Jehad Abusalim
My position on Gaza is simple: I condemn all acts of violence. I reject the hypocrisy of defining non-state violence as terrorism while allowing states to butcher as many civilians as they like in the name of self-defence. When a US Senator openly calls for a place in which 2 million people live to be “levelled”, we’ve entered very dark times.
So I chose to read Light in Gaza, a compilation of writings by Palestinian people living in Gaza. It gives a fascinating insight into daily life in the Gaza Strip as seen through the eyes of the people living there. We learn about the travel restrictions and the violence of occupation, but we also learn about the culture, the bookshops, the libraries, the schools. We see that if this place is indeed levelled, it will be a crime that the world will never forget.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
Have you ever read a book that had all the right ingredients but just didn’t amount to a satisfying whole? That was my experience with this book. It had a compelling dual narrative featuring contemporary Syrian refugees following the same path as a band of medieval mapmakers, it had some beautiful writing in places, and yet… I think perhaps that none of it felt real—it felt like a perfect literary confection, so carefully plotted and tightly controlled that the characters struggled to breathe.
Ecology and Socialism by Chris Williams
Back to finding solutions to climate change… This one covered much of the same ground as Planet on Fire, but from a slightly different angle. I liked the chapters on population growth, showing that population itself is not the problem—it’s how people live and how the resources are distributed. It’s an older book than I realised, so much of the climate science is already superseded, but most of the solutions will still be valid, if we ever start seriously trying to follow them.
How Was Your Month?
As usual, please let me know in the comments how your reading month was. I love hearing about your highlights and lowlights, as well as any comments on these books of course. Happy reading in November!