I was sitting on the subway in a puddle of sweat—which I hope was solely mine, but I can’t be too sure in this heat—when I got a text from my friend. It was a picture of an orange inflatable tube floating near a dock in a green, opaque body of water. “Swelteringggg” the text read, “Found a spot to swim.” My suspicion of the murky water turned to jealousy when the subway halted, and I realized I would be underground in the heat for way longer than I was planning. I’ve seen a half-joke circling the internet saying that this is the coldest summer we’ll have for the rest of our lives. Considering the fact that extreme heat across the world has taken the news by storm this week, the joke may have some truth to it.
In Massachusetts specifically, the ongoing drought is getting worse. WBUR’s Miriam Wasser found that approximately 90% of the state is now experiencing some level of drought due to a lack of rain. Nicole Belk, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, told Wasser: “For much of the state, we’re looking at considerably below-normal levels of precipitation — anywhere from 50-75% of normal.” Wasser explained that while it’s not necessarily abnormal for New England to experience a drought, it can still have a lasting impact on the region. The kind of heat we’re experiencing is serious, and when mixed with a drought, it’s dangerous for aquatic life and agriculture. “One bit of good news…no drinking water supplies are threatened at the moment,” said Weber.
Weather patterns change so much about how we live—how people behave, the food we eat and the art we create. I don’t think it’s an overstep to say that, for the most part, we take predictable weather, habitable weather, for granted. This week, I have recommendations for literature that we can all relate to at the moment: books that deal with extreme weather and drought.
By Alexandra Kleeman
Alexandra Kleeman’s most recent novel is a slow burn about a slow burn: a dystopian Los Angeles where something is always on fire, and the city’s natural water supply has dried up. “When they first switched over, you’d see the trucks two or three times a day delivering WAT-R in big jugs…But now, if you pay for the deluxe service, they put a tank in the basement and pump it up into the plumbing once a week. You turn the faucet and it pours out, just like in the old days.” The story follows Patrick Hamlin, a writer who has left his family on the East Coast to develop his novel into a television show. Hamlin and the star of his upcoming film become investigators, exploring the bad actors responsible for the destruction of the environment. In many ways, it’s a book about impending irreversible damage to the planet. But it’s about us, too.
By Claire Vaye Watkins
It seems California is the chosen place for stories about extreme heat and drought. Gold is harder to obtain, and so is water. In this novel, the California we know no longer exists. What’s left behind is a barren state of vigilantes and defectors, those who refused to leave. When the book's main protagonists, Ray and Luz, take in a neglected child, their world begins to change as they set off to find somewhere better. It’s an apocalyptic tale that has it all, equal parts eerie, hopeful and sad.
By Haruki Murakami
Murakami is one of my favorites, and although this novel is not about drought, there’s a stunning scene in it that I wish for all of us right now. The book is filled with magical realism and follows young runaway Kafka Tamura and Satoru Nakata, a disabled, elderly man. Every chapter flips between the stories of Tamura and Nakata, whose connection is eventually revealed. Cats speak, fish fall from the sky and violence is abundant. The intricacies of the plot are as unpredictable as the weather. Now, for the aforementioned scene: “In the afternoon dark clouds suddenly color the sky a mysterious shade and it starts raining hard, pounding the roof and windows of the cabin…In my joy I shut my eyes and shout out meaningless words as the large raindrops strike me…”
- “The Lost Canyon Under Lake Powell” by Elizabeth Kolbert about what lies below our shrinking bodies of water.
- “A Book About Thirst,” a Literary Hub review of Josephine Johnson’s relevant 1934 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Now in November.”
- “Mother Nature Dissents,” a recent climate report from The Atlantic.