The Wytham Book Club

Woodland Words blog, Nov 2022

Alice Little, Writer in Residence


Throughout 2022 I’ve been working with Wytham’s Youth Educator in Residence, Kim Polgreen, to run a book club at Wytham. We’ve run six so far and you can read the full list of books mentioned here.

We have been open in scope for this book club, discussing books that touch on nature and climate in any way, from non-fiction to poetry. Some people have attended regularly while others come as a one-off. If you follow Wytham Woods on Eventbrite you’ll be notified when the next date is organised. The meetings are also listed on our Events page.

We’ve welcomed writers, teachers, environmentalists, and all sorts of curious readers. Each participant brings a book (literally or metaphorically) to recommend to the group, and we spend a few minutes on each person’s choice, discussing the issues it raises and jumping off from there into a wide-ranging conversation. Earlier in the year we sat around the camp fire with cups of tea, in the summer we enjoyed the shade of the parachute, and at our most recent event we shared our recommendations at regular pauses on a walk through the woods, finishing with tea and biscuits at the chalet.

Looking at the book list, you might notice that while it features lots of non-fiction and memoir, and the occasional poetry collection and children’s book, there isn’t much fiction included. So I wanted to highlight two fiction books that I’ve enjoyed reading this year that are rooted in nature and climate writing. I’ve particularly enjoyed these books because they are not stories about environmental issues, but rather about characters and how they are affected by or brought together by changes in the natural world.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers (2018) begins with a set of standalone character sketches introducing a cast of nine fascinating people, each with a different motivation for their interest in trees and the natural world. The central theme of the book is the destruction of giant redwood trees in California in the early 1990s, and during the second and third sections these characters all get involved in the battle to save the trees from logging. The language is beautiful and the plot intricate and neatly tied together. I’m so glad to have read it after it was recommended to me multiple times at the start of my residency.

When the Lights Go Out, by Carys Bray (2020) is generally described as a book about a marriage, but to me the more interesting aspect of the book is the way that the climate emergency is set as the backdrop for the story. It’s done in such a way that it could be set in the very near future – it doesn’t feel very far from our own reality. We learn in the early chapters that it has rained so much over the last few years that the husband’s gardening business has had to all but fold as the ground is waterlogged. There are regular power cuts, and he is desperate to make people, including his own family, realise that action needs to be taken.

I’d love to read more fiction that addresses environmental and climate issues in this way, and look forward to sharing more recommendations next time. Why not join us on Sunday 29 January 2023, 2 - 4pm!

Books and phones are scattered across a grey kitchen table, next to a biscuit tin and a cup of tea