Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your reading challenge go this month? Did you read something amazing that dealt with weather and/or climate change? Let us know in the comments!

This month’s main title was Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. This thought-provoking, complex novel explores not just the effects of climate change, but also the pervasive poverty of Appalachia and of a young woman trapped in a broken marriage.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a
shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome.

As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Weather is a constant in our lives however much we think we can outsmart it. No amount of technological advances, or shaping the land to our whims will defeat the weather. We’ve seen this very recently with Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, with the massive wildfires in the west and the drought in the southwest. And we’ve experienced here in the Midwest with tornadoes and derechos.

What did your weather or climate-change related book show you this month? What did people do to prepare for extreme weather or were they caught unawares? How did the characters survive or perish? What were some of the long-lasting effects of a terrible storm or prolonged weather event have on individuals, families, communities and even history?

Be sure to share your thoughts about this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

January 12, 1888 dawned unseasonably warm in the Dakota Territory. Happy to escape the unrelenting winter cold, people shed their heavy coats and boots and sent their children to school in light jackets. But the weather takes a sudden and deadly turn and by lunchtime a massive blizzard has arrived, causing temperatures to plummet, winds to howl and heavy snow erasing visibility. Anyone caught outside – or in an isolated schoolhouse – was in trouble as shown in Melanie Benjamin’s The Children’s Blizzard.

The Dakota Territories were sparsely populated, and many of the settlers were recent immigrants who had been lured to the area by unrealistic descriptions of a bountiful land. They were ill-equipped to face the unrelenting heat and drought of the summer, and the cold and snow of the winter. Many left, returning to their home country as soon as they could scrape together the money for a train ticket, but some stayed and struggled to create a community. They built homes and farms and then school houses. These schools were usually isolated in the country, poorly insulated and hastily built plus most of the teachers were very young, just 16 or 17 years old.

The storm arrived with no warning and with shocking suddenness. It seemed as if it went from balmy springtime weather to life-threatening snow and cold in a matter of minutes. Against these terrible odds and with no way to communicate with the nearest farms or town, the teachers had to make an impossible decision. Stay in the un-insulated school house with little to no fuel for the woodstove? Or send the children home, most without winter clothing, into a storm that swallowed them up as soon as they stepped out the door?

The Children’s Blizzard is based on real events when 235 people died, many of them children (it’s also called the Schoolhouse Blizzard). Benjamin has based her book on historical records and on the stories of survivors. She readily captures the fear and uncertainty and the blinding grief of parents and community.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our October theme of extreme weather and climate change.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Early September brought storm clouds and restless waves to the shores of Galveston, Texas but Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist for the US Weather Bureau, ignored these warning signs. He felt sure that it was a simple tropical storm which would bring rain and wind, but not anything dangerous.

Unfortunately, he was very wrong.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson outlines what happened on September 8, 1900 and why, from the growth of the massive hurricane to the devastating and long-lasting effects the storm had on Galveston and the surrounding area, as well as why the warning signs were ignored and dismissed.

The Galveston Hurricane completely destroyed the town and killed over 6000 people; many of those deaths could have been prevented if human arrogance and hubris had been set aside. The US Weather Service was in its infancy and struggling to be seen as relevant. The managers of the service, often political appointees, were terrified of an incorrect forecast that would make the department a laughing stock. They ignored messages from the more experienced meteorologists in Cuba (which the American weathermen thought were inferior) who warned of the possibility of a massive hurricane. By the time Isaac and the citizens of Galveston realized how bad it was, it was too late. The storm had laid waste to the town with no regard for status. Homes, businesses and hospitals were ripped from their foundations, train tracks ruined, ships in the harbor sunk and hundreds of people had been lost to the floods.

While this disaster took place more than a hundred years ago, the story continues to resonate with us as we live through more and more extremes of weather. Technology and weather forecasting have greatly improved, but in the end, nature always wins.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our October theme of climate change and extreme weather.

Online Reading Challenge – October

Welcome to the October edition of our Online Reading Challenge! This month we’ll be reading about climate change and extreme weather events.

We’ve experienced a lot of bad weather throughout history, and recently there seems to be more frequent weather events. No matter how “civilized” and technologically advanced we become, nature is going to win in the end. And how weather affects us and our communities and our planet makes for interesting and thoughtful reading.

Our main title this month is Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Tired of living on a failing farm and suffering oppressive poverty, bored housewife Dellarobia is headed for a secluded mountain cabin to  initiate what she expects will be a self-destructive affair.  Instead, she walks into something on the mountainside she cannot explain or understand: a forested valley filled with a lake of silent red fire that appears to her a miracle. In reality, the forest is ablaze with millions of butterflies. Their usual migratory route has been disrupted, and what looks to be a stunningly beautiful view is really an ominous sign, for the Appalachian winter could prove to be the demise of the species. Her discovery of this phenomenon ignites a media and religious firestorm that changes her life forever.

Also available as a playaway audio book and as an ebook.

Alternate titles include:

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged by a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over 6,000 people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This epic story of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. 

Also available as an ebook.

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin. Draws on oral histories of the Great Plains blizzard of 1888 to depict the experiences of two teachers, a servant, and a reporter who risk everything to protect the children of immigrant homesteaders.

Also available as an ebook, a book-on-CD and large print.

Look for these titles and many more on displays at each of our locations!