Summer eco-reads

It’s the perfect season to get lost in a good (environmentally themed) book

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Summertime in the mother of all election years, and the reading needs to be easy. No political tomes from us this year. The front pages and websites in our noisy media world have more than enough.

So, let’s get far from Brexit analysis and presidential politics. Head west. Start your environmentally themed summer reading with a Western.

Crazy Mountain Kiss, by Keith McCafferty

Bozeman, Mont., writer Keith McCafferty has published five whodunnits set in Big Sky Country, with the fifth out just this week. All feature the adventures of private eye Sean Stranahan and Sheriff Martha Ettinger. And in all, the environmental setting and details are just as important as the plot and characters.

McCafferty, longtime editor at Field and Stream, has spent a lot of time outdoors. He has an easy familiarity with the bristling beauty that is Montana.

McCafferty has written the series to be read in any order. “The last thing I want is one huge novel broken up into books,” he told me when I caught up with him.

“One, that’s boring. And it’s more interesting if people can read them in any order they want.”

So start with the fourth book, Crazy Mountain Kiss.

The book won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best contemporary novel. It starts with a gruesome discovery in a U.S. Forest Service cabin tucked up on the western flank of Montana’s Crazy Mountains.

“You go to other ranges, the Madison, the Absaroka, they have a soft side, meadows, flowers, they show you their beauty,” McCafferty writes. “You can feel the breeze, hear them breathe. But the Crazies are just a jumble of peaks. They’re nothing but hard edges and cold winds.”

Paper, by Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky has found his niche, no question, writing insightful histories about simple commodities that have shaped our world. First came Cod, a 1997 history of the world filtered, as The New York Times observed, “through the gills of the fish trade.” Then came Salt (2002) and The Big Oyster (2007).

This year he shows how paper holds our world together. Paper mills have produced any amount of filth over the generations (a story last month out of Ontario being the latest example). But cheap paper led to the creation of enormous libraries. And from there the rest is, well, history.

Now, maybe you’re reading this on a mobile device, far from the clutter and papers of your office. Worry not, Kurlansky concludes: Paper—transmitter of cultures, foundation of revolutions, bearer of news good and bad—is very much here to stay.

Mr. Green Jeans, by Chris McGee

Jack Creek hits midlife in Chris McGee’s debut novel, sees the world going to hell around him and decides he has to do something. And so he strikes his blow against American consumerism by taking down a box store’s billboard on the highway outside of town.

What follows is an adventuresome romp as Jack and his wife, Lake, wage a guerilla campaign urging action on climate change and better care for Mother Earth. This is McGee’s first eco-novel, and the writing can clunk. But the earnestness and emotion carry through.

If you’re stuck in a midlife slump, this, well, maybe won’t solve everything. But it will get you thinking.

Wilted Green

Let’s end with a bit of fun. Take a rainy day, put down the books, extract the kids from their iPhones and pull out a game.

You might try Wilted Green, an eco-take on the popular Cards Against Humanity.

Like Cards, each round starts when one person draws a prompt card—dark green in this case. The rest of the group looks through their hands of light green cards to find the best response possible. The person who drew the dark green prompt card then chooses the winning response.

Sample prompt: “The key to a low-carbon lifestyle is …”

Possible (somewhat snarky) responses: “Vegan pizza” or “Emails from the Sierra Club” or “Fair-trade condoms.”

Game creator Josh Lasky writes that the game is “obviously meant to be lighthearted (and played while drinking organic, craft beer, of course).”

The game is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Interested buyers should email for purchasing info.

“I’m also hoping that, in a way, this little card game might provide a reminder to our community that a healthy sense of humor and an occasional dose of self-awareness are required in order for us to move toward a more sustainable future,” Lasky continues.