The reverend’s guide to eco-fiction

Jim Dwyer’s new book is an exhaustive survey of stories with an environmental theme

Photo courtesy of Jim Dwyer

Sometime between kayaking, concert-going and cooking, not to mention his day job, Jim Dwyer found time to write a book.

And quite a book it is. Though only 184 pages long, Where the Wild Books Are is an exhaustive guide to a subset of fiction writing that is generally called “eco-fiction.” (Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang is a widely known example of the genre.) In fact, Dwyer references more than 2,000 books in all—500 to 600 of which he said he’s personally read.

“I’m hoping it encourages people to read this kind of literature,” said Dwyer, a 61-year-old Seattle native who is the bibliographic services librarian at Chico State University. “My big surprise was how much good eco-fiction is being written around the world.”

After receiving his master’s degree in library science from the University of Washington in 1973, Dwyer got a job in the library at Northern Arizona University. He quickly grew unhappy.

“I was working at NAU, had the boss from hell, and had to get out,” he said, laughing. “I wound up in Chico.”

Dwyer is about as far from the stereotype of a librarian as one can get. With his long hair and fondness for colorful clothing, Dwyer can be spotted anywhere and everywhere around town. He’s a passionate concert-goer, often shows up and reads at open-mic poetry events (he writes humorous verse under the not-so-anonymous nom de plume of The Rev. Junkyard Moondog), and is a regular at Café Coda. He’s also an avid gardener and cook.

Although he’s not married, Dwyer says he currently has a “wonderful girlfriend.”

Dwyer began the process of writing Where the Wild Books Are back in 1993, but at the time the idea of a guide to fiction books about treating the Earth the right way wasn’t received very well.

“People just didn’t want to read about it in fiction,” Dwyer said.

Eco-fiction “might be simply described as a critical perspective on the relationship between literature and the natural world, and the place of humanity within,” Dwyer writes.

This isn’t Dwyer’s first book. In 1996, he came out with Earthworks, which he describes as a bibliography that includes nonfiction, fiction and literary essays about nature and the environment.

Where the Wild Books Are was published by the University of Nevada, Reno Press. Dwyer says his editor there, Scott Slovic, was his biggest influence while putting together this guide.

“He held me to very high standards,” said Dwyer. “And gave me tough love.”

Slovic, a professor of literature and environment at UNR, found that Dwyer’s personality seeped through in Where the Wild Books Are.

“Jim is a bibliophile … and he has an appealing kind of informality,” Slovic said. “I think he’s managed to capture a personal passion for literature.”

As for the tough love, Slovic said he thought Dwyer had the right kind of potential in his original manuscripts, but lacked the necessary amount of international literature at first. But Slovic, who has known Dwyer for several years, said he knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

“He has a raw enthusiasm for this kind of literature,” Slovic said. “He has a real personal connection.”

“Stories are powerful,” Dwyer said. “Fiction gets people to identify with the characters and the issues on a personal level.”

Among the influences on his own writing, Dwyer cites the Humboldt County-based novelist and poet Jim Dodge, with whom he has worked before, and who has written such fantastical pieces as 1983’s Fup, about a duck named “Fup” who lives on a farm with an old man who believes he is immortal because of the moonshine whiskey he drinks.

Where the Wild Books Are is available at Lyon Books in downtown Chico, where Dwyer encourages anyone and everyone to “come and get an autographed copy.”