cover image Literature for a Changing Planet

Literature for a Changing Planet

Martin Puchner. Princeton Univ, $18.95 (168p) ISBN 978-0-6912-1375-0

“The power of stories... needs to be harnessed to a new purpose: mitigating climate change,” writes Harvard English professor Puchner (The Written World) in this sharp collection of lectures. Applying “ecocriticism” to world literature, Puncher contends, reveals lessons about the climate crisis and offers “a broader set of models upon which to draw when it comes to telling new stories about humans and their planet.” In “Reading in a Warming World,” Puncher examines stories that reveal the “societal processes that put us on our current, disastrous path.” This includes The Epic of Gilgamesh, which marks the first major record of human settlement and is also a chronicle of the battle between civilization and nature. “The Two Faces of World Literature” makes a case that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s writing was laced with “environmental thinking,” and that he inaugurated the idea of “world literature” that transcended nationalist novels, while “How to Anthologize the World” outlines Puncher’s eco-conscious rules for reading: never forget that books require resource extraction, he urges, and remember that the canon is not a “neutral tool.” It’s a stirring manifesto, and Puncher’s arguments are impressive. He effectively inspires fresh ways of reading, and climate-minded bookworms, especially, will find plenty to savor. (Jan.)