What to Read When You Have to Carry on During Contemporary Collapse


My latest book Halfway from Home is a lyric essay collection about searching for home during emotional and environmental collapse. I grew up in a chaotic home and left at eighteen to chase restlessness across the country, claiming places on the West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast while my family fell further into addiction, illness, and poverty. The essays in this collection are about those many homes—they explore the tide pools and monarch groves of California, the fossil beds and grass prairies of Nebraska, and the scrimshaw shops and tangled forests of Massachusetts. They also grieve a vanishing world—a nation increasingly divided while the natural world is under siege by wildfire, tornados, and unrelenting storms.

As the world suffers, I’ve yearned to return to comforting times, to people and places that no longer exist. As someone who finds it difficult to move forward when I long for the past, I’ve ached with impermanence, with the struggle of coming of age at the moment of no return. My new collection is a blend of lyric memoir and lamenting cultural critique, an examination of contemporary longing and ache, a search for how to build a home when human connection is disappearing, and how to live meaningfully when our sense of self is uncertain in a fractured world. Ultimately, I hope this collection holds a mirror up to America and asks us to reflect on our past before we run out of time to save our future.

Here are eight other books that explore what it is like to carry on during contemporary collapse.


Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen
When the world feels fragmented and growing further apart, Chen Chen’s Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency offers someone on the other end of the line. Curious and playful, the poems in this collection explore the families we are born into and those we choose, the stories we inherit and those we invent despite living though a lifetime of emergencies. Examining what it means to be a queer Asian American living through the Trump era, through mass shootings, and during a global pandemic, the poems in this collection are still filled with humor and joy, offering readers a way to celebrate life despite our individual and collective grief.


What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri
When climate change threatens wildlife, Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s What We Fed to the Manticore offers nine stories narrated from animal perspective around the world to remind us of the dire importance of environmentalism and conservation. Narrated with tenderness and intimacy, the stories in this collection follow a donkey’s loyalty to a zookeeper in Gaza, a group of starving tigers grappling with the ethics of hunger, a hound mourning the loss of the endangered rhino he promised to protect, vultures in Central Asia looking for meaning as they eat from the bodies of the dead, a whale whose song is disrupted by ship sonar, and a wounded pigeon in Delhi. Rich and tender, these stories reveal the joys and fears of the animal world, reflecting on identity and belonging, family and loss, and reminding readers of all we have in common with the creatures of this world.


Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things in Between by Joseph Osmundson
When the ongoing pandemic and new threats to public health feel overwhelming, Joseph Osmundson’s Virology offers insights on the scientific and sociopolitical impacts of viruses and calls for collective responsibility in order to ensure a better future. Blending Osmundson’s expertise in microbiology with the work of HIV/AIDs activists and queer theory scholars, the essays in this timely collection examine the science behind the many viruses we encounter, while also reflecting on our social, political, and economic responses to illness. Osmundson’s essays put viruses like HIV and COVID-19 under a microscope to examine the complexities of risk reduction and public health, and to issue a warning about our collective actions if we are to enact change.


Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones
When apocalypse seems upon us, Saeed Jones’ Alive at the End of the World confronts catastrophe, turning to history to reveal that the end has already arrived, that America has always required us to carry on despite disaster. Juxtaposing poems about private and public sorrows and betrayals, Jones explores individual and collective grief, confronting American idealism and artifice to reveal the perils of living in a country built on white supremacy and existential threats. Intimate, elegant, and charged with wit, the poems in this collection call forth cultural icons like Little Richard and Aretha Franklin in conversation with contemporary hurts to reveal just how long we’ve survived disaster, and to teach readers how to seek out community and compassion amidst collapse.


The World As We Knew It: Dispatches From a Changing Climate edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen
When it seems as though no one is responding to the climate crisis, The World As We Knew It: Dispatches From a Changing Climate, edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen, offers the voices of leading writers reflecting on the ways climate change has disrupted their lives, and the personal and political consequences of this urgent global threat. Essays by Lydia Millet, Alexandra Kleeman, Kim Stanley Robinson, Omar El Akkad, Lidia Yuknavitch, Melissa Febos, Lacy M. Johnson, Porochista Khakpour, and others take readers from Antarctica to Australia, the Middle East to the Caribbean, and across various states in America, revealing the transformations of familiar places and issuing dire warnings about the pervasive impacts of climate change across the globe.


You Cannot Save Here by Anthony Moll
When each day feels like the world is ending, Anthony Moll’s poetry collection You Cannot Save Here offers tender glimpses into how to survive. In poems at once elegiac and energizing, Moll weaves references to pop culture and counter culture, visual art and video games with poignant reflections about what we have lost and sharp revelations about we might save. In a world consumed by climate change, gun violence, pandemic, and war, Moll invites readers to consider the small moments, juxtaposing confession about the present and speculation about the future to remind us that the apocalypse is not without queer wonder, desire, and love.


Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong
When a “post-pandemic” world seeks to erase disabled voices, Alice Wong’s Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life creates space for them by sharing her story alongside other leading disabled activists. Collaging previously published work with new essays, conversations with other activists, graphics, photos, and commissioned art by Asian American and disabled artists, Wong creates a mosaic call to action for creators and community organizers. The ambition, passion, and ferocity of Wong’s tiger energy coalesces her many thoughts on pop culture, creativity, dreams, power, the pandemic, and mortality, inviting readers to gather their own strength and determination to enact meaningful change. Equal parts joy, rage, and humor, Wong’s book offers sharp critiques of the present with the momentum and insight needed to dismantle systemic ableism in order to build a better future.


Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
When it is hard to feel anything other than collective grief, Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy invites readers to examine the notion that joy might not be separate from pain, that it, in fact, emerges from how we care for each through struggle and sorrow. Throughout this timely collection of essays on finding healing through caring for the dying, gardening as opportunity for collective care, skateboarding as the reclamation of public space, ways to create and critique art, and the pleasures of digression, Gay introduces readers to the habits and rituals of joy, encouraging us to expand our capacity for delight and demonstrating how to actively invite joy into our lives. This is a collection that reveals collective joy is possible despite our current division, offering a compassionate way to navigate contemporary collapse, and a curious, hopeful way forward.




Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Halfway from Home (Split/Lip Press), Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press), and three poetry chapbooks. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery More from this author →