Many writers have warned about the perils of climate change. But few novelists have succeeded in turning scientific data into gripping fiction. The best-selling author of “The Lacuna” and “The Poisonwood Bible” hopes to change that. Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a young mother trapped in rural poverty, who discovers millions of butterflies glowing like a “lake of fire” in a pasture. That vision — which stops her from an adulterous tryst – and its aftermath becomes a wake-up call about climate change for an Appalachian community. It also marks the beginning of a new life for her. Join Diane for her interview with author Barbara Kingsolver.

Guests

  • Barbara Kingsolver author of seven works of fiction, including "The Poisonwood Bible," "Animal Dreams," "The Bean Trees" and a recent memoir, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."

Read An Excerpt

From FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingsolver Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Transcript

  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Barbara Kingsolver's new novel comes at an appropriate moment as a Nor'easter throttled the east coast soon after Hurricane Sandy. Some question the role of global warming in the number and the intensity of recent storms.

  • 11:07:15

    MS. DIANE REHMThe best-selling author's new novel deals with the consequences of climate change for one species, the Monarch butterfly and its effect on another species, humans. The book is titled "Flight Behavior." Barbara Kingsolver joins me in the studio.

  • 11:07:34

    MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you will want to chime in. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Barbara, it's good to see you again.

  • 11:07:52

    MS. BARBARA KINGSOLVERIt's great to be here, Diane, thanks.

  • 11:07:56

    REHMWell, it's my pleasure. I want, if you would, for you to read for us from the opening narrative of your brand new book, "Flight Behavior." There is a really dramatic moment for all of us when our heroine, Dellarobia, sees something...

  • 11:08:27

    KINGSOLVERSomething...

  • 11:08:27

    REHM...extraordinary.

  • 11:08:27

    KINGSOLVERRight. And I will say that the very first sentence of this novel is this, "A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away and it is one part rapture." I believe that the first sentence of a novel should make a promise that the novel keeps and so that tells you what the promise is. It's about throwing your life away even when you know it's -- even when you can see what's coming at you.

  • 11:09:02

    KINGSOLVERIt's about denial. So you've asked me to read a little bit. Let me just introduce it slightly, concisely, by saying that this young woman is marching up the hill thinking she's throwing her life away because she's going to meet a...

  • 11:09:20

    REHMA young man.

  • 11:09:20

    KINGSOLVERYes, a man who is not her husband. She's a young mother. She's stuck in a dead-end marriage, a dead-end life really. She lives on this failing sheep farm with in-laws that disapprove of her so she's just reached the end of her rope. And so she's marching up this hill to this assignation and instead runs into something completely unexpected and I'll read this little excerpt.

  • 11:09:51

    KINGSOLVERAnd I guess I'll locate this as well, she's in southern Appalachia in the mountains. She's gone up a forested mountain behind her farm. So she's looking out across an overlook and she stops dead in her tracks. "A small shift between cloud and sun altered the daylight and the whole landscape intensified, brightening before her eyes.

  • 11:10:21

    KINGSOLVERThe forest blazed with its own internal flame. Jesus, she said, not calling for help. She and Jesus weren't that close, but putting her voice in the world because nothing else present made sense. The sun slipped out by another degree, passing its warmth across the land and the mountain seemed to explode with light.

  • 11:10:43

    KINGSOLVERBrightness of a new intensity moved up the valley in a rippling wave like the disturbed surface of a lake. Every bough of every tree glowed with an orange blaze. Jesus, God, she said again. No words came to her that seemed sane. Trees turned to fire, a burning bush. Moses came to mind and Ezekiel, words from scripture that occupied a certain space in her brain but no longer carried honest weight if they ever had.

  • 11:11:14

    KINGSOLVERBurning coals of fire went up and down among the living creatures. The flame now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way the pine log does in a campfire when it's poked. The sparks spiraled upward in swirls like funnel clouds, twisters of brightness against gray sky.

  • 11:11:39

    KINGSOLVERIn broad daylight with no comprehension she watched. From the tops of the funnels the sparks lifted high and sailed out undirected above the dark forest. A forest fire, if that's what it was, would roar. This consternation swept the mountain in perfect silence. The air above remained cold and clear, no smoke, no crackling howl.

  • 11:12:03

    KINGSOLVERShe stopped breathing for a second and closed her eyes to listen but heard nothing, only a faint patter like rain on leaves. Not fire, she thought, but her eyes when opened could only tell her, fire. This place is burning. They said, get out of here. Up or down, she was unsure. She eyed the dark uncertainty of the trail and the un-crossable breach of the valley. It was all the same everywhere, every tree aglow."

  • 11:12:32

    REHMI'm on the edge of my seat.

  • 11:12:37

    REHMAnd of course, that was author Barbara Kingsolver reading from her brand new book "Flight Behavior." And what she is seeing are Monarch butterflies.

  • 11:12:52

    KINGSOLVERRight, you don't -- She doesn't know what she's seeing and it is some time before she, or presumably the reader, unless he or she listened to the show, will know exactly what it is. And what this young woman, Dellarobia, does is, takes it as a miracle and she turns around and marches back and picks up her kids and tries to keep this a secret. But soon enough, it breaks and it is -- It's a freak, biological event that attracts a lot of attention to this little farming community in eastern Tennessee.

  • 11:13:32

    KINGSOLVERHalf the people there think it's a miracle from God and the other half think it's a very disastrous consequence of climate change. And scientists come in and tourists and the media and all kinds of people trying to exploit the opportunity.

  • 11:13:49

    KINGSOLVERAnd so what this novel really is about is how we talk about what's happening. Why is it that we can all look at the same events and come away believing different things? And quite specifically, it's about climate change and why is it that all of us are looking at these unprecedented weather events. In the region where I live, southern Appalachia where this book is set, we've had one disaster year after another for our farms.

  • 11:14:21

    KINGSOLVERThe weather is getting more unpredictable, more fierce and now we've just had, you know, this reckoning of these unprecedented storms and attracting a lot of attention on the east coast. And why is it that we can, even if we're not scientists, we look at these events and we can say, oh, it's a new kind of weather or we can say, oh, this is an act of God.

  • 11:14:52

    KINGSOLVERI'm really interested in this non-conversation that we're having so in the novel it's a really good way to examine belief, modes of belief, how people decide what to believe because the species, as you said, that the novel really is about, always, is humans. So this is about human behavior.

  • 11:15:13

    REHMAnd human behavior, in this day and age, while you have a majority of scientists who accept the idea, the reality that there is climate change, you have voices continuing to deny the scientific validity of this idea. You have used fiction...

  • 11:15:46

    KINGSOLVERUm-hum.

  • 11:15:46

    REHM...to present this idea in a brand new way.

  • 11:15:50

    KINGSOLVERRight, yes, that was my intention. That was my plan because novelists really aren't writing about climate change. Well, it's pretty rare for novelists to write about science, in general, so because I was trained as a scientist, I really like to write about science and about the methods of science. And part of the difficulty of this conversation, non-conversation, that as a nation we're having or not having about climate change, is that it's hard for people even always to understand the language of science.

  • 11:16:26

    KINGSOLVERAs you said, not just most, really all scientists now agree that we are looking at a warming planet, but scientists, by nature of what scientists do, scientists are very cautious and very clear and careful about, to be accurate.

  • 11:16:53

    KINGSOLVERSo let me give you an example, like I would -- as a mother, I would say to a child, to my child, if a dog growls at you, don't pet it because it's going to bite. A politician would say, if a dog growls, it's sure to bite you and, you know, maybe it wasn't even born in this country. I don't know. But a scientist has to say, if a dog growls at you, there is a possibility that it will bite, but there is also a possibility that it won't. This is true. It might be a 4 percent possibility.

  • 11:17:31

    KINGSOLVERTherefore, I cannot tell you for sure not to pet the dog. That's what we're hearing from scientists. We cannot tell you for certain that these events -- that the warming ocean caused Hurricane Sandy and so because we're so accustomed to hearing certainty in ordinary discourse in this country, we think that means if they're not sure, then it must not be true.

  • 11:17:53

    REHMWhy do you believe we are having a non-conversation?

  • 11:18:01

    KINGSOLVERWell, that's one reason that I just gave, that it's difficult for non-scientists to understand the language of science and that caution doesn't mean lack of certainty or lack of reason to be concerned. Another reason, very obviously, is that the, well, let's just say it. The wealthiest corporations in the history of the world are oil companies and they are in the business of keeping people wanting and burning fossil fuels. So, you know, they've invested quite a lot in misinformation.

  • 11:18:36

    REHMBarbara Kingsolver, her new novel is titled "Flight Behavior." I invite you to be part of the conversation. Join us 800-433-8850.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Renowned author Barbara Kingsolver is with me. Her newest novel is titled "Flight Behavior." Here is a tweet: No living author marries science and poetry so skillfully as Barbara Kingsolver. And I do agree.

  • 11:20:27

    KINGSOLVERWell, thank you. Thanks to both you.

  • 11:20:29

    REHMIt's just marvelous.

  • 11:20:31

    KINGSOLVERWell, it's what I love to do, and I think that the more you love to do something the harder you'll work at it.

  • 11:20:37

    REHMBut, Barbara, you have in this, you talked about climate change and science and the perception that scientists cannot be absolutely absolute because of that 2 or 3 percentage points. But politics comes into this a great deal. You talked about the large oil companies, other companies indeed are very concerned lest the watchfulness about climate change overtake the profit-making opportunity.

  • 11:21:23

    KINGSOLVERRight. Of course regulation on pollution, on placing limits on the carbon that we put into the air is not in the interest of, obviously, of the carbon producers. So that's true. The purview of a novelist, however, as I said, is not politics and not economic per se but human behavior. So what interests me is why is this disinformation so effective among some people and not in others. For me, this was -- this is an important novel for me to write, because I have a -- I lived dead in the center of this particular culture war.

  • 11:22:13

    KINGSOLVERI live in a rural conservative region of southern Appalachia. My neighbors are farmers. We have had, as I said, one disaster after another affecting our agriculture. And yet these same rural people are the least inclined or equipped to understand climate change or believe in it. So having watched this, the people suffering the most and suffering first are at a disadvantage at naming the problem interested me so much.

  • 11:22:49

    KINGSOLVERAnd that's what I wanted to write about and I did. And so the characters in this novel are rural conservative, church-going farmers. And I really wanted to explore their dilemma and how it is that they -- and why they believe what they believe. I'm very sympathetic to these people. I think they are smart. They are my people. I think they are informed in a way, but I think that it's interesting that we are all less rational than we think.

  • 11:23:18

    KINGSOLVERWe take our truths from people we trust. And so we have a kind of tribal affiliation with our beliefs. So you first decide who are your people, who can you trust and then you absorb your beliefs from them. So how do we talk about this? How do we talk across these divides? Contempt can be no part of that conversation. Throwing stones is not helpful. Saying, oh, if only those people were smart enough, they would believe the way I do, t*hat doesn't work at all either. So that's what I wanted to write about.

  • 11:23:57

    REHMAnd you write in a way that demonstrates that each person in this novel is somehow flawed.

  • 11:24:08

    KINGSOLVERYes.

  • 11:24:09

    REHMFlawed in outlook, flawed in perception, flawed in even attempts at behavior.

  • 11:24:18

    KINGSOLVERRight. Nobody here is entirely right or entirely wrong. And the presumption that anyone is entirely right is ridiculous. So, yes, I entered this with an enormous amount of sympathy for every side of this conversation.

  • 11:24:41

    REHMBut at the same time, are you with the novel, trying to use your authorship to help people understand that, flaws aside and small percentages aside, there is reality?

  • 11:25:04

    KINGSOLVERWell, there is reality. And ultimately, even though nobody's entirely right and entirely wrong, finally there is evidence. And one of the things I really wanted to write about here involved the methods of science and scientific thinking. And there are some things that I wanted to explain in this novel that, I mean -- well, first of all, the plot hinges around some knowing some science. So there is a little bit of physics in this novel.

  • 11:25:39

    KINGSOLVERThere is a good deal of entomology. And there is an explanation of the difference between causation and correlation. But see, I mean, if you put that on a flap copy, then, you know, this book would not get read.

  • 11:25:56

    KINGSOLVERIt concerns me that a lot of people are afraid of science and afraid of or feel that they won't be able to understand ideas like this. So this is the challenge and this is what's really fun for me as a scientifically trained novelist to write about correlation and causation in a way that's not threatening, it's interesting, it's entertaining so that you learn what you learn incidentally because you're really interested in the plot and finding out where it's going.

  • 11:26:24

    REHMAnd an awful lot of people within this novel believe that what they are seeing or what they have heard about is actually God's word.

  • 11:26:37

    KINGSOLVERRight. They think that it's a miracle and they think that it's a gift to this little town. They think that somehow this is this wonderful manifestation of Jesus or of some kind munificence that they can get some tourist dollars out of. And so naturally, it's -- nobody wants to hear: Oh, in fact, this is evidence of a very diseased system. This is a mark of -- this is a disaster. Nobody wants to hear that the beautiful miracle in their backyard is a disaster.

  • 11:27:14

    REHMHere's another tweet saying, and I think you just answered this: What do science and novels have in common? How do you write a novel that share scientific truths without preaching?

  • 11:27:33

    KINGSOLVERWell, preaching, I couldn't do that if I tried because that has -- that's an agenda-driven work and you have to know exactly what you think is right and you have to know exactly where your convert is meant to go. My process is utterly different from that. I think what literature can do is ask the reader what you think. And so, like any other novelist, whether he or she is expert in science or in submarines or, you know, what have you, I bring a body knowledge and, you know, some research that I've and so forth to my work and then I create a world that invites you, the reader, into a conversation essentially with yourself.

  • 11:28:22

    KINGSOLVERAnd what I'm saying is, okay, given these events and these conflicts and these particular truths that I've brought here for you to examine, how do you feel about that? What do you think? That's how you do it. You don't tell, you ask.

  • 11:28:41

    REHMBarbara Kingsolver. And, of course, she was trained as a biologist. She worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia. She won the 2010 Britain Orange Prize for "The Lacuna." And now her latest novel, "Flight Behavior." We have a great many callers who are waiting to talk with you. But before we open the phones, I want to ask you to tell us a little more Dellarobbia.

  • 11:29:26

    REHMYou've said, she has been stuck in this unfortunate relationship. She is not appreciated. She was stopped in her tracks as she went off to meet this young man. She turned around. She did not go off to have the affair.

  • 11:29:48

    KINGSOLVERThat's right.

  • 11:29:49

    REHMWhat happens to her?

  • 11:29:51

    KINGSOLVERWell, that's the novel. But in a novel you need a very compelling protagonist. You need a protagonist that people can relate to and root for even though she is flawed. I mean, as you meet her, she is, by her own admission, about to throw away what some people would say a good life, at least a roof over her head. But she's a young woman who's been very frustrated by life. She had dreams of going to college but she got pregnant in high school, shotgun wedding, lives on her in-laws' farm.

  • 11:30:28

    KINGSOLVERHer mother-in-law basically hates her and lets her know that. So she's -- she has this sweet husband Cub, as dumb as a box of rocks, and she just has no -- and she's taking care of her two little kids whom she loves dearly. But this is just -- she spends her life with people who rolled plastic trucks on the floor. And she sees nothing else ahead of her. And so what happens when she discovers this miracle is that somehow she -- well, through surprising events, she becomes sort of -- this miracle is a tribute to her in the global media and she becomes of our Lady of the Butterflies.

  • 11:31:13

    KINGSOLVERAnd there's, you know, she becomes a meme and she becomes very famous overnight. And when the scientists begin to come in and the media and everyone, she's suddenly introduced to a world, not just outside her own walls, outside of her own community, but outside her state and country. Her world becomes globalized overnight. She's a character who has a lot to learn. And one of the things she has a lot to learn about, well basically everything, but she also learns about the methods of science because she becomes hired by this very sort of exotic and interesting and handsome scientist, Dr. Byron.

  • 11:31:57

    KINGSOLVERDr. Ovid Byron, who comes in to study this phenomenon, hires her as a kind of lab assistant, which is the first job she's ever really had. And she of course falls hopelessly in love with Dr. Byron, among other things. But she's a person who's always flown from pillar to post. That's what she recalls her mother saying when she was young. And so this is about flying -- it's about flight behavior of all kinds, trying to run away from what's in front of you, trying to run away from truth, owning up.

  • 11:32:36

    REHMBarbara Kingsolver, the new novel "Flight Behavior" and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Oak Ridge, TN. Hello, Bill, you're on the air.

  • 11:32:59

    BILLOh, good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:33:01

    REHMSure.

  • 11:33:01

    BILLDiane, I love your show.

  • 11:33:03

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:03

    BILLThank you so much for what you do. I just wanted to comment concerning the scientific study of climate change and how, you know, the anecdotal information is just discounted so often. As for myself, my best friend and I have been hiking the same stretch of trail in the Cumberland Foothills for over 20 years. And the reason for this was just to see how many blooming wildflowers that we see on one day.

  • 11:33:39

    BILLAnd over the past 15 years, they have decreased greatly as far as the bloom is concern. And this year, in fact, all of the flowers that we would find on a particular day had already bloomed and had gone to sea. And we're talking two weeks before they would have actually started blooming when we first started this survey. And I'll take your comments off the line. Thank you.

  • 11:34:09

    REHMAll right, thanks for calling.

  • 11:34:11

    KINGSOLVERHi there. I want to say hello, neighbor. I live just on the other side of Bristol. So we're from the same neck of the woods as this caller. And he's absolutely right, we're seeing -- climate changes often spoken of as this future abstract threat. In fact, it's already with us and this is very well documented. And I used as the central device of this novel a very sort of dramatic and beautiful migratory shift, which is also, you know, does not bode well for the entire species collected in one place, sort of doomed as it is.

  • 11:34:52

    KINGSOLVERBut -- and this hasn't happened, of course. This is an invention, this migratory shift. But I wanted to construct it out of a plausible background. And in fact, there are lots and lots of migratory shifts that have been documented among birds especially. My husband who's an ornithologist gave me a study right before I came on this tour showing that of 300 species of birds studied in the United States, the great majority of them, I think over 200 of them, have dramatically shifted their range, where they live in the last 10 years, 10 to 15 years.

  • 11:35:39

    KINGSOLVERThis is -- and wildflowers, as Bill said, are blooming earlier. Everything about our world is changing under our feet. And we as humans are very adaptable. Most other species don't have the option of picking up and moving somewhere else. Birds are easy to track in this way, but even -- I mean the birds don't have -- ultimately you can only go so high up a mountain and then you reach the top. You can only go so far north. And this is only a relatively small part of the huge picture in which we're all related.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMAnd so what Bill is seeing is these flowers going cede even before they were supposed to be in bloom.

  • 11:36:26

    KINGSOLVERBlooming, that's right. And so what is the problem here? Well, some species, let's say, of insects or a hummingbird that was dependent on this flower when it came back from migration is going to get to an empty grocery store. There are thousands, millions of these kinds of interactions in which species depend on each other in terms of timing, in terms of climatic cues that are going awry. It's a bigger mess than almost anyone can really explain, because we're only beginning to be able to get a handle in studying it.

  • 11:37:04

    REHMBarbara Kingsolver, and we are talking about her latest novel, "Flight Behavior." When we come back, more of your emails, your telephone calls from Shippensburg, PA, Flint, MI, Arlington, TX, Lexington, KY and Indianapolis. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMWe going right back to the phones, your questions, comments for Barbara Kingsolver. Her new novel is titled, "Flight Behavior." To Jennifer in Indianapolis, good morning to you.

  • 11:40:18

    JENNIFERGood morning, thank you for taking my question. And, Barbara, I really look forward to reading your book. My question is something -- about something you've alluded to which is religious objections to climate change. The ones I've heard are of people saying, for instance, that the rapture is coming and people won't be here anyway to deal with the consequences of climate change. Or, for instance, that the resources of the earth were put here by God to be used by us. Therefore, he won't let any negative consequences befall us as we consume them.

  • 11:40:55

    JENNIFERAnd I'm wondering -- I mean I will admit I tend to look down on those kinds of theories because they seem almost like an excuse, like, well, it's easier to not say it's climate change so I'll latch onto this, sort of, overly simplified cop out. But maybe I shouldn't see it that way and I'm wondering what you think.

  • 11:41:11

    KINGSOLVERWell, it's a very good question. And it was a question that was important to me as I entered this novel. And a lot of -- a good piece of this novel takes place in church, in fact, and an important character in this novel is Pastor Bobby Ogle who is kind of a Dickensian character and a positive character. I spent time researching these churches and these religious communities because I wanted to write about them sympathetically. And they're very important because religious communities, especially in rural places, are one of the most important places from which people absorb and accept their truths about the world.

  • 11:41:52

    KINGSOLVERAnd, to back up a little, you are right. It's easier for any of us to say, oh, there's -- there's some other reason for climate change. We don't really -- I'd rather not face it. I mean we would all rather not face it. And weather and climate is immense. It's difficult for us to really believe innately that it could be changed or altered by human -- human business. And so we all kind of have this conversation with ourselves. That's a little to -- there's a little moment in this book where Dellarobia's husband says, well, you know, he's arguing with her because she's just beginning to, kind of, think of this as a possibility -- climate change.

  • 11:42:37

    KINGSOLVERAnd he says weather's the Lord's business. And she thinks about how that has been said about every tragedy that ever happened in her life -- her father died as a young man. Her mother got cancer. She lost a baby. And everybody always says well, that's the Lord's business. And she says, well, Cub, people probably used to say that when disease came through and took everyone -- you know, killed everyone's children. Does that mean we shouldn't vaccinate them? So we all have to have these conversations about what we're willing to accept as inevitable versus what we can take responsibility for.

  • 11:43:16

    KINGSOLVERHowever, what I can say about religious communities in the South is that they are beginning to be a wonderful place for having this conversation because, as I said earlier, we believe -- we take our truths from people we trust. And there's a growing movement in church communities to embrace creation as something that should be protected. You can call it the -- the green church movement or it's -- it has many names. But it is active in my -- my part of the world, Southern Appalachia, and elsewhere. And it's -- it's a very good place -- it's one of several really good places to start having -- having the difficult conversation.

  • 11:44:05

    REHMJennifer thanks for calling. To Lexington, Ky., hi, there James.

  • 11:44:13

    JAMESHello there. Congratulations on your book. It sounds great.

  • 11:44:17

    KINGSOLVERThanks.

  • 11:44:18

    JAMESLook forward to seeing it. I have three -- three things to say very quickly. First of all, mainstream science has actually rejected some of the better alternatives to our present energy paradigm. And you might find that people who have faith in God are more likely to accept the fact that a better alternative exists to our carbon fuel paradigm.

  • 11:44:42

    JAMESSome of the greatest scientists who've come up with these answers, like Nikola Tesla, who introduced our energy system, if we'd continued with his line of thinking, there wouldn't be a bunch of people on the East Coast without electricity because he suggested an independent energy paradigm where you don't have -- you're not tied to a grid. And he's the one who introduced the grid.

  • 11:45:06

    JAMESSecondly, with regard to religion or the Bible, in particular, and what we're facing right now is it some kind of divine message. Well, when we use the word handwriting on the wall, that expression, that scripture in general is accompanied by the phrase you've been weighed in the scales and have been found wanting. And I think this present paradigm is definitely showing that we have been on the wrong track and we're having to pay the piper for it.

  • 11:45:32

    JAMESThere was a brilliant scientist in a Scandinavian country. I can't remember exactly which country he was in. But in the 1870s, I believe, he predicted global warming with a very simple experiment that shows that an increase in carbon in the atmosphere causes an increase -- a rise in temperature. Anyway, I just wanted to mention those things.

  • 11:45:50

    REHMAll right, thanks for calling.

  • 11:45:52

    KINGSOLVERThanks. I agree with you that there are many alternatives to the carbon-based economy that -- and decentralization is a very safe and good way to go. And there are, obviously, economic objections to that that we have to overcome. And I want to also say, for my daughter, Lily, that Nick -- I'm going to say Nikola Tesla on air because Tesla is her hero.

  • 11:46:21

    REHMAhh.

  • 11:46:22

    KINGSOLVERSo she'll be thrilled that he was mentioned and his -- his early idea of a decentralized energy system. However, that's, sort of, beyond the scope of my novel. But I do agree with you. And I also agree you are right that climate change has been discussed in the scientific community for truly more than a century. And it has been understood really well for 30 years and more.

  • 11:46:47

    KINGSOLVERAnd it's interesting that it wasn't even a politically polarized issue 15, 20 years ago. Fifteen years ago in polls, in questionnaires, people -- most Americans knew something about climate change and said, yes, it is a problem.

  • 11:47:05

    REHMAnd what changed?

  • 11:47:06

    KINGSOLVERAnd at that time republicans and democrats both, sort of, gave the same answer. Yes, it's something we need to be thinking about. What changed is -- well, I wrote a whole novel about that. But essentially that these -- it has -- the communities have become very divided and, sort of, have staked identity in certain beliefs. And it becomes more and more difficult to be flexible about these beliefs when they're so anchored to your identity and your team.

  • 11:47:38

    KINGSOLVERAs Dellarobia, at one point in this novel, is trying to explain it to her boss, Ovid Byron, who just doesn't get why these country people are so firm. And she says, well, you just -- you don't get a choice. You're on your team. We're divided. We're team cammo and team latte, you know. That's how she sees it. You got to be true to your team and you -- and the beliefs get handed out and you got to stick to them. So when we behave contemptuously towards the other team, we're not getting any closer to being able to actually talk about this.

  • 11:48:16

    REHMSo how are you in your community regarded as part of a particular team or part of the other?

  • 11:48:30

    KINGSOLVERWell, I don't know. Most people in my neighborhood know me as that girl up there that's got the sheep and all that. And she's always wearing muddy boots when she comes down to get the mail. I'm very comfortable talking with my neighbors about, you know, the weather. We all talk about the weather all the time. And I grew up in a social milieu that, you know, that -- in which family is important and community loyalty is important. And I speak the language. And it's kind of odd to me that I have an identity at home and then I go out into the world and even my accent changes a bit.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMI understand that very well.

  • 11:49:15

    KINGSOLVERI was -- my homeland was coming back when we got a call from Oakridge. But it is -- I do work -- I do live in two worlds absolutely. But I see that as a great advantage as an artist I can bring an understanding and a love for this culture into the wider world.

  • 11:49:38

    REHMTo Fenton, Mich., hi there, Michael.

  • 11:49:42

    MICHAELHi, I believe what we have here is two flowers in full bloom.

  • 11:49:47

    KINGSOLVEROh.

  • 11:49:49

    REHMHow nice. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:49:52

    MICHAELI've never heard of Barbara before. I stay up late doing business on the other side of the world. And so I had just woke up when she was reading. I was really fascinated with her writing. It just absolutely amazed me that the ability that you have, Barbara.

  • 11:50:11

    KINGSOLVERThank you.

  • 11:50:11

    MICHAELI was -- you answered most of my question I was going to ask while I was listening. But as I was listening I wondered where -- how did you get this ability that you have. And I believe what we have here is a writer sitting next to Diane that has got so much talent that I just can't even fathom it. But I'm kind of wondering what are you going to write about next, actually?

  • 11:50:38

    KINGSOLVERGood question. Well, writing is my job and I love it. And I would say that's sort of the key to everything. If you love your job, you will work very hard at it.

  • 11:50:50

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:50:53

    KINGSOLVERAnd if you don't love your job, hang in there. And hope for something you -- someday you can do that you will adore as much as I love getting to write stories for a living. I mean I just can't believe my luck. I wake up in the morning and say, hurray, I get to do this. And you are right that there is -- there's always another book in the pipe.

  • 11:51:20

    KINGSOLVERAs soon as I've finished one my heart is really sliding into the next. But then I, of course, have to stop that slide and go on a book tour and talk about, you know, the present novel, "Flight Behavior," which is very exciting to do because after working in isolation for a year or two years or however long it takes, and because I work, of course, all alone in a room, to go out and meet the world of readers. And see that this thing that I do alone in my room has another whole life when it comes into the world.

  • 11:51:57

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:51:58

    KINGSOLVERAnd to remember that and to remember how important that is. And that that's really the reason that I do this.

  • 11:52:04

    REHMDo you want to give us a hint as to what the next one is likely to be?

  • 11:52:12

    KINGSOLVERWell, I'm weighing through -- I actually have three possibilities -- a collection of poetry, a collection of essays and a novel. I'm thinking about all three of them so it's really just, kind of, a tossup which one will rise to the surface.

  • 11:52:26

    REHMSo, Michael, you have the opportunity to begin reading now the work of Barbara Kingsolver. The book is titled, "Flight Behavior." Let's go to Shippensburg, Pa., hi there, Sarah.

  • 11:52:45

    SARAHHi there.

  • 11:52:47

    REHMHow are you?

  • 11:52:48

    SARAHI'm doing very well, thank you. I wanted to first applaud Ms. Kingsolver. I have been reading your books since I was a teenager.

  • 11:52:55

    KINGSOLVERWow, thanks.

  • 11:52:56

    SARAHAnd I am now an English teacher in a rural country school district.

  • 11:53:01

    KINGSOLVERHurray for you. I am so proud of you.

  • 11:53:06

    SARAHAnd my question is do you have any recommended reading that I could throw at my students?

  • 11:53:13

    KINGSOLVERWow, for students -- well, you're, of course, the best gauge of your students. And the main thing I would say to you is I think high school English teachers are the saints of this earth.

  • 11:53:27

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:53:29

    KINGSOLVERAnd I thank you for what you do. And you are training the next generation of readers to love literature. And without them I am nothing. So thank you for what you do. It's really hard for me to recommend to your students -- well, I'm curious, where do you teach? Where are you working?

  • 11:53:51

    SARAHI teach in a school district that's Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It's one town over from mine. And we're in northern Appalachia.

  • 11:53:57

    KINGSOLVERUp in northern Appalachia.

  • 11:53:59

    SARAHMy climate is very similar to yours as far as agrarian and generally being a conservative, kind of, church-based place. So what I'm wondering is how can I begin the conversation with students about climate change?

  • 11:54:16

    KINGSOLVERI think young people are more open. They're still forming their ideas. They may be even ready to rebel against their parents a little bit. You can talk about what is, you know. You begin not with the abstract, but what is and what -- you can talk about what climate change means, which is unpredictable, unsettled more and more scary weather because we can already see that.

  • 11:54:40

    REHMAnd that's a perfect way to start, Sarah. Thanks for calling. And to, let's see, Toledo, Ohio, hi, Cecilia.

  • 11:54:53

    CECILIAHi, how are you?

  • 11:54:55

    REHMFine, thanks.

  • 11:54:56

    CECILIAI want to say I'm grateful you are both in this world. You're so...

  • 11:54:59

    REHMOh, thank you.

  • 11:55:00

    CECILIA...positively influential to all of us. And I wanted to say to Barbara Kingsolver just last night at 11:30, I finished "The Poisonwood Bible." My daughter, 18-year-old, had read it and she said, mom, you have to read this book.

  • 11:55:11

    REHMHave to read it, of course.

  • 11:55:12

    CECILIAAnd it was the most powerful novel I have ever read in my life. And I felt it was so pertinent what was happening with the family in the Congo. About the religious zeal and how religion can be positive. But in this case can be very dangerous, too. And what happened to those people. It relates a lot to what was going on in our political situation before the election. And I -- I just found it so pertinent, so important and such genius and the point of view of the women.

  • 11:55:41

    CECILIAAnd that book, it was just absolutely amazing the way you put the forth. And I want to thank you for what you done. What you do -- your writing influences us deeply. And it will stay with me the rest of my life. And I will run to the store for your new book.

  • 11:55:58

    KINGSOLVERWell, thank you so much. And I'm so glad that you share literature with your daughter. That's a beautiful thing.

  • 11:56:04

    REHMIsn't that wonderful. I mean what a great way to make a connection. And it was the daughter who recommended to the mother.

  • 11:56:15

    KINGSOLVERRight. I think that's (word?) .

  • 11:56:16

    REHMSo your books, Barbara, are not only reaching out to individuals, but really to families as well, to start a conversation. Perhaps that's where the conversation does begin rightfully so and moves out into the larger community.

  • 11:56:43

    KINGSOLVERI think you're so right about that because the fundamental to belief is trust. And it is a good place to start in a family setting when you -- where you can break bread. Those difficult family conversations are wonderful and important to have.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMBarbara Kingsolver and, I promise you, you will begin a conversation after you've read her new novel, "Flight Behavior." Congratulations, Barbara.

  • 11:57:16

    KINGSOLVERThanks so much. Thanks for having me again.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMAnd thank you for being here. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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