Off the Shelf: Writing about the weather

Weather plays a part in known books such as The Grapes of Wrath and Light Boxes.

John Steinbeck's classic The Grapes of Wrath shows a family battling weather and its toil on the land in the mid-west U.S.

Apparently Canadians talk about the weather more than residents of any other country, but while we may find the topic quite interesting, talking about weather is often considered what one does to fill awkward social silences.

That being said, many writers have used weather conditions like rain, a blizzard, or a dust storm to set the scene of a story or as metaphors for mood or plot turns.

In the following titles, weather evolves into an additional protagonist, deeply interwoven with its fellow characters and plot.

–– Light Boxes by Shane Jones.

In his debut novel, the author deftly spins the tale of a town battling to free itself from the icy, powerful rule of February.  Simultaneously a month, a season, a furious tyrant, a force of nature, and a god, February punishes the town for flying, banning even birds and kites.

When children start disappearing, the slow resentment of the townspeople escalates into full-fledged warfare against their master – an eternal winter.

–– The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.

The recounting of the sinking of a commercial fishing boat in a nor’easter in October 1991 was a bestseller and was adapted as a feature film.

Junger brings to life its crew, the rescue teams searching for several groups caught in the same storm, and the fishing community of Gloucester, MA, as well as the storm’s horrifying and devastating 10-story waves and 120-mile-per-hour winds. An unforgettable exploration of nature’s power.

–– The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

In this classic novel, the Great Depression and the dust storms that turned much of the Great Plains of the U.S. into a wasteland are the catalysts that set a family of Oklahoma sharecroppers on the road west in search of a new life and the hope of a promising future – one that ultimately will be denied them.

–– Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

The wrath of weather is also revealed in Krakauer’s edge-of-your-seat account of his experience summiting Mount Everest during one of the deadliest seasons in the history of climbing.

On assignment for Outside magazine, he reports on the growing commercialization of Everest and details the terrible weather conditions that led to the tragic deaths of many of his teammates.

–– Masterpieces of Mystery and the Unknown.

“It was very cold. The sky was dark and heavy with unshed snow.” Thus begins Agatha Christie’s classic short story Three Blind Mice, part of this collection, and the inspiration for the play The Mousetrap. In this country house mystery, a snowstorm traps house guests who discover that a murderer is on the loose among them.

Christie’s trademark skill at constructing twisting plots and dropping invisible-seeming clues is on great display in this clever tale that depends on the weather to add much of the delicious tension.

–– All titles are available in print, as well as some on CD and feature film formats, through the Okanagan Regional Library.

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian with the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Vernon Morning Star

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