WLRN #FridayReads: The Books That Helped Us Weather Hurricane Irma

Sep 29, 2017

It's far from the most important thing you should worry about when preparing for a hurricane — but if you're a reader, you probably thought hard about what book(s) to bring to wherever you were riding out Hurricane Irma.

You're not only choosing what you might read in that time, you are potentially choosing what books you will save from all of those in your home.

Here's what some of WLRN's staffers chose. Share yours in the comments, or tweet us @wlrn.

Teresa Frontado, WLRN digital director

I knew I was going to need a break during the hurricane, so I brought What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons to the newsroom with me. I didn’t have time to read it while the storm was going on, but I devoured it in the aftermath.

Clemmons uses a series of vignettes — some long passages, some just a line, some photos and others graphics with handwritten annotations — on the life of fictional character Thandi to explore grief, love, race, gender and identity. Her writing is clean and powerful and some of the passages frankly haunting.

Nancy Klingener, WLRN Florida Keys reporter

I don’t know how many books I own, but it’s easily in the hundreds. Deciding which to bring with me when I left the house before Irma was a task my mind was not up to addressing rationally. I wound up taking two.

One I’d read before: The Amenities of Book-Collecting, And Kindred Affections by A. Edward Newton, published in 1918. My dad sent me this book in 1992. In the pages of the book is a letter he sent with it. He describes how, after Newton’s death, his library was auctioned off and the proceeds used to endow library prizes at various colleges. One of those was Swarthmore, where the prize was for best undergraduate library. “I won it my senior year (magnificent sum of $50) and used that as evidence in my argument with my father that collecting books was worth something,” Dad wrote to me. He was also very proud of the fact that he, a zoology major, had beaten out all those English majors. My dad died in 1995.

The other book I brought was Jack Tier, or The Florida Reef by James Fenimore Cooper, published in 1848. The only time I tried to read Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans, after the movie came out) I gave up after a few pages. But I have this project in mind of reading all the obscure and largely forgotten books about the Keys that I can find. For some reason, I thought maybe I’d have some down time before or after the storm and I'd be forced to delve into this with no other options. Never cracked it. But someday … 

Katie Lepri, WLRN engagement producer

I packed up my car and I brought as many books with me as I could. I brought five to the newsroom alone. They're still there. But I'll emphasize two — these are the ones I kept in the bag I carried with me. 

I first read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan earlier this year. The book is  like a series of short stories written in first, second and third person voices. It's an extraordinarily dark and funny story about heartbreak and redemption and the passage of time. A must read (also the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction). 

The second book I kept on me was the pocket-size version of Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg, which was originally published in the fall of 1956. My boyfriend bought it for my birthday this past January from Shakespeare and Company, his favorite book shop in Paris. It's really meaningful to him and he thought it'd resonate with me. I read the back cover and the dedication, but haven't dug in further than that. At least not yet. 

Kate Stein, WLRN environment and transportation reporter

Because I'm a nerd, I evacuated with a book on behavioral economics. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis is about the academic "romance" between two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their work focuses on how our minds can deceive us when we make decisions, which is pretty interesting to think about in the context of hurricane preparedness. At what point do we stop looking for bottled water because we're using up gas? Why did some of us ignore evacuation orders and stay in the Keys or Miami Beach? And if asked hypothetically how to make it so #Irmageddon never existed, are we more likely to imagine (a) new military technology to disrupt hurricane formation or (b) that Henry Flagler never built out the railroad system that brought settlers to Florida?