The Book Nook
Le Coin Lecture
Curl up and grab one of these books to help you navigate the work that's ahead.
This list is meant to help, challenge, and encourage discussions around DEI, Anti-Racism and Emerging Leadership practices.
October 1, 2022
Credit: Penguin Random House Canada
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Estelle Butler
What's this about?
Parable of the Sower follows the story of young Lauren Olamina and the remarkable journey she undertakes to escape ecological and societal collapse. After her village is destroyed by one of the many gangs of outlaws and drug addicts terrorizing Southern California, Lauren has to learn to survive in a harsh world deeply ravaged by the unforgiving effects of climate change. Along her trek through the devastated landscape and ruins of a dying capitalist society, she founds her own religion, Earthseed, along with a ragtag band of followers, and plans to build a new sustainable community in Northern California.
About The Author
Octavia Estelle Butler was one of the most renowned American science fiction authors. She became the first science-fiction writer to receive a coveted MacArthur Fellowship, as well as a recipient of many Hugo and Nebula awards.
Butler discovered science fiction early on as a teenager, and would eventually become one of the first figures and pillars of Afrofuturism, an aesthetic and subgenre of science fiction that centers blackness, Black voices and proposes futures and alternate realities through a Black cultural lense. As renowned author and educator Tananarive Due succinctly puts it, “Afrofurusim is the audacity to imagine a thriving future for Black people, or any future.”
Speculative fiction, Critical race theory, Afrofuturism, Black Power, Climate change, Climate emergency
What We Liked
Though a lot of people compare the current state of things to Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale, Parable of the Sower feels even more appropriate and important, as it centers an active resistance and revolutionary force to the system in place. It feels more active and a better vision of what we should do as the world around us slips into what sometimes feels like a dystopian reality than the Handmaid’s Tale. It feels more relevant too, as it centers Black voices and revolutionaries, which have always been the driving forces behind social and societal changes in North America.
What we remember: the way the narrator constructs her own religion from her thoughts on society and what life should be like, which feel extremely relevant in this day and age. Those reflections are outlined slowly, getting more precise, confident and fleshed out as the story progresses, similarly to the narrator’s evolution. In many ways, she is stepping in her own power, taking hold of her own destiny and stops waiting for others to change to create change, which is something we can all learn from, especially in our personal lives. “Be the change you want to see” is one of the main lessons of the novel, which is something that remains extremely relevant, especially when we think of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practices.
What this book is : Parable of the Sower is definitely one of Octavia Butler’s most notable works, if only because its relevance remains almost evergreen. By writing Black women and making them the protagonists of her stories, Butler used her own experience and perception of the very real power structures and institutional racism to create imaginary worlds that are often bleak and depressing, but also rich and profoundly fascinating. As she wrote in 1999, “I fantasised living impossible, but interesting lives – magical lives in which I could fly like Superman, communicate with animals, control people’s minds.”
What this book isn't : Although Parable of the Sower resonates very deeply with our current circumstances, the novel is speculative fiction, and should be taken as such. Like a lot of dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a story that serves as a reflection, a commentary on the state of our society rather than a metaphor.
Why Read This Book
As we are headed to the polls in a few days on October 3rd to elect a new Quebec government, Parable of the Sower definitely hits close to home. After more than two and a half years of global pandemic, after having gone through lockdowns, states of emergency, quarantines, vaccine mandates, there is a growing uncertainty of what the world is going to look like, even only a few months from now. The pandemic has definitely highlighted where we are the most vulnerable – and who. The climate emergency has also never been more present during debates, dividing the population and even some parties. But regardless of politics, beyond party programs, it’s undeniable that the effects of climate change are already felt very deeply all around us, even here.
What is especially compelling in Parable of the Sower is that there are no “major” events that trigger a societal collapse; rather, it’s an accumulation and a slow build-up of serious problems that ultimately leads to Lauren’s world’s demise. And indeed, with the growing scarcity of resources worldwide, fast elevating global temperatures and previously unheard of weather events, conservative and religious ideologies gaining more and more momentum all over the world, rights getting taken away left and right – Parable of the Sower can sometimes look like the distorted image of our current American and Canadian societies. It’s hard not to heed Octavia Butler’s warning and wonder how we can escape the fate of Lauren’s world – if we still can.
But there is still hope for us yet. If anything, the new generations currently coming of age are more aware than ever that change – deep, radical change – is needed in order to survive. Already, there’s been a shift in how certain topics are addressed in the public place, from critical race theory and tackling institutional racism to talking about a “climate emergency” rather than simply referring to it as “climate change.” Words matter. And as such, diversity, equity and inclusion are more than buzzwords for them; they are a way of life. And that is good news for all of us.
“Embrace diversity. Unite— Or be divided, robbed, ruled, killed By those who see you as prey. Embrace diversity Or be destroyed.” (p. 95)
“That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times.” (p. 124)
Get the Gist
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler is not your usual, run-of-the-mill science fiction novel. It actually is one of the most remarkable works of a subgenre of sci-fi called “climate fiction”, or as it has been coined in a more catchy way, “cli-fi”. As Stories for Earth defines it, “Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is a form of speculative fiction that features a changed or changing climate as a major plot device.”
In her novel and its sequel, Parable of the Talents, Butler proposes a dreary future of what life could look like if we don’t act fast and take appropriate action to tackle climate change and mitigate its impact on the planet.
Read a summary of the book on SparkNotes.
How does it fare?
“As a novel, "The Parable of the Sower" also succeeds on multiple levels. A gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world, it is at bottom a subtle and disturbing exposition of the gospel according to Lauren: ‘The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.’”
- Gerald Jonas, The New York Times (1994)
“Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents contain many plot elements that seem to have ‘predicted’ our current circumstances. But because Olamina’s story is also the story of a prophet—and because Butler is interested in how people might retain their humanity and direction through conditions of extreme chaos and change—the Earthseed books are instructional in a way that other apocalypse fictions are not. They are not prepper fiction, though reading them will teach you a thing or two about go bags and the importance of posting a night watch. According to people who love the books, myself included, they offer something beyond practical preparations: a blueprint for adjusting to uncertainty.”
- Rebecca Onion, Slate