Book Club: A woman tries to save the birds — and the rest of us

Migrating Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) flying over waves.
A migrating Arctic tern near Scotland’s Shetland Islands.
(Arterra / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

There are few literary characters quite like Franny Stone, a tempestuous bird lover who plunges into icy waters with abandon. But most of us are all too familiar with Franny’s plight, as she helplessly watches the world hurtle toward environmental devastation in Charlotte McConaghy’s eco-thriller “Migrations.”

When making her first foray into adult fiction, the Australian author knew her story’s harsh reality needed to be tempered with a gripping plot — and a glimmer of hope that all is not lost to keep the frigid pages flying.


“I wanted to energize people and myself to come out of the other side of despair and apathy and into a place of hope, love and action,” McConaghy said in a Times interview.

“Migrations” has drawn praise from reviewers (including in the L.A. Times, New York Times, Washington Post and Time) for its powerful discussion of climate issues. The novel’s plot twists have attracted Hollywood, too: Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch are adapting “Migrations” for film.

On Wednesday, McConaghy will join Los Angeles Times Book Club readers from her home in Sydney for a conversation with Times reporter Rosanna Xia about her U.S. breakthrough and the challenge of writing about the climate crisis and the natural world.

The book talk starts at 7 p.m. Pacific and will be livestreamed on The Times’ Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up on Eventbrite for more information and direct links. We’ll also have a surprise visit from one of our previous book club authors.

What would you like to ask Charlotte McConaghy? Please send your questions by email to

"Migrations" author Charlotte McConaghy.
(Flatiron Books)

Reading nature

This month’s guest book club interviewer is Times environmental reporter Rosanna Xia, a Pulitzer finalist who covers the coast. The “Best American Science and Nature Writing” series recently chose one of her pieces — an investigation of toxic chemical ocean dumping — for its upcoming 2021 anthology.

Xia tweeted this week that she read “Migrations” in one sitting, caught up in the book’s haunting journey to track the Arctic tern in a near future when many animals have gone extinct.

In advance of book club night, she also shared some other books on nature and the environment that have kept her company through the pandemic. Here are her recommendations, in no particular order:

  • “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • “Mill Town,” by Kerri Arsenault
  • “All We Can Save,” edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
  • Trace,” by Lauret Savoy
  • The Overstory,” by Richard Powers
  • Upstream,” by Mary Oliver
  • “Body of Water,” by Chris Dombrowski
  • “The Sea Around Us,” by Rachel Carson
  • “The Forests of California,” by Obi Kaufmann
  • “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” by Elizabeth Kolbert, is up next on her reading list.

Please tell us: What other environment and nature books do you recommend?

What’s next

This moment in photos: Francine Orr’s photos capture L.A. with compassion, beauty and a keen eye for humanity under duress. The latest example: This heartbreaking story from Orr and reporter Joe Mozingo shows life and death decisions for two families. Join Orr on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time, when she discusses her work in our We Can Teach You That series. Sign up on Eventbrite.

Ask a Reporter: What’s it like being a Black journalist covering racism and the pandemic? Times Assistant Managing Editor Angel Jennings hosts a Feb. 25 virtual discussion with Tyrone Beason, Makeda Easter, LZ Granderson and Erika D. Smith about the pressures of being Black while covering what many have called the dual pandemic of COVID-19 and systemic racism. The free Ask a Reporter event starts Friday at 6 p.m. Pacific. Sign up on Eventbrite.

Find your voice: Author Roxane Gay has joined Master Class to teach writing for social change. She shared a few tips in advance with Dorany Pineda.


From book to screen: Here’s everything you should know about Hollywood’s new book boom.

Meet Isabel Allende: On March 1, the Times’ Ideas Exchange welcomes the bestselling author for a virtual conversation with Times editor Laurie Ochoa about Allende’s new book, “The Soul of a Woman.” The event starts at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. Tickets are at Eventbrite.

Dating in L.A.: A new hardcover features 65 true stories culled from “L.A. Affairs,” the popular column about dates, heartbreak and happily-ever-afters in Southern California. “The final collection,” says editor Rene Lynch, “is really a kind of time-capsule look at how much dating, romance and love has changed over the last decade, due to online dating and of course COVID.”

March preview: Mark your calendar for March 10, when Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen brings his much-anticipated novel “The Committed” to the L.A. Times Book Club. Nguyen will be in conversation with Times columnist Carolina A. Miranda at 7 p.m. Pacific. Sign up here.