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Shortlist #4: John Vaillant’s Fire Weather

June 5, 2024 / Ariel Gordon / Book Prize

There are five books on the 2024 J.W. Dafoe Book Prize shortlist and today we’re going to highlight John Vaillant’s Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast (Penguin Random House Canada).

Here’s a Q&A with John Vaillant.

What were your goals for this book?

To engage Canadians in their own history, and to connect that history to our petroleum-powered — i.e., fire-powered — civilization and, from there, to the increasing flammability of our country, and our planet.

What have you learned about your process while working on this project? Or is every project unique….

I’m not as fast a writer as I would like to be, but sometimes it can take years for the key ideas and themes to reveal themselves in a recognizable forms.

What books were important to you while you were writing this book? Who/what are your influences?

Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire helped push my understanding of fire to the next level required by this book.

Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel was inspiring and challenging for its ambition and scope.

Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower is a great example of how to turn complex, unfamiliar history into a page-turner.

Rachel Carson and Kathryn Schulz are both masters of science writing who dissolve the barriers between reader and subject.

Tell me a bit about why you write about “Canada, Canadians and the nation in international affairs.” Why is it important to you?

Because our current policy of expanding fossil fuel production is damaging our country, our democracy, and our climate, which in turn is compromising our national security.

Today, every Canadian knows someone who’s been evacuated due to wildfire. This was not true a decade ago.

What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

Today, I read short pieces by Honore de Balzac, Roisin Kiberd and Eileen Keene

Yesterday, I read the first chapters in Akshat Rathi’s Climate Capitalism.

Lately, I’ve been writing mostly op-eds and keynote speeches.

Officially, I’m “between projects,” but I can feel a novel percolating.

The winner of the J.W. Dafoe Book Prize, now valued at $12,000, will be named June 10.

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