Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a Time of Beauty and Loss

Delia Falconer

Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a Time of Beauty and Loss
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Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a Time of Beauty and Loss

Delia Falconer

The celebrated, Walkley Award-winning author on how global warming is changing not only our climate but our culture. Beautifully observed, brilliantly argued and deeply felt, these essays show that our emotions, our art, our relationships with the generations around us - all the delicate networks that make us who we are - have already been transformed.

In Signs and Wonders, Falconer explores how it feels to live as a reader, a writer, a lover of nature and a mother of small children in an era of profound ecological change.

Building on Falconer’s two acclaimed essays, ‘Signs and Wonders' and the Walkley Award-winning ‘The Opposite of Glamour', Signs and Wonders is a pioneering examination of how we are changing our culture, language and imaginations along with our climate. Is a mammoth emerging from the permafrost beautiful or terrifying? How is our imagination affected when something that used to be ordinary - like a car windscreen smeared with insects - becomes unimaginable? What can the disappearance of the paragraph from much contemporary writing tell us about what’s happening in the modern mind?

Scientists write about a ‘great acceleration’ in human impact on the natural world. Signs and Wonders shows that we are also in a period of profound cultural acceleration, which is just as dynamic, strange, extreme and, sometimes, beautiful. Ranging from an ‘unnatural' history of coal to the effect of a large fur seal turning up in the park below her apartment, this book is a searching and poetic examination of the ways we are thinking about how, and why, to live now.


Every now and then, I am completely delighted when a book comes along that seems to be an extension – an elegant and well- crafted extension – of my own thoughts. Delia Falconer’s Signs and Wonders has found the words for me; her writing has meandered into my own consciousness. Signs and Wonders is a collection of essays full of assertions and observations, each one presented with a kindness and a deliberation that’s – quite frankly – not seen enough.

You are likely already familiar with Delia Falconer’s work. She has authored two novels, many reviews and essays, and also a love letter to her hometown, Sydney, for the Australian Cities series. Her works have been shortlisted for major Australian and international prizes across categories of fiction, nonfiction, history and biography. She is, in short, a versatile writer whose creations capture the zeitgeist.

Falconer opens this collection with a study of apprehension – how we carry it and why. This essay, and all the others, are firmly rooted in the Anthropocene, as in the ‘astonishing concept that we’ve entered a new human-made geological epoch: our footprint will never be erased from our planet’. We have tipped over to the other side.

Falconer does not just cover humanity’s greed and foolishness, or what television shows and films are important and why; she also reflects on how we write now. Her essay, ‘The disappearing paragraph’, names many of my favourite novels (Jenny Offill’s Weather, for example) in its examination of our changing use of language. In other essays, she insightfully observes her community’s reactions to the hardship of Covid-19 regulations, while also remaining acutely aware of her own privilege.

Signs and Wonders is a capsule of deep consideration, written by an author who reads widely and manages to capture all our feelings – all our despair and hope – into one brilliant volume.

Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager at Readings.

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