Quammens

Environmental historian and author Betsy Quammen (pictured) and her husband, the nonfiction and fiction author David Quammen, are the special guests for a discussion entitled “Social Justice in a Time of Pandemic” Thursday at 7 p.m. The “Authors Uncovered” online discussion is hosted by the Wilkinson Public Library and Between the Covers Bookstore, where the Quammens’ books are available for purchase. (Courtesy photo) 

Hot topics and cool heads: who can imagine such a pairing these days? 

Yet on Thursday, the Wilkinson Public Library, Between the Covers Bookstore and Torrey Press team up to present two authors whose works take on some of the most trenchant, potentially divisive and (it must be said) downright scary topics of our times for a free online discussion beginning at 7 p.m.

The library is billing it as “a civil discussion.” But the subjects Betsy Gaines Quammen and David Quammen have written about couldn’t be more urgent. 

David Quammen has written science-and-nature classics including “Song of the Dodo,” “Blood Line” and (of special concern in this unusual time) “Spillover,” subtitled “Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic,” originally published in 2012 and, as you might imagine, fast disappearing off bookstore — and library — shelves right now. 

Historian Betsy Gaines Quammen is the author of the just-published “American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God & Public Lands in the West.” (A press release sums it up: “What happens when members of an American religion — one built in the nineteenth century on personal prophecy and land proprietorship — asserts possession over Western federal lands, armed with guns and a certainty that God wants them to go to war?”) Terry Tempest Williams has called “Zion” “brilliant and electrifying,” and Jon Krakauer, author of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” the chilling exploration of Mormon Fundamentalism, violence and murder, has dubbed it “essential … for anyone who concerned about the future of open space in the western United States. It also happens to be a delight to read.”

Both Quammens arriving in Telluride at once is one of the (very few) good things about the pandemic: her book tour was cancelled, said Laura Colbert, manager of the library’s adult programming. At the same time, his book was shooting up the New York Times Bestseller list. It made sense for the two authors — also spouses — to team up for a presentation, via Zoom. It will be easy for them: they’ll beam in from their home in Bozeman, Montana.

“In some ways that’s the silver lining,” Colbert said of online video meeting services such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and the like. “You get folks who are harder to get in person” in Telluride, “because of where we are, and people’s schedules.” 

Indeed, Colbert added, a participant in the library’s popular Booze & Books program, which used to convene at the Hotel Telluride and is now online, recently told Colbert she’s glad it’s now virtual. “She said, ‘I love the library, but I live in Norwood. After I’ve worked in Telluride all day, I just want to go home,’” Colbert recalled.

Another virtue of Zoom is that anyone can attend the Quammens’ discussion, from any place. All you need to do in order to attend their hour “of civil and literary discourse” (civil in the sense that is both polite, and relates to the community) next Thursday is register on the library’s Facebook page. In addition to being a discussion of books both older and more recent that “weirdly intersect” these strange times, it will be a homecoming of sorts — a chance for locals to greet Betsy Gaines Quammen again. 

“She used to live in Telluride,” Colbert noted. “She’ll be happy to see her old audience. The books are all checked out (both the physical and online varieties), but I’d encourage anyone to join in the discussion.” 

The Quammens’ books are available for purchase at Between the Covers Bookstore.