I’m hoping that many Hearts & Minds customers will click on over to the larger May 09 Review Column to see my annotated bibliography of books of nature writing, devotions for the outdoors, backpack inspirations and memoirs of gardening, hiking and such. It is a great list, if I do say so myself, with a mix of titles and authors I suspect you may not find in any other bookshop anywhere.
Here is how I introduced the list. We hope it invites you to check it out, maybe order some. Enjoy the Springtime. Thanks for reading—-we couldn’t be booksellers if there weren’t good readers.
A few years ago I did a book review
column that really meant a lot to me. (Then, in the pre-blog era, I
did them every month and they are still archived in the “reviews”
section here at the “reviews” section of the website.) I told about a new nature writer that I discovered, a woman who occasionally writes for Orion, and whose work I really, really loved. Her name is Kathleen Dean Moore and one of her wonderful, wonderful books is called Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World. (Mildweed Editioins; $14.95) Another is called Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World (Lyons; $20.00) another yet is Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water (Harvest; $13.00)
and they are truly among some of the best essays I’ve ever read, drawing out
themes of philosophy and religion, marriage and family and commitment,
caring for home and caring for nature, being at home in this world. And, lots of good ol’
adventure, outdoorsy stuff. You can read that old review here, and I would be pleased if you did, as I still hold her work in utmost respect.
rarely found anyone who can write like she does, but the nature writing
genre is an old one with many classics, and it continues to grow and there are authors who take my breath away.
My wife Beth and I have both recently finished the stunning and
haunting book Trespass: Living on the Edge of the Promised Land
(North Point Press; $15.00) by Amy Irvine, and we continue to talk
about it as it haunts us so. Set in the Redland canyons and deserts of
Utah, it evokes a very strong sense of the place making for a memorable
reading journey; I was holding those last few chapters, reading
slowly, so I could savor them, when I heard that it had been chosen as
the Orion magazine Book of the Year. Orion is a
remarkably literate environmentalist journal, with contributors like
and Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams. I have to
say I’m a little proud for choosing Trespass before they
did. I may write more about it eventually, as it is a serious study
of belonging amidst hostility (the redneck locals hate “tree huggers
and the upright, Mormon locals hate anybody who isn’t like them, it
seems) of competing visions of progress, a story, finally, of loss and
hope. Irvine and her husband work to protect wilderness land, even as
in the Bush years, land was being sold off for drilling and
desecration. She tells of her time in the desert, recovering from a
dysfunctional family of origin, coping with her own inner turmoil as
she bonds with her passionate new husband, recalling ancient Pueblo
culture and not-so-ancient Mormon history. It is a heavy and
beautifully written book, insightful and lovely and troubling and
unforgettable. And so keenly aware of place: colors, smells,
experience of light and soil, temperature, sensations of God’s
extraordinary creation near the famous four corners region of South
Eastern Utah. Like Terry Tempest Williams’ famous Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,
this is quintessential nature writing woven together with a woman’s own
memoir full of politics and faith and weirdness and love. It is a wonderful sort of
literature that I truly love.
Other similiar “nature” books are
also memoiristic, but with less inner turmoil, less back-story. These
kind of books narrate a journey into the woods, into the wilderness,
tell about adventure or hi-jinx, hard living or joyous contemplation of
beauty, farming or gardening, but they are, well, just that. Shorter
on biography or politics, they tell the tale of what happened when, and
show you around the place. Think of the great Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods which
is his beloved tale of hiking the Appalachian trail. Often the ones I
like may not even be about a canoe trip or wilderness climb, but are
just reflections on a ordinary life with a particularly clear sense of
place; that is, they are a memoir of what Russell Scott Saunder’s
called, in a lovely book by this name, “staying put.” For those who
love the great out of doors, or enjoy the slower life, these make nice
reminders of the beauty of nature, and are perfect for a day off,
Sabbath reading, or a book to take along on a day hike or vacation.
If you skip on over to the monthly review column, filed under May 2009, you will see I start off with One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World, an earnest and interesting story of a road trip by the world’s leading recorder of natural sounds, Gordon Hempton. I only describe it a bit, but could say much more—it is fascinating! I list a book by the Adventure Rabbi, (yes, there is an Adventure Rabbi, and she rocks), classics like Desert Solitaire, and philosophical studies on the nature of landscape and place. Mostly, though, fun stories of those who love the great outdoors. One title is called Heaven is a Leaky Tent. Another brings luscious reflections on the beauty in creation, and gardening, by an Orthodox theologian.
I hope you enjoy the May list. We could have listed more…what are you favorites in this genre? Annie Dillard? McKibben on silence? Into Thin Air? Feel free to post suggestions…