Nature and the Wild

This week, I’ve been living in books that showcase nature, whether domestic and quotidian or startlingly wild. I tend to read along themes, at least when I’m reading multiple books at a time. I’m also including a link to one of my favorite essays about going into nature.

“The Risks of Fossil Hunting in Alaska’s Wilderness,” by Eowyn Ivey
published in the Wall Street Journal

Mink River, by Brian Doyle

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org What can I say about the beauty of this book? First, the idea of an “expanded Public Works” to serve the community with the motto “brains against pains” fulminated by its craggy old man duo. Then, the voices of nature: a young female bear who internalizes bear language, a talking crow who yearns for his beloved late owner, and the river and ocean and land itself. Mingled languages: English, Irish Gaelic, and Native American life throughout. Characters who love Puccini, who smoke 12 cigarettes (one for each apostle) a day, who venture out to sea, who look for love. I’ll get that far into my talk, but I’ll have to stop at Nora (No Horses), whose ache and ennui and darkness channel through art and running in the wind, and looking for light. Parts of this book make me chuckle, and parts inspire me beyond words into tears. This is my second time reading it, and I’m so glad–it seems to be the book I need now.

Snapper, by Brian Kimberling

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org  My best friend recently moved to Indiana, which I think is a fascinatingly Midwestern place (he’s a Yankee and I’m from Illinois, so it’s fun to watch the fish-out-of-water). I picked up this book 1) because I can’t resist birds on a cover, and 2) to see if Brian Kimberling could explain Indiana to me. I think he succeeds. It’s an odd little book– quirky and funny, and divided into short, quick-reading chapters that could be short stories on their own. Nathan, the main character, is an underemployed birdwatcher and something of a drifter through life. I’ll enjoy seeing what realizations he makes along the way to who knows where.

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMy second semester English course for 11th and 12th graders is called SURVIVORS and it merits a growly all-caps voice. We’ll go through wilderness exploration, family trauma, natural disaster, war, and societal collapse. For our first unit, we started with To Build a Fire by Jack London, and now have moved on to Into the Wild. We keep arguing: “is this guy just nuts?” “what is he on?” and yet we’re motivated to keep reading about his mysterious odyssey…. or hegira. For an interesting, at-times cerebral, at-times action-packed nonfiction read, I recommend Krakauer’s taut, frigid exploration.

Do you have favorite books about going into nature, watching for [birds, mushrooms, tornadoes], or connecting to inner nature? Please comment with your suggestions!
I am an affiliate with IndieBound, and if you choose to purchase the books I mention by clicking on the book covers, I may earn a teeny tiny commission 🙂
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Adventure and Resilience

“I was to have one last night in the hills: another starry one, as you will hear, but with a moist hush to the air that was like something at full draw– a breath, an arrow.” –Peace Like a River, Leif Enger

I’ve always been drawn to stories of adventure– big weather, big stories. Voyages by ship or horseback are grand. So are gunfights and swordfights and fights against fear and loneliness. I decided to start my year off by reading about what the tough do when the going gets tough.

Current Reading

Winter’s Bone
Daniel Woodrell 

This book was handed to me on Christmas Eve with the directive, “drop everything and read this.” I didn’t, but the stack of books on my nightstand suddenly seemed less entrancing, so I did pick it up the next day. What a stunning book. Ree, a 16-year-old member of a clannish and lawless Ozark family, must find her fugitive father in order to keep the house he has put up as his bond. She’s tough and sensitive at the same time– loving, determined to be on the side of righteousness, yet unafraid of the darkness that surrounds her.

Peace Like a River
Leif Enger

I first read this book over Christmas vacation of my senior year of college. It was a hard time for me. I had mono, I was struggling to finish up my fall semester papers to hand in late, I was heartsick. That year was about to get far more difficult for me. I credit this book with my return to reading for joy and love. I had been reading only for work– I needed to return to true literary elation. This book did that.

The story is one that will hook you immediately– Reuben, an 11 year old asthmatic daydreamer of a narrative, witnesses his brother commit a double murder out of a sense of nobility. Then brother Davy goes on the lam, and the loyal family (including the prodigious sister Swede, a writer of epic cowboy ballad poetry) follows him off into the West in an Airstream trailer, apparently following the will of God and the miraculous leading of their father, a school janitor who wrestles angels. It is a journey towards hope and a complicated understanding of good and evil, and towards a fateful reckoning.

Past Favorites:

The Bones of Paradise, by Jonis Agee ~ A sprawling family saga set in the sand hills of Nebraska in the years after Wounded Knee. Beautifully written, hauntingly vengeful.

The North Water, by Ian McGuire ~ Takes naturalism to a dark conclusion in a world of whaling ships and ice and murder.

To The Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey ~ Explorers in Alaska encounter danger and a world of Native myths and power. Split perspective between explorer husband and homesteading wife.

Next on My List in Adventure and Historical Fiction: 

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger (Separate from Peace Like a River and quite different. I think I would read anything Enger ever writes.)
The Plover, by Brian Doyle (sequel to the stunning Mink River, but this one’s about a boat.)

What are your favorite adventurous books? What do you think I should read next?