With the Summer Solstice this Friday, I hope many of you are able to take a few days or weeks off to unwind and enjoy some sunny weather (haha!), relaxing on a beach, in a garden, or on a comfy sofa reading a good book or two (the latter being the most likely if you’re in the rainy UK).
In my quest to nourish my mind with inspiring and thought-provoking knowledge about the natural world, I’ve collected nature book recommendations from many of you on Instagram – thank you!
I’m sharing them with you here as a Summer reading list, with a few thoughts on the ones I’ve read and some notes on why I’m excited about the ones I have yet to learn from.
In no particular order (my words are in italics. Book descriptions are not my own words and mostly from pre-written blurbs I found online):
- Rebecca Solnit – Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Wanderlust offers a provocative and profound examination of the interplay between the body, the imagination, and the world around the walker. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers. Solnit argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in our ever more car-dependent and accelerated world.
- Underland: A deep time journey – Robert MacFarlane
I listened to extracts from MacFarlane’s new book on the radio. It was gripping, fascinating and haunting. I’m currently reading his book “The Wild Places” – full of wisdom – and am excited about reading Underland soon. Here’s the blurb:
In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the sometimes vast and hidden worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland's glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet's past and future. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane's long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.
- Gossip from the Forest - Sara Maitland
My sister gifted me this book for Christmas and I loved reading it. Maitland sets off to explore her hypothesis that fairytales were created by forest dwelling people. She explores 12 woods in the UK – one for each month of the year – and writes 12 of her own versions of well-known fairytales inspired by her trips. Being half German I feel like the forest fairytales are part of my blood. Her description of how strange people and odd magic seem to appear out of nowhere in many fairytales are similar to the way in which strange, mystical places and objects suddenly reveal themselves when in the depths of a forest was something that has stuck with me. It’s also given me a desire to take a trip to Staverton Thicks in Suffolk, UK, described by Maitland as follows: "The oak woods at Staverton are the forests of childhood, the forests of dreams."
- Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo - Michael McCarthy
If we could see it as a whole, if they all arrived in a single flock, say, we would be truly amazed: sixteen million birds. Swallows, martins, swifts, warblers, wagtails, wheatears, cuckoos, chats, nightingales, nightjars, thrushes, pipits and flycatchers pouring into Britain from sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of the enduring wonders of the natural world. Each bird faces the most daunting of journeys -navigating epic distances, dependent on bodily fuel reserves. For us, for millennia, the Great Arrival has been celebrated. Yet, migrant birds are finding it increasingly hard to make the perilous journeys across the African desert. Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo is a moving call to arms by an impassioned expert: get outside, teach your children about these birds, don't let them disappear from our shores and hearts.
- Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field - John Lewis Stempl
Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren, the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.
- Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees - Roger Deakin
A nature book classic I cannot wait to read after coming across passages of Deakin’s writing in MacFarlane’s books.
Wildwood is about the element wood, as it exists in nature, in our souls, in our culture and our lives. From the walnut tree at his Suffolk home, Deakin embarks upon a quest that takes him through Britain, across Europe, to Central Asia and Australia, in search of what lies behind man's profound and enduring connection with wood and with trees. It will take you into the heart of the woods, where we go 'to grow, learn and change'
- Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer
I listened to this as an audiobook a while ago but would love a physical copy so that I can underline passages of Kimmerer’s beautiful text. As you can imagine, the mix of her experience as a botanist and indigenous wisdom is something that I really enjoyed learning about. Here’s the blurb:
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.” - Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland - Nan Shepherd
In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape. Shepherd spent a lifetime in search of the 'essential nature' of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us. Composed during the Second World War, the manuscript of The Living Mountain lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.
- Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day By Day – Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss
I love this book. You can easily dip in and out of it for a little snapshot of what kind of wildlife you can find in Britain on that particular day. It’s perfect with a small family where reading a full chapter during the day is a challenge. It has introduced me to many new species I had no idea existed. Each entry is a little story from Brett and Stephen’s wanders through nature.
Nature is always full of surprises - whether it's the strange behaviour of clothes moths or the gruesome larder of the strike. Distilling two lifetimes' knowledge, expert insight and enthusiasm, award-winning authors and passionate naturalists Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss take us through the year, day by day, sharing the unexpected delights that we can experience in our skies, beaches, rivers, fields, forests and back gardens. There are all kinds of adventures waiting on your doorstep, any day of the year, all you need is Wonderland.
- The Wild Remedy: How Nature Heals Us – Emma Mitchell
Before becoming a nature writer, Emma was a scientist. I have started to dip into this book and love how Emma brings in the science into her experiences of the healing powers of nature. Having grown up in Cambridgeshire, much of the wildlife she describes is familiar. I am looking forward to finishing Emma’s diary. Here’s the blurb:
In Emma's hand-illustrated diary, she takes us with her as she follows the paths and trails around her cottage in the Cambridgeshire Fens and further afield, sharing her nature finds and tracking the lives of local flora and fauna over the course of a year. Reflecting on how these encounters impact her mood, Emma's moving and candid account of her own struggles with depression is a powerful testament to how reconnecting with nature may offer some answers to today's mental health epidemic. While charting her own seasonal highs and lows, she also explains the science behind such changes and the ways in which our bodies and minds respond to plants and wildlife when we venture outdoors. Written with Emma's characteristic wit and frankness this is a truly unique book for anyone who has ever felt drawn to nature and wondered about its influence over us.
Bonus book for the Autumn:
Dark Skies: A Journey into the Wild Night - Tiffany Francis (coming in September 2019)
I first discovered Tiffany in an article about the Foresty Commission’s Writers-in-Residence. Since following her on Instagram I have discovered she is writing a book about dark skies – a subject I have loved for many years, particularly since visiting the Kielder Observatory about five years ago. Here’s the blurb – I bet it will make you as excited as I am:
Darkness has shaped the lives of humans for millennia, and in Dark Skies, author Tiffany Francis travels around Britain and Europe to learn more about nocturnal landscapes and humanity's connection to the night sky. As she travels, Tiffany delves into the history of the ancient rituals and seasonal festivals that for thousands of years humans have linked with the light and dark halves of our year. How has our relationship with darkness and the night sky changed over time? How have we used stars and other cosmic phenomena to tell stories about our lives and the land around us? In this beautifully written nature narrative, Tiffany Francis explores nocturnal landscapes and investigates how our experiences of the night-time world have permeated our history, folklore, science, geography, art and literature.
Do you have a favourite nature book missing from the list? Let me know in the comments.
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