Nature writing holds an incredibly special place in my heart. These books take me back to my childhood wandering the woods looking for wild strawberries, deer tracks, and creeks to wander through. Human beings all too often ignore our role in the natural world, but nature writing brings us back to it, gently reminding us that we are part of this world too. These five books are a few of my recent favorites, each with their own unique take on the beautiful place that is planet Earth.
The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon, Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
Many people turn to nature when working through grief from the loss of a loved one. Books like H Is for Hawk have put nature-focused grief memoirs on the map for a new generation of readers. Long Litt Woon’s The Way Through the Woods fits into this vein with its detailed descriptions of mushrooms and discussion of Norway’s incredible forests. After her husband dies, Woon describes how her interest in local fungi helped her cope with her grief and her new life without her husband. Her love of mushrooms comes across in every chapter as she explains the differences between species of mushrooms, different appearances, and various uses for fungi — like the invention of penicillin! — that have been vital for human progress. The book is beautifully translated by Barbara J. Haveland, and Bernadette Dunne performs the audiobook with the solemnity the topic requires.
Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss, Narrated by a Full Cast
The Oak Flat mesa is a sacred place to the Apache. Generations of girls traveled to the mesa for their coming-of-age sunrise ceremony and returned as women. But when a copper mine takes over the land, the giant mining conglomerate ravages Oak Flat for its natural resources. Oak Flat follows the Apache community as they protest the stealing of their sacred land. A full cast narrates the audiobook, and an accompanying PDF shows the gorgeous illustrations created for the print edition of the book.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Narrated by the Author
Growing up in rural Appalachia gave me a deep love and respect for the natural world. I remember pouring over every book on animals that I could find at the library. World of Wonders reminds me of this pure enthusiasm for the creatures of this beautiful planet. Each chapter uses an animal, plant, or type of weather as a springboard into something personal from the author’s life. Nezhukumatathil’s narration brings each chapter to life in an incredibly special way, her enthusiasm coming through every sentence.
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard, Narrated by the Author
While modern human society has all too often assumed that trees stand as homes for wildlife or as empty resources for humans to cut down for paper and pulp, Suzanne Simard discusses how trees are intelligent beings with their own forms of communication. She discusses that groves of trees have their own form of communal living and connecting with each other in unique ways. As an avid tree lover, I found this audiobook riveting, but even if you’re not a nature nerd, it’s hard to put down a story of trees living incredible social lives of which many of us have never been aware. Simard narrates the book herself, and her love of trees and their vibrant worlds come alive in her performance.
Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts by Jessica J. Lee, Narrated by Nancy Wu
At this point, we’re all familiar with the “head into nature to find oneself” sub-genre of nature writing, especially after Cheryl Strayed’s bestseller Wild. But Jessica J. Lee takes this idea and makes it all her own. When she finds letters from her grandfather, she decides to travel to Taiwan to learn more about her grandfather’s culture and history. She hikes and bikes around the country, observing the natural world and learning more about the animals and plants around her. Part memoir, part nature writing, and part travel journal, Two Trees Makes a Forest stands as a truly fabulous addition to any nature lover’s library. Nancy Wu, a huge favorite of mine, performs the audio edition, providing the perfect narrative voice for the audiobook.