Calling all book worms!

29 August 2020 7 minute read

Want to read more about nature but can’t see the woods for the trees? Ahoy all wood be book worms! Introducing the TfC starter nature book list.

One way to make up for missing out on trips and walks in nature during the pandemic is to enter those worlds through the pages of magical writing.  Nature writing has never been more popular and we are spoilt for choice these days by a large number of wonderful books for our delectation. 

If you haven’t scrambled into the undergrowth or swung from the tree-tops of a nature book or would like to expand your horizons, here’s an introductory list of some inspiring writings old and new. They are not in any order of merit as they can all stand tall on their own and collectively form a dazzling forest worthy of any intrepid adventurer. 

Some of the books listed have been highly recommended by TfC staff and others chosen to increase diversity and variety and includes some old and new classics as well as lesser known work. What they all have in common is a deep joy, value, connection, and respect of the natural world. Reading works like these can remind us that we are a part of nature too and that is a nurturing and healing in itself. 

Our list has a book for all tastes - go on give it a try for your autumn reading pile!

The short list

'Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan's Mountains & Coasts in Search of My Family's Past' 

By Jessica J Lee 

Braiding history, travel, nature, and memoir, this book shows how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.

Taiwan features Northeast Asia’s highest mountains and a rich biodiversity. Lee explores this natural landscape, while tracing her family heritage and history. Born to a Taiwanese mother and a Welsh father in Canada, Lee’s maternal grandparents were born in China but fled to Taiwan after the Communists won the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

As an environmental history scholar and nature writer, Lee brings a fascinating perspective to Taiwan based on an immersive connection to the land. Lee eloquently describes Taiwan’s landscapes and natural history.

Lee hikes mountains home to birds found nowhere else on earth, and swims in a lake of drowned cedars. In the process discovering surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family. Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, whilst relying on, and erasing the labour and knowledge of local communities.

More info here.

'Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery' 

By Alys Fowler

Leaving her garden to the mercy of the slugs, award-winning writer and gardener Alys Fowler sets out in an inflatable kayak to explore Birmingham's canal network, full of little-used waterways where huge pike skulk and kingfishers dart. An adventure in her urban backyard looking at ordinary things; waterways, wildlife and waterside plants. Her book is about noticing the wild everywhere even between the flotsam and jetsam of urban living. Here, the abandoned, the litter strewn and in some cases, the polluted, come together with the beauty of nature found in unexpected places. Nature always finds a way and can recolonise what humans have left unloved. Where you or I may see just a weed growing next to a tin can, Fowler identifies a rare plant thriving against the odds in poor soil.

By taking to the water, Fowler was looking for a freer way of being in nature; observing, moving on, passing through. Like others before her she finds that her “safe, slightly boring city was different on the canals: there it was a little subversive, a little less structured.”

Filled with the healing power of nature, beautifully written, honest and moving, Hidden Nature is also the story of Alys Fowler's emotional journey and her coming out as a gay woman. It is about losing and finding, exploring familiar places and discovering unknown horizons.

More info here.

'Living Mountain' 

By Nan Shepherd

Nan Shepherd’s paean to the Cairngorm mountains is the masterpiece of nature writing that few will have heard of. Written during the second world war it lay in a drawer for more than thirty years before it was published. A meditation on our imaginative relationship with wilderness such as mountainous landscapes. Living mountain went on to deeply influence many writers and artists, testified by Robert MacFarlane’s glowing introduction and afterword by Jeanette Winterson. Two of our finest nature and literary writers today. Shepherd’s genius wasn’t just the soulful weaving of memoir, field notebook, and philosophical inquiry but also in shifting from the predominant lens of conquest to a lens of contemplation. She knows her facts, but lovingly transcends them to the spirit of the place. Let Living mountain’s poetic prose transport you to a magical world.

More info here.

'Birdwatching with your eyes closed' 

By Simon Barnes (recommended by TfC’s Simon Izod)

“Birds are the species that initiated my love of nature when I was a young boy, but when I read this book about 2 years ago, I had a limited knowledge of bird song. This book is a fantastic, light read that begins in the depths of winter with the song of the robin and builds up with a bird per chapter to the cacophony of mid-summer, before continuing to some other birds calls that you may hear throughout the year. Each chapter describes a specific bird’s song, providing memorable, easy to follow descriptions. I particularly enjoyed the image of a black bird as a construction worker with their hands in their pockets whistling a lazy tune. During this time of lockdown when we've had this opportunity to meditate and listen to nature, hearing and knowing which birds I'm listening to has been a joy. This is a fantastic resource If you've fancied learning bird song but weren't sure where to start." Simon Izod

More info here.

The Salt Path 

By Raynor Winn 

When faced by loss of livelihood, loss of home and a diagnosis of terminal illness, how many of us would decide to set off on an epic walk of 630 miles of sea swept South West Coast Path and all on a shoestring? 

An astonishing story about losing everything and finding yourself between the elements of sea and sky. For Raynor Winn and her husband Moth, the cruellest of diagnoses and the simultaneous collapse of their business opens an unexpected door to salvation through a journey which over its length transforms into a sweeping narrative of inner courage and nature’s ability to heal. Their journey was not something they wanted to tick off their bucket list, nor a midlife desire for adventure. It was driven by despair.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an award winning honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

More info here.

Raynor Winn, author ​

The long list

'​Diary of a Young Naturalist' by Dara McAnulty

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty recommended by TfC Anette

Evocative, raw and beautifully written, this very special book vividly explores the natural world from the perspective of an autistic teenager juggling homework, exams and friendships alongside his life as a conservationist and environmental activist.

'​Hedge Britannia' by Hugh Barker

Hedge Britannia by Hugh Barker recommended by TfC Thomas 

Informative, revealing and anecdotal, it's a sweeping history of Britain, via hedges, as you've never seen it before.

​'Around the world in 80 trees' by Jonathan Drori

Around the world in 80 trees by Jonathan Drori - recommended by TfC Adam

The book combines history, science and quirky detail, from the trees of Britain, to India's sacred banyan tree, each of these strange and true tales - populated by self-mummifying monks, tree-climbing goats and ever-so-slightly radioactive nuts - is illustrated by Lucille Clerc, taking the reader on a journey that is as informative as it is beautiful.

​'The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World' by Sue Stuart-Smith

The Well Gardened Mind : Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World by Sue Stuart-Smith recommended by TfC Laura

In a powerful combination of contemporary neuroscience, psychoanalysis and brilliant storytelling, The Well Gardened Mind investigates the magic that many gardeners have known for years - working with nature can radically transform our health, wellbeing and confidence.

'​A sting in the tail' by Dave Goulson

A sting in the tail by Dave Goulson- recommended by TfC Anna

Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee was driven to extinction in Britain by intensive farming practices. A Sting in the Tale tells the story of Goulson's passionate drive to reintroduce them to their native land.

'​Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life' by George Monbiot

Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life by George Monbiot - recommended by TfC Roddy

Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot's efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living.The invention of nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf - recommended by TfC LauraHis colourful adventures read like something out of a Boy's Own story: Humboldt explored deep into the rainforest, climbed the world's highest volcanoes and inspired princes and presidents, scientists and poets alike.

'​The Grassling by Elizabeth' by Jane Burnett

The Grassling by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett 

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett a English-Kenyan writer whose creative and critical work explores environmental themes, delves through layers of memory, language and natural history to tell a powerful story of how the land shapes us and speaks to us. It is a literary deep dive like no other – a memoir of family, place, ecology and identity that pushes language to its limits as she journeys back, via a single field in Devon, through her personal heritage and into the stories of the soil itself.

​'The Sea Inside' by Philip Hoare

The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare

Navigating between human and natural history, Hoare asks what these stories mean for us now. Along the way we meet an amazing cast; from scientists to tattooed warriors; from ravens to whales and bizarre creatures that may, or may not, be extinct. Part memoir, part fantastical travelogue, `The Sea Inside' takes us on an astounding journey of discovery.

'​H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Discover the number one bestselling phenomenon that is a powerful and profound meditation on grief expressed through the trials of training a goshawk. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.

​'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Now recognized as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water.

'​Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants' by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall 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). Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings-asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass-offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices.

'​The One-Straw Revolution' by Masanobu Fukuoka

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

Call it "Zen and the Art of Farming" or a "Little Green Book," Masanobu Fukuoka's manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge presents a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food. At the same time, it is a spiritual memoir of a man whose innovative system of cultivating the earth reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world.

'​Walden' by Henry Thoreau

Walden by Henry Thoreau

A hugely influential classic from the nineteenth century. Thoreau, went to live by himself in the woods in Massachusetts. He stayed for over two years, living self-sufficiently in a small cabin built with his own hands. Walden documents the beauty and fulfilment to be found in the wilderness, and his philosophical and political motivations for rejecting the materialism which continues to define our modern world.

'​The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate' by Peter Wohlleben

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben 

How do trees live? Do they feel pain or have awareness of their surroundings? In The Hidden Life of Trees Peter Wohlleben draws on the latest science and makes the case that the forest is a social network.

'The Lost Words' by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane

'The Lost Words' by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane

The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children's minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages. 

Journeying into books like these can be another way to traverse through wilderness, both external and internal. Filled with an appreciation of the natural world these authors share their mental landscapes and travels too. It can be a source of inspiration, beauty and community. Come pick your paddling pool of pages, splash about, relax and enjoy. 

Let us know what you thoughts are  about our list on social media - and feel free to send us your recommendations too! @treesforcities

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