The best books on nature and freedom, for people who have looked at a tree so hard it changed their life

Who am I?

Since I was a kid I’ve loved being outdoors, scrambling up rocks and smelling trees, exploring. But during the years I worked an office job in New York City, I was able to hike and feel truly free only rarely. So I quit my job to go on a Great American Road Trip to national parks and other natural areas in our country. Here are some of the books that, to me, best encapsulate that feeling of loving nature so much it opens up whole worlds inside of you.

I wrote...

America the Beautiful?: One Woman in a Borrowed Prius on the Road Most Traveled

By Blythe Roberson,

Book cover of America the Beautiful?: One Woman in a Borrowed Prius on the Road Most Traveled

What is my book about?

For writer and comedian Blythe Roberson, there are only so many Mary Oliver poems you can read about being free, and only so many times you can listen to Joni Mitchell’s travel album Hejira, before you too, are itching to take off. Canonical American travel writers have long celebrated the road trip as the epitome of freedom. But why does it seem like all those canonical travel narratives are written by white men who have no problems, who only decide to go to the desert to see what having problems feels like?

To fill in the literary gaps and quench her own sense of adventure, Roberson quits her day job and sets off on a Great American Road Trip to visit America’s national parks.

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The books I picked & why

Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman,

Book cover of Leaves of Grass

Why did I love this book?

A bookseller once said to me, “There are your heroes, and there are your heroes heroes.” Walt Whitman is both.

He is the OG. I love the man so much that the first tattoo I ever got was a line from one of his poems. Whitman can write a poem whose premise is basically “What’s the deal with grass?” and make you weep. He can write a 50-page poem that I actually want to read and that, my friends, is a magic trick.

If you love travel and nature and being alive you can read my new book or you can just read the Whitman poem “Song of the Open Road.” I need to move on to the next rec before I convince myself to get another Walt Whitman tattoo.

By Walt Whitman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Leaves of Grass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Features several of Whitman's most famous poems including 'I Hear America Singing', 'I Sing the Body Electric' and 'One's-self I sing'.

Book cover of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Why did I love this book?

If you have ever felt alienated by our capitalist society which tells us we do not deserve any sort of freedom or any sort of safety net, and which encourages us to use all of our time laboring and being “productive” – Jenny Odell’s book is for you.

I had already quit my job and started planning my road trip the week before How To Do Nothing came out, but if I hadn’t, I would have! The way Odell writes about paying attention to nature – she calls herself not a bird watcher but a “bird noticer” – has shaped the way I pay attention, too.

And Odell’s writing on “meeting the bioregion” of wherever you are, or learning about its plants, animals, and human history, was a direct influence on my book.

By Jenny Odell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How to Do Nothing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** A New York Times Bestseller **

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY: Time • The New Yorker • NPR • GQ • Elle • Vulture • Fortune • Boing Boing • The Irish Times • The New York Public Library • The Brooklyn Public Library

"A complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto."—Jonah Engel Bromwich, The New York Times Book Review

One of President Barack Obama's "Favorite Books of 2019"
Porchlight's Personal Development & Human Behavior Book of the Year

In a…

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Why did I love this book?

There’s a reason this book has been on the bestseller list for 100 million weeks straight.

Kimmerer, an environmental biologist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes about ecosystems in a way that is both poetic and scientific. I learned so much, my heart swelled, I despaired, and I hoped.

In an age of climate change and microplastics and a different toxic spill each week, Kimmerer offers a way forward in which we care about the land and its non-human inhabitants, in which we act like the lives of future generations matter.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

39 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…

The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

Why did I love this book?

The first 300 pages of this book are maybe the best 300 pages of a novel I have ever read in my life.

Honestly, who knew that someone could go deep on trees and absolutely ruin you? This is the book I recommend to absolutely everyone looking for a fiction recommendation.

Put it this way: after I finished this book, I started learning the names of the trees that grow around me in the northeast, and it has actually changed my life.

By Richard Powers,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Overstory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of-and paean to-the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers's twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours-vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see…

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

By Annie Dillard,

Book cover of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Why did I love this book?

Annie went off with this one!

Basically a female version of Walden, Annie Dillard wrote this book about a year in the natural life of a creek near her suburban home, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. I cannot believe Annie Dillard wrote this when she was 27 because it is so elegant, so deeply informed, and – I was not expecting this – so funny.

Just one of Dillard’s lines, as an example: “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly; insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another.” Annie!!!

By Annie Dillard,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has continued to change people's lives for over thirty years. A passionate and poetic reflection on the mystery of creation with its beauty on the one hand and cruelty on the other, it has become a modern American literary classic in the tradition of Thoreau. Living in solitude in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia, and observing the changing seasons, the flora and fauna, the author reflects on the nature of creation and of the God who set it in motion. Whether the images are cruel or lovely, the language is memorably beautiful and poetic,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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