The best country life books

19 authors have picked their favorite books about country life and why they recommend each book.

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At the Yeoman's House

By Ronald Blythe,

Book cover of At the Yeoman's House

This book is about a historic house in rural Suffolk in the East of England, which the author inherited from the artist John Nash. Blythe has himself made a career of writing about various aspects of the local landscape and how it, and the ways in which people have made their lives in the English countryside, have changed. The yeoman’s house itself, ‘Bottengoms’, was built in the 16th century, adapted, fell into ruin, and was then restored, and continues to be maintained to this day. It incorporates a garden and is set into the archetypally English countryside of Suffolk. Blythe’s gentle prose conveys a sense of sadness at the old ways of the traditional agricultural economy that have been lost, but in maintaining his beautiful house and sharing its story he is helping to keep some aspect of those ways, and that landscape, alive.


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by history and the sense of place. That has led to a career in Egyptology, but I’ve come to realise that that fascination has been a part of my other interests whether it be Arsenal Football Club, rock music, or cycle touring. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot in recent years. My horizons have broadened, and I’ve come to appreciate the natural environment and man’s place in it more and more. None of the books on my list were chosen because of this – I read them because I thought I would enjoy them, but there’s a common theme linking them all – places, people, interactions.


I wrote...

Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

By Chris Naunton,

Book cover of Egyptologists' Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters

What is my book about?

This is the history of the modern science of Egyptology, of the earliest European travellers to Egypt, and the scholars who became the first in modern times to read the ancient Egyptian language. From the earliest excavators whose only interest was in digging up treasure, to the pioneering archaeologists who, later, came to realise the importance of recovering all kinds of evidence, not just the pretty things, and to preserving sites and monuments in situ.

This book is a celebration of the archives – the beautiful sketches, paintings, maps, plans, notes, and letters – of those giants on whose shoulders Egyptologists like me now stand. But it’s also a story of how Egyptologists and archaeologists have changed the landscape, destroying sites and monuments rather than simply revealing them, and restoring places to a vision of how they were, or should have been, that doesn’t necessarily reflect how things really were. And it’s a story that is largely one of European intervention in someone else’s country. Archaeology might seem like a harmless academic pursuit but in countries like Egypt it played out against a backdrop of war, military conquest, and was to some extent a part of the machinations and rivalries between European and other global powers.

Atonement

By Ian McEwan,

Book cover of Atonement

Of all the characters on this list who have trouble keeping their stories straight, McEwan’s lead character Briony Tallis is the most conscious of her motives for keeping the truth at bay. A writer herself, Briony spends her life writing and revising everything that happens to her. The first time I reached the end of this novel, I immediately flipped back and read the last 10 pages again – I was so staggered by the conclusion that I simply couldn’t believe it was true. 


Who am I?

I love stories. No surprise, right? And the longer I’ve written, the more I realize just how many of my stories are about stories – either directly or indirectly. I’m fascinated by the way characters revise their own stories as they’re living them, or after they live them, usually in order to find a degree of peace that the truth simply doesn’t offer. I think the most interesting characters lie, deny, and revise not because they are conniving, not because they’re trying to get the upper hand on someone else, but rather in order to be able to live with themselves. 


I wrote...

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

By Susan Perabo,

Book cover of The Fall of Lisa Bellow

What is my book about?

After witnessing a classmate’s violent abduction, fourteen-year-old Meredith Oliver’s life changes overnight. Faced with a newfound popularity at school, and an already-struggling family attempting to help her through the trauma, Meredith retreats to a world of her own creation, revising the events of the kidnapping and joining the missing Lisa Bellow in a nightmarish fantasy. This is a family drama; the real mystery is not the crime itself, but the complex dynamics of what binds people together.

Ring of Bright Water

By Gavin Maxwell,

Book cover of Ring of Bright Water: A Trilogy

This is a work of non-fiction, and it’s my very favourite in the world. On one level it’s about a man who leaves the world behind and goes to live in the most remote corner he can find to live with a pet otter. But it’s about a whole lot more than that. Gavin Maxwell brings to life the sound of the birds and the crashing of the waves; you can smell the seashore beyond the door of the house and you can walk out onto the beach to see the beauty in every direction. It’s a love song to the natural world, that’s what it is. And if it doesn’t leave you moved, then you’re harder than stone.

Who am I?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a different kind of life. I was brought up by two writers who took me to magical places, far away from cities, to meet magical people. I spent my childhood searching for horse chestnuts and looking for otters. I wasn’t interested in electronic games and loud music: I wanted instead to be out in nature, watching for wild things and listening to the song of birds. It comes back to Iona, to this tiny little island on the west coast of Scotland which I will feel always is my spiritual home. In that place, I have everything I need. Nothing that a big city can offer tempts. Ever.


I wrote...

Iona: New and Selected Poems

By Kenneth Steven,

Book cover of Iona: New and Selected Poems

What is my book about?

Iona is a swirling together of all my best-known poems from 30 years of writing. It’s deeply spiritual: at the heart of the volume are all my poems inspired by Iona, the tiny Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland to which St Columba came with Christianity in the 6th Century. Iona has been from childhood my spiritual home. It’s still the place where the best poems are born. It’s where I feel my faith at its deepest. When I walk here I feel I’ve gone out of time; I’ve left the modern world and all its horrors. I’ve gone into somewhere ancient and precious. I suppose more than anything it makes me feel like a child again.

Anne of Green Gables

By Mariah Marsden, Brenna Thummler (illustrator),

Book cover of Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel

I’m always a fan of graphic novels that capture the mood of the book, rather than trying to make everything perfectly accurate to the original. Mariah Marsden’s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables perfectly captures the magic and beauty of one of my favorite childhood books.

I mentioned how much I enjoyed this adaptation to a friend who’s also a fan of L.M. Montgomery. However, my friend hated this adaptation (especially how Anne’s nose is drawn!) which I actually found very liberating as I considered adapting The Great Gatsby. I’d been concerned about how people who loved Gatsby would view my adaptation, but this made me realize that some people would love my book and some people wouldn’t—and that was okay!


Who am I?

I’m a graphic novelist and designer based in beautiful Minneapolis. I tend to be varied in my artistic style and medium, moving between comics, illustration, design, and occasionally animation. Having created a graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I feel very passionate about the subject of graphic novel adaptations. One of the most important things is that there should be a compelling reason for it to be a graphic novel in the first place; the graphic novel should do something that a prose book cannot. For my adaptation, that was the visual depiction of metaphors, the ethereal character designs, and the lush jewel-colored watercolor. The books I recommended add to the original story in unique and compelling ways. 


I wrote...

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

By F. Scott Fitzgerald, K. Woodman-Maynard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

What is my book about?

My book is a graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, the classic Jazz Age story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. My version is a faithful, yet modern adaptation meant to appeal to fans of classic as well as those new to the story. I painted it in lush watercolors and tried to emphasize the extravagance, beauty, and mystery of Fitzgerald's world.  

I had particular fun with Fitzgerald’s descriptive language and beautiful metaphors which I took to their literal extremes. For instance, when Fitzgerald described a party guest as resembling an orchid, I drew her as a blossoming orchid. Party guests flit around on wings with trays of champagne floating through the air.

Hoodoo

By Ronald L. Smith,

Book cover of Hoodoo

A Southern Gothic historical horror, Hoodoo is a story of fair and foul folk magic in 1930s Alabama. Hoodoo Hatcher is the only person in his family without a knack for the hoodoo that gave him his name—and that’s a problem, because the evil Stranger is coming for him, and he’ll need all the courage and smarts he can summon to keep himself and his family safe. To me, the greatest joy of this wonderful book is Hoodoo’s distinctive, humorous voice, and Ron Butler brings him perfectly to life in his performance; it’s not easy for an adult to make a child’s voice sound authentic, but Butler knocks it out of the park. 


Who am I?

I’ve loved scary stories ever since I was a kid thumbing through Goosebumps, and I’m delighted that my children enjoy them as much as I do. Since they’ve outgrown spooky picture books like mine, middle grade horror audiobooks are our favorite way to pass the half-hour drive to school—but not every excellent book has an equally excellent narrator. Some sound downright bored with the material; others have such engaging voices that I will never read the books again without hearing them in my head. These are five of the most deliciously creepy middle grade novels that we’ve discovered for those long car trips.


I wrote...

Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters

By Rachel Kolar, Roland Garrigue (illustrator),

Book cover of Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters

What is my book about?

From "Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary" to "Wee Willie Werewolf," this collection of classic nursery rhymes turned on their heads will give readers the chills--and a serious case of belly laughs. With clever rhyme and spooky illustrations, Mother Ghost is perfect for getting in the Halloween spirit. Boo!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

By Helen Simonson,

Book cover of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew, a staunchly traditional Englishman struggling with an ungrateful son and the changes caused by the death of his brother, is unexpectedly drawn to the intelligent and cultured shopkeeper, Mrs. Jasmina Ali. Their friendship grows as they share their love of literature and the loss of their spouses, but rattles family and villagers' sense of what is proper and acceptable. This charming and witty love story is set in a small English village, where obligations, societal pressure, and cultural differences challenge but fail to defeat their budding romance.

Who am I?

I have always found that uplifting stories—in which kindness is more powerful than cruelty, and love and friendship blossom in unexpected and even tragic circumstances—give one hope, and hope is the foundation of resilience. Such stories can be set in familiar, comforting places, or new adventurous locales. My own experiences in Uganda, and my husband’s anti-corruption work were the inspiration for one of the locales of my novel about Bennett.


I wrote...

The Best Thing About Bennett

By Irene Wittig,

Book cover of The Best Thing About Bennett

What is my book about?

An inspiring contemporary novel that follows a socially isolated middle-aged woman who, through chance encounters and the trip of a lifetime, finds the courage to break out of her shell.

Round Trip

By Ann Jonas,

Book cover of Round Trip

As a kid, I remember staring out the window during car rides and being mesmerized by shapes, repetition, and motion. This masterfully designed book captures that dream-like quality during a daytime road trip from country into city. The detailed black-and-white illustrations use silhouette and pattern to convey the shifting scenery. And just when you think the book has come to an end, you flip the entire thing over and travel back home — at night!


Who am I?

Growing up, I loved drawing and painting and disliked writing papers, so always thought of myself solely as an illustrator. Then one day, the tale of a pie-baking worm looking for new digs (Ned’s New Home) popped into my head and I shifted into author-illustrator. Later, the story of some highly innovative forest critters (One Snowy Morning) took form and I flipped fully into the role of author (with illustrator Dana Wulfekotte’s vision filling the pages). Of course, children’s story narratives can carry big ideas. For me, the opportunities surrounding the books themselves have taught me that the ability to see things differently is a very valuable tool.


I wrote...

One Snowy Morning

By Kevin Tseng, Dana Wulfekotte (illustrator),

Book cover of One Snowy Morning

What is my book about?

One morning, a squirrel and a chipmunk happen upon a giant heap of snow decorated with strange objects and are not sure what to make of it. Readers will recognize a fully-equipped snowman, but our woodland friends come up with an entirely different set of uses for the objects — not once, but two times! The result is a festive celebration with their pals and then the realization that someone else might also find the objects useful. So they return (almost) everything to the original spot with comical results.

The Railway Children

By Edith Nesbit,

Book cover of The Railway Children

The Railway Children is a rich family saga set in 1905 told from the perspective of the children, Bobbie, Phyllis, and Peter. They live a happy, comfortable life until their father is suddenly taken away by two police officers. The family is forced to move away and adapt to living in the countryside on a much-reduced income. The separation from their father is keenly felt by the children, whilst their mother hides her own distress to protect them. 

We eventually realise that an injustice has occurred, but how can the children hope to reunite with their father? The Railway might provide an answer. Edith Nesbit has created a warm and engaging novel where acts of kindness, sometimes misguided, are integral to the storytelling.


Who am I?

There is nothing more gratifying when you are reading your own books to a group of children to see that they are eager to know what is going to happen next. My top priority is to create a story that is a page-turner. My second wish is to include social topics that provoke ideas and questions. After I read to a group of schoolchildren, I like to encourage them to discuss the themes in the story; the children are always keen to give their views. Nonetheless, adding social topics to my children’s books needs to evolve naturally; ultimately, for me, the story is king! 


I wrote...

The Adventures of Cedric the Bear

By Lucia Wilson, Anne Bowes (illustrator), Katie Eggington (illustrator)

Book cover of The Adventures of Cedric the Bear

What is my book about?

In the first story, Cedric is enjoying being the centre of attention in the V&A Museum, until he gets bear-napped! In the second adventure, Cedric discovers the Button Bear who lives a miserable life with a mean tailor. Cedric vows to rescue BB and help him find his way home. 

In Cedric in Paris, we meet Cedric’s cousin Velours, a velvet cat. She is a Pet Paralympian and the favourite to win Le Grand Dash. Unfortunately, Olivier (a disabled human) goes missing and Velours must make a choice; to help Capitaine, Olivier’s support pet, find Olivier and miss the race or to follow her dream of winning a gold medal at the Pet Paralympics. (Cedric is inspired by a real-life, prize-winning teddy bear).

Station Life in Australia

By Peter Taylor,

Book cover of Station Life in Australia: Pioneers and Pastoralists

I’m a townie, but early colonial Australia is all about the land and how some early colonial pioneers made their fortunes from it. (Many didn’t, needless to say.) This book is all about them: the squatters, the stock riders, the drovers, the station hands, etc. The long and perilous journeys into remote New South Wales looking for land—officially and unofficially; how early pioneers coped with droughts, floods, disappearing stock, financial uncertainty, and not least, relationships with local Aboriginal people. There are hilarious accounts of the strange habits of cows, and of the “new chums”—wide-eyed young men who migrated to the colony with money but no farming experience hoping to make their fortunes, and how the (colonial) locals took the mickey out of them. Readable, witty, and again, written with great authority and in-depth knowledge.


Who am I?

I’m a Pom, as Aussies would say, born and bred in England to an Australian mother and British father. I emigrated to Australia as a ten-pound Pom way back when and though I eventually came home again I’ve always retained an affection and a curiosity about the country, which in time led me to write three books about my own family history there. The early days of colonial Australia, when around 1400 people, half of whom were convicts, ventured across the world to found a penal colony in a country they knew almost nothing about, is one of the most fascinating and frankly unlikely stories you could ever hope to come across. 


I wrote...

The Worst Country in the World

By Patsy Trench,

Book cover of The Worst Country in the World

What is my book about?

Part history, part family history, part memoir, and part dramatisation, my book is about early colonial Australia as witnessed by my four times great grandmother and her family of five children, who migrated to New South Wales in 1801, barely 13 years after the First Fleet arrived and when the place was considered an experiment and not yet fit to live in. (The title is taken from a comment made by Governor Phillip’s second in command.) It attempts to tell through my family’s eyes how the colony began to become established and even to thrive, as did my ancestress and her offspring, who gave up their lives of relative poverty in the old country to eventually flourish in the new. 

More Scenes from the Rural Life

By Verlyn Klinkenborg,

Book cover of More Scenes from the Rural Life

This book can be more aptly titled “Life”. Klinkenborg’s musings over an eleven-year span while maintaining his farm in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley go well beyond the allotted time and location. His many astute observations about nature, animals, and people are expertly framed with blunt and humorous analogies. The Interlude and final chapter ("Coda") state the importance of the sciences exploring cosmology, biology, and archeology and why knowledge morphs through history. A must-read for any urbanite or suburbanite curious about country living.


Who am I?

Born in 1969 as the seventh of eight children to two Harlem-raised parents, I benefited from both the inner-city life of Queens, New York and childhood summers spent on a farm in rural upstate New York. Academic, professional, and physical accomplishments have punctuated my life. An adventurer by nature, I became the first African American to hike to the top of every mountain in the northeast US over 4,000' (115 of them) by September of 2000. At that time, less than 400 people had accomplished this feat; whereas thousands have scaled Mount Everest. My home city’s iconic landmarks create a psychological veil that blinds people to the vast open spaces that dominate New York State. 


I wrote...

Echoes from the Farm

By Jonathan T. Jefferson,

Book cover of Echoes from the Farm

What is my book about?

In the early 1970s, when the author (a.k.a. "John-John") was a young child, his parents did something unprecedented for a working-class African American family from Queens: They bought an old, dilapidated farmhouse in Upstate New York's dairy country as a summer home for them and their eight children. Initially fish out of water, over the next decade the Jefferson family became part of the landscape, the children eagerly anticipating those precious weeks of adventure in cow country. Journey with John-John as he reminisces: Enjoy the way his most vivid recollections are brought to life by wonderful illustrations. And be inspired to embark on your own adventure to build precious memories for you and your family.

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