Spring is finally upon us, and if you’re in a location that’s starting to get warm and pleasant, you probably want to go outside and enjoy it. If you’re in a location like I am, you want to stay inside and avoid the cold, muddy mess that is the outdoors.
For those of us in the second category, these 5 books about the outdoors will suffice for our interactions with mother nature until the weather gets a bit nicer.
Book 1: The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
Though technically set around Christmas time, this is a year-round read. Hailing from Finland, Antti Tuomainen’s novel, The Healer, follows the story of a man’s search for his missing wife through a Helsinki that has been devastated by climate change. The Healer is an exciting dystopian thriller and provides a great taste of modern Finnish fiction for international readers.
It's two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets; the authorities have issued warnings about malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the plague. People are fleeing to the far north of Finland and Norway where conditions are still tolerable. Social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force.
Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still able and willing to live in the city.
When Tapani's beloved wife, Johanna, a newspaper journalist, goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna's disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a politically motivated serial killer known as "The Healer." Desperate to find Johanna, Tapani's search leads him to uncover secrets from her past. Secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating...
Book 2: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild is in many ways the quintessential outdoors book.Though nonfiction, it reads with the wit and bite of a novel as it follows the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless’ journey into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley, and his subsequent death. It has been a classic since its publication, and ought to be a go-to for anyone wanting to venture out into the wilderness not because it’s going to scare you into staying at home, but because as it captures McCandless’ adventure, it also captures the savage beauty and power of the wilderness.
Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless's short life. Admitting an interst that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless. Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.
When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris. He is said to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding--and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.
Book 3: My Ántonia by Willa Cather
If you’re like me, you probably need a more light-hearted breather after those first two novels. That’s where My Ántonia comes in. No writer has ever captured the American Midwest as gracefully and poetically as Cather did in this seminal 1918 masterpiece. It is the story of Jim Burden, an American railroad tycoon, as he reflects on his formative years growing up in rural Nebraska. Though it’s more lighthearted than many of the other novels on this list, it’s certainly not boring. It’s a beautiful examination of the questions about what makes a life, and explores the ways in which the events and people of one’s childhood can predestine them to walk certain paths in life. The oldest book on this list, My Ántonia celebrates its 100th birthday this year.
In this symphonically powerful and magnificently observed novel, Cather created one of the most winning heroines in American fiction, a woman whose calm, undemonstrative strength and robust high spirits make her emblematic of the virtues Cather most admired in her country. Ántonia Shimerda is the daughter of Bohemian immigrant parents struggling with the oceanic loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie. Through the eyes of Jim Burden, her tutor and disappointed admirer, we follow Ántonia from farm to town as she survives hardships both natural and human, from poverty to a failed romance—and not only survives, but triumphs.
Book 4: The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Last American Man is the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway, a man who grew up in a love affair with the outdoors and came to establish his own secluded paradise within the Appalachians, where he lives in harmony with the world around him. What I found most entrancing about Conway’s story is that he doesn’t come across as some sort of crazy, backwoods mountain man who retreated into the wilderness to escape human society. Instead, he’s an insightful, rugged figure who uses his relationship with the wilderness to enrich society.
It's also a striking examination of masculinity and the American idea of manliness.
In this rousing examination of contemporary American male identity, acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family's comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature. To Gilbert, Conway's mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are.
Book 5: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude, for me, is a book that always makes me long for Summer, and since that’s also how the weather is currently making me feel, I wanted to include it in this list. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a sprawling novel following the Buendia family. It moves with the cadence of a poem and the mystical qualities of magical realism that only Marquez can adequately capture. The pages radiate with the warmth of the mythical Macondo in which the novel is set, and tells its story in a way that enchants readers, leaving you wondering if you too might ascend into the heavens in a cyclone of flowers.
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women—brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul—this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.