Books You Might Enjoy If You Liked ‘The Book of Difficult Fruit’
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants / Robin Wall Kimmerer
Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie / Charlie Samson Gilmour
One spring day, a baby magpie falls out of its nest and into Charlie Gilmour’s hands. Magpies, he soon discovers, are as clever and mischievous as monkeys. They are also notorious thieves, and this one quickly steals his heart. By the time the creature develops shiny black feathers that inspire the name Benzene, Charlie and the bird have forged an unbreakable bond. While caring for Benzene, Charlie learns his biological father, an eccentric British poet named Heathcote Williams who vanished when Charlie was six months old, is ill. As he grapples with Heathcote’s abandonment, Charlie comes across one of his poems, in which Heathcote describes how an impish young jackdaw fell from its nest and captured his affection. Over time, Benzene helps Charlie unravel his fears about repeating the past–and embrace the role of father himself. A bird falls, a father dies, a child is born. Featherhood is the unforgettable story of a love affair between a man and a bird. It is also a beautiful and affecting memoir about childhood and parenthood, captivity and freedom, grief and love.
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals / Sy Montgomery
National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals—her friends—who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming way. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet’s rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy’s life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets. This restorative memoir reflects on the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals—Sy’s friends—and the truths revealed by their grace. It also explores vast themes: the otherness and sameness of people and animals; the various ways we learn to love and become empathetic; how we find our passion; how we create our families; coping with loss and despair; gratitude; forgiveness; and most of all, how to be a good creature in the world.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss / Renkl, Margaret.
From New York Times contributing opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family—and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world. Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents—her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father—and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver. And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds—the natural one and our own—”the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s own twin.”
On Animals / Susan Orlean
Susan Orlean—the beloved New Yorker staff writer hailed as “a national treasure” by The Washington Post and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Library Book—gathers a lifetime of musings, meditations, and in-depth profiles about animals. “How we interact with animals has preoccupied philosophers, poets, and naturalists for ages, ” writes Susan Orlean. Since the age of six, when Orlean wrote and illustrated a book called Herbert the Near-Sighted Pigeon, she’s been drawn to stories about how we live with animals, and how they abide by us. Now, in On Animals, she examines animal-human relationships through the compelling tales she has written over the course of her celebrated career. These stories consider a range of creatures—the household pets we dote on, the animals we raise to end up as meat on our plates, the creatures who could eat us for dinner, the various tamed and untamed animals we share our planet with who are central to human life. In her own backyard, Orlean discovers the delights of keeping chickens. In a different backyard, in New Jersey, she meets a woman who has twenty-three pet tigers—something none of her neighbors knew about until one of the tigers escapes. In Iceland, the world’s most famous whale resists the efforts to set him free; in Morocco, the world’s hardest-working donkeys find respite at a special clinic. We meet a show dog and a lost dog and a pigeon who knows exactly how to get home. Equal parts delightful and profound, enriched by Orlean’s stylish prose and precise research, these stories celebrate the meaningful cross-species connections that grace our collective existence.
Seed to Dust: Life, Nature, and a Country Garden / Marc Hamer
Marc Hamer has nurtured the same 12-acre garden in the Welsh countryside for over two decades. The garden is vast and intricate. It’s rarely visited, and only Hamer knows of its secrets. But it’s not his garden. It belongs to his wealthy and elegant employer, Miss Cashmere. But the garden does not really belong to her, either. As Hamer writes, “Like a book, a garden belongs to everyone who sees it.” In Seed to Dust, Marc Hamer paints a beautiful portrait of the garden that “belongs to everyone.” He describes a year in his life as a country gardener, with each chapter named for the month he’s in. As he works, he muses on the unusual folklores of his beloved plants. He observes the creatures who scurry and hide from his blade or rake. And he reflects on his own life: living homeless as a young man, his loving relationship with his wife and children, and—now—feeling the effects of old age on body and mind. As the seasons change, Hamer also reflects on the changes he has observed in Miss Cashmere’s life from afar: the death of her husband and the departure of her children from the stately home where she now lives alone. At the book’s end, Hamer’s connection to Miss Cashmere changes shape, and new insights into relationships and the beauty and brutality of nature emerge. Just like all good books and gardens, Seed to Dust is filled with equal parts life and death, beauty and decay, and every reader will find something different to admire.
Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone / Juli Berwald
Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting—microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity—is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers. More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. She traveled the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders. Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It’s a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.
Vesper Flights: New and Collected Essays / Helen Macdonald
From the New York Times bestselling author of H is for Hawk and winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction, comes a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep. Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife. By one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers, Vesper Flights is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us.
What’s Good?: A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients / Peter Hoffman
A culinary pioneer blends memoir with a joyful inquiry into the ingredients he uses and their origins. What goes into the making of a chef, a restaurant, a dish? And if good ingredients make a difference on the plate, what makes them good in the first place? In his highly anticipated first book, influential chef Peter Hoffman offers thoughtful and delectable answers to these questions. “A locavore before the word existed,” Hoffman tells the story of his upbringing, professional education, and evolution as a chef and restaurant owner through its components—everything from the importance of your relationship with your refrigerator repairman and an account of how a burger killed his restaurant, to his belief in peppers as a perfect food, one that is adaptable to a wide range of cultural tastes and geographic conditions and reminds us to be glad we are alive. Along with these personal stories from a life in restaurants, Hoffman braids in passionately curious explorations into the cultural, historical, and botanical backstories of the foods we eat. Beginning with a spring maple sap run and ending with the late-season, frost-defying vegetables, he follows the progress of the seasons and their reflections in his greenmarket favorites, moving ingredient to ingredient through the bounty of the natural world. Hoffman meets with farmers and vendors and unravels the magic of what we eat, deepening every cook’s appreciation for what’s on their kitchen counter.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments / Aimee Nezhukumatathil
From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction—a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us. As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted—no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape—she was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance. “What the peacock can do, ” she tells us, “is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life. ” The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts. Warm, lyrical, and gorgeously illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, World of Wonders is a book of sustenance and joy.