August 2010

Into the Wild

Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

“Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)

After three years of dating city boys, I’m now seeing an avid outdoorsman. Problem is, I love looking at scenery but only in the car on the way to the outlet malls. I would never tell him this, but I find the whole nature thing really boring. That said, I don’t find him boring at all. He’s planning to take me to his friend’s cabin in Big Bear, and I want to bring along some books that will help me appreciate my surroundings and also impress my Harvard-educated nature boy.
—Clarissa, Brentwood

Dear Clarissa,
We suppose the transcendentalists are out, then—Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson and Muir—as are esoteric nature essays from the likes of Henry Beston, Loren Eiseley, William Bartram and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. But there are many books, fiction and nonfiction, with absorbing plots in pastoral settings—and you even might learn the Latin name of a bird or some other species for the next time you go on a hike. You do hike, don’t you? It’s just walking without your purse and credit cards...

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

A breathtaking story about the intertwining loves and lives of three people in the Appalachians. A former biologist with an appreciation of all living things, Kingsolver sees the world in shades of green. You will never look at a tree or a butterfly in the same way again.

Dalva, by Jim Harrison

An epic novel about a woman’s search for her lost son. Published to glowing reviews, this exquisitely layered story of Dalva and the series of men in her life not only gives us a portrait of an American family but a rich appreciation of the farmland of Nebraska.

Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston

Houston’s debut story collection centers on smart, funny, independent women involved with country boys, bad boys and cowboys. One—“How to Talk to a Hunter”—was included in the 1990 Best American Short Stories. A fast read and a good ride.

The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard

A beguiling love story set in the undulating dunes of Cape Cod. The ecstatic onrush of prose about the natural world intensifies the passion between a local poet and a beautiful outsider. Dillard’s passages about the sea, tides, black beaches and stars enthrall the most hardened urbanite, but it’s what happens to the lovers that keeps you reading.

A Country Year: Living the Questions, by Sue Hubbell

Jilted by her husband, 50-year-old Hubbell declares, “My life hasn’t turned out as I expected.” This is the former Brown University librarian’s nonfiction account of her escape to a rustic cabin in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, where she supports herself by raising bees. You can view her as the modern counterpart to Thoreau or the precursor to Eat, Pray, Love—without the sex and pasta.

Certain Tract of Land, by Jean Seder

An award-winning writer and freelance journalist, Seder tells the story, in poetic prose, of how neighbors banded together against developers to save the last remaining Crosswicks Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. It perfectly captures, in one battle, what’s at risk in the fight to protect endangered lands.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

A children’s classic first published in 1908, this is one of the most lyrical animal adventure stories ever written. Like Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, it should be read and reread by anyone who loves literature. And really, anthropomorphism aside, didn’t everyone have a rat and a toad in their life?

And when all else fails:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Camping and Hiking, by Michael Mouland

What to do and not to do...basic skills for the wilderness impaired.

Have a question? You can reach Mack and Kaufman at