Holiday Reads for Nature and Environment LoversNov 30, 2022 ● By Sheryl DeVore
When David Lambe recently signed his new book, Now is the Time for Trees, at The Book Stall, in Winnetka, the store was crowded. “We sold lots of books,” says sales associate Amy Anderson. “Some of the autographed copies of his books are still available for purchase. They would make great holiday gifts.”
Anderson and other local book purveyors know the kinds of books nature lovers and environmentalists read. Here are some suggestions from Chicago area experts to purchase for friends and family during the holiday season.
Lambe is the chief executive of the National Arbor Day Association, which published Now is the Time for Trees earlier this year. He and co-author Lorene Edwards Faulkner write about why planting trees is important in the 21st century. They also offer advice on ways to choose and plant trees.
Anderson also recommends The Tree Book, The Stories, Science, and History of Trees, published by DK in May 2022. The book features drawings, photos, identification tips and stories of trees around the world, including coast redwood and quaking aspen. As of January 2021, the publisher has pledged to use paper and paperboard that is Forest Stewardship Council-certified in making its products.
The Book Stall also recommends on its online holiday list for gift-giving Extinction: Our Fragile Relationship with Life on Earth, by Marc Schlossman. Published by Ammonite Press in September, Extinction explores endangered and extinct species by going behind the scenes through the natural history collection of The Field Museum, in Chicago. “We think these are important, interesting books, based on what we’ve sold in the past,” Anderson says. “If you’ve got someone on your gift list who cares about the environment, these are good options.”
Chris Mahin, manager of Barbara’s Bookstore on State Street, in Chicago, recommends Extreme: An Anthology for Social and Environmental Justice. Published by Vagabond Books in late 2018, the anthology celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Edited by Mark Lipman, it is a collection of poems written by 82 authors worldwide, along with color photographs and drawings. Mahin attended the book’s launch in Los Angeles and listened to some of the poets recite their works. “It’s an impressive collection which deserves the praise it received from noted scholar Cornel West,” Mahin says.
West says, “This book keeps our flame lit and our fire burning.”
Barbara’s Bookstore sales associate Sophia Devarenne suggests Upstream: Selected Essays, by Mary Oliver, published in 2016 by Penguin Books. “In this book of essays, Oliver meditates on how her identity as a reader and artist and her connection to the natural world are intrinsically intertwined,” Devarenne says. “This collection is the perfect gift for anyone with a passion for both literature and nature.”
Another of her recommendations is Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World, published by Knopf in September. Author Karen Armstrong reveals ways ancient religions and cultural practices inspired a connection to the environment, while “modern-day humans are alienated from nature,” Devarenne says. “She argues that in order for humanity to meaningfully confront climate change, we must restore our spiritual relationship with the natural world. This thought-provoking book is a great gift for your scholarly environmentalist friends.”
Devarenne also suggests Merlin Sheldrake’s, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures, published by Random House in May 2020. “This is a fascinating deep dive into fungi and what a remarkably influential role it has played in human behavior and society,” Devaranne says. “Entangled Life is so packed with information and has such a wide scope, it is sure to blow any reader’s mind, even a mushroom expert.”
She also recommends a novel that environmentalists may enjoy reading, A Children’s Bible: A Novel, written by Lydia Millet and published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2020. It tells the story of children in an isolated vacation home when climate disaster strikes. “Millet uses a thrilling tale of survival to communicate the urgency of the climate change problem and critique the complacency of our current social and political culture,” Devarenne explains. “Lyrically written and overflowing with powerful symbolism, this book is a thought-provoking page-turner.”
For young readers, she suggests Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, published in 2017 by Macmillan. “This is a heartfelt story for young readers where the main character is Red, an oak tree,” Devarenne says. “Red is the neighborhood’s ‘wishtree’, meaning people write out their wishes and tie them to her branches. When an immigrant family moves in to the neighborhood, they face Islamophobia and cruelty at the hands of their neighbors. Red works with her animal friends to show the residents the value of empathy, friendship and tolerance. This is a perfect gift for kids or families who would love a book with these classic themes centered on humans’ relationship with nature,” Devarenne suggests.
Devarenne also recommends Braiding Sweetgrass, published in 2015 by Milkweed Editions. This book by Potawatomi author and professor Robin Wall Kimmerer details the traditions of Indigenous North American peoples relating to plants and discusses how these practices and philosophies could be integrated into the Western science world. “Both personal and scientific, this book of essays is a wonderful gift for anyone interested in botany,” she says.
Pam Johnson, manager of bookstores The Green Read, in Crystal Lake, and The Green Spot, in Woodstock, also recommends Braiding Sweetgrass. Johnson says, “The author advocates turning to the traditional practices of indigenous people in our search for sustainability.” Both stores offer a wide range of gently used books in various genres, including nature and sustainability.
“Choosing a gently used book as a gift is a wonderful way to help the environment,” Johnson adds. “The bookstores sold over 21,000 books in 2021, preventing those books from potentially ending up in landfills,” she relates. “Any books that are unsellable, we recycle responsibly.” Proceeds benefit the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.
Johnson also suggests Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail, by Ben Montgomery, published by Chicago Review Press in 2016. “It follows Emma Gatewood, a grandmother in her late 50s, in her journey on the Appalachian Trail in the 1950s,” Johnson says. “She became the first female solo through-hiker, as well as the first person to hike the trail three times, and because of all the media coverage, is credited with increased interest in maintaining the Appalachian Trail. I was fascinated by all the interesting information and history about the trail throughout the book. And you can’t help but be inspired by Grandma Gatewood.”
Don Parker and Justin Pepper, co-editors of A Healthy Nature Handbook: Illustrated Insights for Ecological Restoration from Volunteer Stewards of Chicago Wilderness, published by Island Press in 2021, also offered some suggestions on green books to purchase for the holidays. Their book reveals successful restorations done by Chicago region volunteer stewards. Parker agrees that Braiding Sweetgrass makes an excellent holiday gift.
Pepper also suggests Ever Green: Saving Big Forests, by Jon Reid and Tom Jovey, published this year by W.W. Norton & Company. “It’s a must-read for any of Earth’s citizens concerned with climate change and the role intact forests can play in avoiding some of the worst outcomes,” Pepper says, adding the book is highly readable.
He also recommends Owls of the Eastern Ice,
published in 2021 by Macmillan. Pepper calls the book “a fun and informative
behind-the-scenes look at field biology in the Russian Far East.” The book by
Jonathan C. Slaght focuses on efforts to study and conserve Blakiston’s fish
owl, the largest owl in the world. “It is a well-written and a compelling field
journal full of unlikely characters working under challenging conditions. Think
isolation, frigid temperatures, unstable ice in changing seasons and tigers,”
Sheryl DeVore has
written six books on science, health and nature, as well as nature, health and
environment stories for national and regional publications. Read more at
Sadlers’ Top 10 Environmental Books of 2022
Sadlers’, a family-owned business that
promotes reusing cardboard, recently released a list of must-read environment books for 2022.
The list includes Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse, by Dave Goulson, published by HarperCollins earlier this year. “Insects are essential for life as we know it. Without them, our world would look vastly different,” writes Laura Sadler in an online blog about the book.
The online list also includes How to Give Up Plastic: A Conscious Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time, by Will McCallum, published by Penguin in 2018. The book features ideas such as throwing a plastic-free birthday party and ways to convince others to give up plastic.