Books Inspired by the Natural World

Though not necessarily classed as 'nature writing', these six books take inspiration from the natural world in different and captivating ways. If you can carve out a little time in your busy day, reading a few pages is always a pleasure, so pick one and get started!

  1. If (like me) you're about to start a family, Common Ground, by Rob Cowen, will definitely appeal. It weaves the story of a father expecting his first child with exploration of a small strip of land on the edge of a town. Unobtrusive and lifeless though it may appear, this wasteland provides the backdrop for a journey through the local landscape, with lyrical investigations of plants, animals, insects and humans.
  2. I've long admired the writing of Sara Maitland, and the magical Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales certainly doesn't disappoint. She argues that forests are twofold, both beautiful and terrifying, and that it is this combination that creates the backdrop to fairytales. Filled with re-imaginings and seasonal wanderings, it is a book of many guises that celebrates these ancient and primal landscapes, and muses on their significance.
  3. If I were to choose books simply by their covers, Holloway, a collaboration between Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards, would be top of the list. This short book explores a landscape of shadows, spectres and great strangeness, and coupled with ghostly illustrations, provides the perfect way to spend half an hour or so.
  4. Travel back fifty years to the Scottish Highlands, and you'll reach the moment Katharine Stewart moved with her family to A Croft in the Hills. This powerful memoir evokes nostalgia for a lost era, but also highlights the hardships many would have experienced. Expect bitter Scottish winters, the trials of looking after livestock, and the simple pleasures of a back-to-basics lifestyle.
  5. A little different from my usual style, Findings, by Kathleen Jamie, is a curation of moments plucked straight from the author's travels. It doesn't follow a narrative as such, but instead opts for short prose essays on topics such as peregrines, the winter solstice and the carcass of a whale. A totally different approach that is nevertheless intriguing and, at times, surprising.
  6. If you don't even have time for the half an hour it takes to read Holloway, try John Lewis-Stempel's The Wood in Winter. Published by Candlestick Press as an alternative to sending a card, this pamphlet follows a nature walk into a wood in midwinter, tying in old festivals and traditions, and reminding us of our own deep connection to the earth.

Reading books inspired by the outdoors is an easy way to reconnect with the natural world. Check out last week's post - Nature & Culture: Finding a Common Ground - if you'd like more tips on how to achieve this in other ways.