Posted in extraschooling

Files from a Bookworm

What do you like to read? For me, 2021 was The Year of the Book. I have always loved reading, but the busyness of life and young adulthood got the best of me for far too long. Around the time I became pregnant with my son, I finally had gotten back into reaching for a good book now and then – only to have motherhood and the dissolution of marriage again distract me. 2020 gave me a wonderful opportunity to plunge back in… only to discover, with my first read of lockdown, that there was something screwy going on with my eyes. My sister – who has been legally blind since age 20 – finally convinced me that I should try audiobooks. It took some doing; I’m one of those who often stops to backtrack in a book for better understanding or to repeat an especially good passage, as well as an old-fashioned bibliophile who simply loves the heft and smell of a real live book. I quickly gained appreciation for the art of listening – not, I admit, my strongest skill – and, more slowly, I realized that I loved hearing the narrator flesh out the nuances of their story (also, as a single parent in the woods who is not overly social even in non-pandemic times, it nicely filled the need for hearing another adult voice on occasion).

I went on a bit of a rampage, thanks to access to resources like Libby and Hoopla through our local library. I had been coming out of a memoir phase and entering the nature kick I am still happily in the midst of. I decided to share some of my favorites here and would love recommendations to add to my future list – especially if they are available on audio! I do occasionally still dabble in print books; in my bee zeal this spring I found Thor Hanson’s Buzz featured in a pollinator display at our library for the #PlantWildflowers initiative and have since been slowly savoring my way through his body of work. However, free audiobooks are my staple, so if you know of a winner, please leave a comment!

Here are the books that earned at least 4 stars from me across the last year and a half. This is in mostly chronological order of my reading, with bold plus a * ranking to show my absolute favorites, along with some notes:

Authors –

  • Robin Wall Kimmerer *** (!!! She is amazing, and I absolutely recommend listening to her narrate her books, as there is this delightful, warm smile tucked into her words.)
  • Helen Macdonald * (When she’s good, she’s terrific; I just found her a little inconsistent from essay to essay.)
  • Bernd Heinrich (He can be a bit dry at times, but he knows his stuff!)
  • Gerald Durrell ** (I’ve listened to 4 of his books so far, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them all.)
  • Timothy Egan (If you are interested in the era around 100ish years ago in America, this is your guy. He is incredibly knowledgeable in that time period. My favorite book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, I very nearly didn’t finish, as it started soooooo slowly, since he is almost too well-researched at times.)
  • Peter Wohlleben
  • Thor Hanson ***
  • Sue Hubbell *

Individual Titles –

  • Reason for Hope (Jane Goodall)
  • There Is No Me Without You (Melissa Faye Greene; I couldn’t get into her others, but found this gave me the feeling of sitting down to chat with a friend over a cup of coffee.)
  • The Inexplicable Universe (Neil DeGrasse Tyson; I love him, but actually don’t care for space as a topic, so don’t read that much of what he writes.)
  • The Vanishing American Adult (Ben Sasse; I found myself agreeing with a lot of his points while not being entirely sure how much I liked him, and I couldn’t get into his next book I tried.)
  • The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe; I don’t recall much now, except that there were parts that reminded me of my father and his death, so the rating might have been more sentimental.)
  • The Prophet *** (Kahlil Gibran; my dad gave me this book when I was a teenager. I have treasured his inscription, as well as many sections of the book, for over two decades now, yet this was the first time I actually sat down and read it cover-to-cover.) 
  • Ladysitting (Lorene Cary; less a great book than I enjoyed her and the narration.)
  • Five Days (Wes Moore; it started so strong, but then I felt it petered out a bit, and I was disappointed.)
  • A Primate’s Memoir * (Robert Sapolsky; I still want to read more of his, but for some reason haven’t.)
  • Homegrown * (Ben Hewitt; the only education book I’ve read, and I enjoyed it so much from the start that I paused reading the library copy in order to buy my own to make notes in.)
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Caitlin Doughty)
  • Our Wild Calling (Richard Louv)
  • Humble Pi (Matt Parker)
  • The Soul of an Octopus (Sy Montgomery; I read several of hers… This one was outstanding, while I could barely get through the others.)
  • The Tao of Pooh * (Benjamin Hoff; my son – then 6 – loved this as well and even listened to it on his own several times.)
  • The Universe Within (Neil Shubin; I’m not sure what it says about this book, that, despite having given it a 4-star rating, it is the only one that I remember nothing about besides realizing the author’s name sounds familiar…)
  • Saving Jemima (Julie Zickefoose)
  • American Wolf *** (Nate Blakeslee; this book might have been my absolute top read, as it led my through every. Single. Emotion. Amazing must-read.)
  • The Curve of Time (M. Wylie Blanchet; this book was given to my father way back when I was a kid and we lived in the general area. I decided to track it down and read it – the views of the time can make a body cringe here and there, but the adventures of the family are hard to not want to be a part of.)
  • Becoming Wild (Carl Safina; yes, the quote on the home page came from this book.)
  • Why Fish Don’t Exist (Lulu Miller; I found her writing on others fantastic and riveting, but her personal bits she intersplices the book with I could have completely done without. I think she should’ve just written two books, as to me they simply didn’t mesh at all. I felt perhaps she really wanted to do a full memoir, yet wasn’t feeling quite ready or bold enough to commit to it completely.)
  • We Are All Stardust (Stefan Klein)
  • Three Cups of Deceit (Jon Krakauer)
  • What a Fish Knows (Johnathan Balcombe)
  • A Life On Our Planet *** (David Attenborough; joins Braiding Sweetgrass and American Wolf in my top 3 reads of 2021. The man is just phenomenal at everything he does.)
  • Tribe ** (Sebastian Junger; simply a powerful book.)
  • Underland * (Robert MacFarlane; a bit claustrophobic at times, but such an interesting subject wonderfully rendered.)
  • The Food Explorer (Daniel Stone)
  • Finding the Mother Tree (Suzanne Simard; just the Canadian accent alone had me, but she is the preeminent tree scientist working in this new area of study to boot.)
  • Quackery (Lydia Kang)
  • The Professor and the Madman (Simon Winchester)
  • Dancing With Bees (Brigit Strawbridge Howard)
  • Coyote America (Dan Flores; this wasn’t quite what I expected, and it was in fact a depressing, almost painful book, yet that is why I gave it 4 stars in the end – it’s important to look at how starkly ugly humanity can be if we’re ever going to change.)
  • The Secret Lives of Bats (Merlin Tuttle)
  • Cry of the Kalahari * (Mark & Delia Owens; I am not a fiction person these days, so I’ll leave her crawdad book to everyone else – but, yes, that Delia Owens… Though I actually preferred Mark’s parts.)
  • The Bears of Brooks Falls (Michael Fitz)
  • Empty Mansions (Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr)
  • Breasts (Florence Williams; I also read her book The Nature Fix, which is a solid intro for those realizing the benefits of the outdoors – but, if you’re already pretty into all that, this will be a bit fluffy with no new information.)
  • The Library Book (Susan Orlean)

Okay – your turn: what’s everyone reading? (I’m off to grab Thor Hanson’s book Feathers and relax for a bit before dinner – have a great weekend!)

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Author:

Who am I? Foremost, the lucky momma of an amazing boy. To be perfectly honest, I am less his teacher than he is my inspiration - I have learned at least as much from him in the last seven years as he has from me. I am an old-timer at heart; I'd rather live on a farm, garden, crochet, and raise my kid out in the sun than anything else. I'm a bit of a technological dinosaur, more geared toward life where you can get your hands dirty and have some fun exploring, learning, and growing. I'm a homeschooled, homeschooling single parent with a passion for my son, nature, and the simple life. I am not here to pretend I know it all or lay out the research or provide a step-by-step game plan. I hope to encourage and inspire families to join in the journey of learning together - and have the fun that life is supposed to be made of along the way. Happy exploring!

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