9 books that bring the outdoors in during a stay-at-home order
March 27, 2020
Stuck at home? Going stir-crazy? We get it — the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives. To mitigate the infection rate and flatten the curve, many governments have issued stay-at-home orders for all nonessential business.
But being stuck inside can feel like pure torture to a nature lover or environmentalist (which I assume you are, if you’re reading this post).
As more and more of us around the world adjust to a new work-from-home reality, we’re also desperate to find more ways to pass the time with new and productive hobbies (check out our recent 11 actions for the planet during a pandemic post, if you’re looking for ways to fight climate change from the safety of your home).
And, if you’re like me, you’re also looking for a good book.
Even though we can’t go outside, it doesn’t mean we can’t pretend we’re outside. With some great literature (and great imagination) you can hike the untamed West, explore the Great Lakes or muse on the poetry of the changing seasons.
Ready to break out? Below are 9 of my favorite books that capture the outdoors… even when you’re stuck inside.
The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac
You read On the Road in high school. But did you know that Jack Kerouac’s other books are just as compelling? The Dharma Bums details Kerouac’s time with the poet Gary Snyder as the pair examines the nature of outdoors, religion and life’s meaning. It’s a book that will make you want to hike out West — or, at the very least, your own backyard — meditate, write poetry and brew coffee over an open flame. Truly a book that appreciates nature, not to mention an essential guide to the beatnik culture of the 1950s.
Seasons Quartet (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer), by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard followed his six-part autobiography, My Struggle, with another ambitious project: Seasons Quartet, a four-part collection of essays that highlights the beauty of our evanescent world, and our place within it. Knausgaard observes and finds meaning in the changing seasons, delivering punches of clarity and insight at every turn. As he writes to his soon-to-be-born daughter, Knausgaard illuminates even the most common elements of existence. Read these books straight though, or leaf through them at your leisure.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
In The Secret History, Donna Tartt takes you into the dark, cold forests of Vermont, entangling you in a web of murderous secrecy among the college elites of liberal arts society. As the main character Richard immerses himself into this society, we too are immersed in the book, breathless to what happens next. A great novel that allows you to escape through its plot, as well as an evocative look at the mountainous dreamscape of rural New England.
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, by Norman Maclean
You’ve seen the movie — now read the book. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean is an indelible portrait of Montana’s ravines and countryside, framed by the tragedy of two brothers and their failure to understand each other. The book captures the same intimacy with nature as Hemingway’s famous Nick Adams Stories, while doubling as a tribute to the technical beauty of fly fishing.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
While most of this book takes place in the rainy metropolis of Seattle, it’s also framed around a family trip to Antarctica. Pieced together through emails, reports, notes and letters, Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple has the urgent cadence of a detective story. A novel of resilience, determination and, most of all, family (remember those?), the book also speaks to the pristine beauty, and reflection, found within untouched landscapes. Inherently readable, I finished this in a day — it’s just one of those books you can’t put down.
The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis
While many books on the Great Lakes examine environmental and geopolitical issues, The Living Great Lakes takes a much more personal approach. Author and journalist Jerry Dennis hitches a ride on an old boat docked in Chicago to set out across all five Great Lakes en route to Maine’s Bay Harbor. Amid merciless storms and serene nights, Dennis sprinkles in history, geology and geography, as well as meditations on nature and traveling in the 21st century.
The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Sometimes we just need a book set in Hawaii. The Descendants gives you that, and so much more. Matt King is mired in trying times: His wife is in a coma, and the future of the family inheritance rests on his shoulders. Funny, raw and reflective, the novel about coming to terms with the past while bravely confronting the future — something we all can learn from. If you’re in the mood for a film (I mean, you have time), the movie adaptation, starring George Clooney and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska), is also worth watching.
Moby Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville
Sure, Moby Dick clocks in at over 600 pages — but if you’re stuck indoors, what better way to pass the time than with Herman Melville’s epic masterpiece? The monomaniacal Captain Ahab is recklessly at war with the White Whale, Moby Dick. As Ahab sails The Pequod into the dangerous, dark waters of the Atlantic, Melville illustrates a fantastic adventure story and a cautionary tale. That said, Moby Dick reminds us to not get too obsessive over any one hobby, despite how isolated we may feel. Good advice for any time of year.
The National Parks: An Illustrated History, by Kim Heacox
With photographs from National Geographic, The National Parks: An Illustrated History is a visually stunning book that captures the breathtaking beauty of America’s diverse landscape. Admire the photos, read the parks’ histories and gather some ideas of places to visit in the future. I recommend pairing this book with Ken Burns’ fantastic six-episode documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.