Good Reads - Nonfiction
Back to Nature
Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses by Isabel Colegate - 2002, 284p.
Drawing on both historical and contemporary personages,
Colegate attempts to classify the people that, for one
reason or another, find themselves driven to solitude.
She asks what it is in the unsettled mind of man that draws
so many—the religious, the artistic, malcontent,
or naturalist—to shrug off their social ties and
responsibilities to be alone in both mind and body. Colegate
uses her notable skills as a writer to persuade readers
to consider a world less dominated by gadgets and technology,
one where they have time to reflect and get to know themselves
through extended isolation.
Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness by
Anne LaBastille - 1976, 277p.
In the early 1950s, LaBastille was in the midst of a divorce
and was confronted with where and how she was going to
live next. Already a bit of an outdoorswoman, having run
a resort lodge with her husband, she decided take up the "Thoureau-style" life
in the Adirondack woods, as had been a dream of hers since
youth. Once there, she built her own log cabin, chopped
her own wood, and began living a disconnected life without
electricity or telephone. She eventually became a guide,
while concurrently working to get a Ph.D in ecology. This
memoir displays the peacefulness of self-sufficiency and
serenity of communing with nature.
Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell - 1986, 221p.
On a 100-acre farm in the Ozark Mountains, Hubbell was
a one-woman commercial beekeeper after a divorce left her
with the farm. While there, she regained the composure
and purpose in her life, discovering a new quietude, while
tending the bees and observing the creatures and wildlife
in her surrounding environment. She writes various small
chapters, almost vignettes, about the nature that surrounded
her and the distinctive life of bees and beekeeping. A
lovely story for your inner naturalist waiting to be awakened.
Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa's Wildlife by Kobie Kruger - 2001, 381p.
A bestseller in South Africa, this memoir encompasses a
17-year period in the 1980s and 1990s, as Kruger, her game
warden husband, and three daughters lived in varying degrees
of isolation in the South African wilderness of the Kruger
National Park. Hardships and events included coping with
life in Africa's wilderness, raising three children
in the isolated Mahlangeni (spending days alone while the
children are sent to school), and also, raising an orphaned
lion cub. As time passed Kruger grew more and more attached
to the wildlife and eventually came to identify with animal
life of the region.
Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship, Tragedy, and Survival
in the Alaskan Wilderness by Lynn Schooler - 2002, 272p.
Schooler had always been a bit of loner, even in childhood.
So, when he decided to work up on the Alaskan glacier coast
as a guide of an immensely beautiful, but oftentimes dangerous
stretch of wilderness, it suited him well. He befriended
a noted Japanese photographer, Michio Hoshino, whom he
guided to photograph the elusive Blue Bear. A deep friendship
developed as the two journeyed along a 500-mile expanse
searching for the bear, while sharing their experiences
of loss and tragedy, something Schooler knew all too well,
as he lost both the woman he loved and his father. A captivating
book, sad but also cathartic, which underscores the value
and memory of love and friendship.
Small Farm in Maine by Terry Silber - 1988, 211p.
Starting out as publishers in Boston in the 1960s, Silber
and her husband grew more attached to their weekend getaway,
a small farm they had purchased in 1965. They decided to
give up their careers in the city and took to living full
time on the Hedgehog Hill Farm in Maine. After years of
renovating and learning to farm, the couple found themselves
capable farmers and eventually became wholesale vegetable
growers. As they gradually built their business, their
entrepreneurial spirit grew also, and with it the size
of their farm.
and Leaving the Good Life by Helen Nearing - 1992, 197p.
Known for the classic homesteading books co-written with
her husband Scott, Living the Good Life and Continuing
the Good Life, here we encounter Helen without her husband,
who passed away in 1983. She provides readers with her
version of living a simple life of solitude, self-sufficiency,
and hard work and how she came to these ideals and principles
by delving into her childhood and friendship with the Indian
philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti. A modest memoir with a
good dose of wisdom and moving reflections on life.
By Accident: Adventures of a Modern Vagabond by Ben
Benson - 2001, 141p.
These recollections by Benson, a.k.a. "Backyard Ben," take
the reader to various environs throughout the world, such
as the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and Zimbabwe, which
he traveled by way of any path or trail one can make. Through
his numerous travels and jobs (ranger, photographer, hunting
guide, town manager, deckhand, etc.) he accumulated numerous
stories, including his own escape from a stifling job and
his painful departure from his own family over 30 years
ago. A quick read that highlights the urge to live and
roam through nature and also considers the rewards and
regrets of this chosen lifestyle.
Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev - 1997, 255p.
The tragedy made famous by John Krakauer's Into Thin
Air is reopened and examined by the climbing guide who
was second in command on the fateful day. Boukreev's
interpretation of what happened on the day that saw eight
climbers perish on their climb up Mt. Everest is both a
rebuttal and a defense against Krakauer's accusations
of unpreparedness and foolhardy risk-taking by the Mountain
Madness team. Boukreev gives a lucid and meticulous account
that suggests that not only was he not responsible for
the tragedy, but that he was a key component in rescuing
four of the climbers, evidenced by the heroism reward he
received from the American Alpine Club.
Silence of the North by Olive A. Fredrickson - 1972,
Fredrickson married a trapper with whom she moved to the
Arctic wilderness to live. After her husband's death
she attempted to support her family by herself in the barren
tundra. In one instance, in order to obtain food she walked
40 miles to a nearby village to feed her family. Truly,
this is a story of a woman fighting desperately to survive
in a harsh environment, against all odds.
917.98 KRA - Also in Paperback
the Wild by Jon Krakauer - 1997, 207p.
Upon graduating from Emory College, Chris McCandless, an
adventurous young man with an ascetic ideal, gave his savings
to charity and took off for the Alaskan wilderness to experience
the holiness of solitude and the outdoors. Four months
later he was found dead, starved and frozen. Krakauer retraced
McCandless' boyhood experiences, his broken relationship
with his aerospace engineer father, and speculates about
his untimely death in this fascinating adventure tale steeped
into the Country by John A. McPhee - 1977,
In the mid-70s, McPhee traveled through Alaska studying
the land and its peoples. Only 20 years since it had become
a state, it was largely a land up-for-grabs. The people
still exhibited many of the characteristics needed to survive
in an underdeveloped and harsh environment: self-sufficiency,
hard work and an acceptance (some may call it love) of
solitude. Many still caught and grew most of their food,
making clothes and working exhaustive hours to make a living.
McPhee took river trips, accompanied prospectors on flights,
talked with settlers and discussed various issues with
politicians and businessmen whose interests in the future
of Alaska often ran counter to the people.
Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith
and Richard Proenneke - 1999, 223p.
This book was very successful when it was published in
1973. Based on the journals and photography of Richard
Proenneke, who, after accumulating years of 50-hour work
weeks, did what many of us only fantasize about: he chucked
it all and went to live in the woods. Written in his 80s,
Proenneke still lived in the log cabin that he had built
with his own hands, becoming an icon for naturalists and
homesteaders everywhere. Though few will follow Proenneke's
lead, his story is an inspiring read.
in the Taiga: One Russian Family's Fifty-Year
Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian
Wilderness by V. Peskov - 1994, 254p.
Russian journalist Peskov investigated a small religious
fundamentalist sect living in Siberia who broke from the
Orthodox Church in response to the Great Schism in the
17th century. There he discovered the Lykovs who have lived
for generations in the Abakan River Valley, miles away
from any contact with secular society. The 37-year-old
Agafia and her 81-year-old father, Karp, were the only
surviving members and Peskov's narrative focuses
on these two, their history, and how they have provided
for themselves in one of the world's harshest environments.
Last Cowboys at the End of the World by Nick Reding - 2001, 291p.
Reding lived with the cowboys (gauchos) in Patagonia for
over a year as they herded cattle through the Andes Mountains.
The families he lived amongst were almost completely isolated
until the construction of the Pan-Pacific Highway. With
the highway built, the great divide between their lifestyle
and the industrialized society they border is a glaring
reminder of the economic differences. The familial struggles
are keenly observed, particularly between the couple Duck
and Edith, in whose home Reding lived, as the community
attempts to become reconciled to their arduous, impoverished
Biography KATZ, J.
to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change by Jon Katz - 1999, 242p.
A spiritual memoir by mystery novelist and writer Katz,
who bought a cabin in up-state New York to live in solitude
for six months in order to discover new meaning at middle-age.
Finding life in our over-stimulated society too confusing
and restrictive to find peace and renewal, he left his
wife and daughter for hard work around the cabin and spiritual
ruminations over Thomas Merton. A man with a very understanding
wife, Katz provides an entertaining and thoughtful look
at rediscovery at middle-age.
Prepared by Keith Barlog, July 2008