Many of the books we focus on here at Mother Nature Network necessarily concern themselves with serious topics such as the grim state of the world’s oceans and conservation efforts aimed at protecting animals, but once in a while even the mightiest eco-warrior among us needs a light read. Whether you’re vacationing on a beach or staycationing at your neighborhood park, you’ll want an engaging book to tuck into under your sunhat and discuss over summer cocktails. Don’t know where to start? Never fear, we’ve got five books that run the gamut from a fascinatingly personal history of indigo dye, to an exploration of the influence and impact of trees in American life and literature.
by Chris Licht
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
We all know someone like Chris Licht: “On” all the time, permanently attached to a BlackBerry, constantly thinking about work. If the overachiever in question is family or friend, we might gently tell them to slow down and take a break, knowing full well they’ll never heed our advice. And if, by chance, the overachiever is you, well: Perhaps you’ll want to carve a couple of hours out of your jam-packed workday for a quick read of Licht’s memoir, “What I Learned When I Almost Died.” Licht, the co-creator and original executive producer of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was enjoying enviable success at his dream job when, at age 38, he suffered an immensely painful and potentially fatal subarachnoid hemorrhage. Despite the solemn title, “What I Learned When I Almost Died” is a brief and relatively light memoir that recounts Licht’s scary medical adventure and pencils in his background along the way. There’s nothing especially profound, here: Licht escaped from the experience all but unscathed and remained in the business. In fact, he’s leaving MSNBC and becoming the vice president for programming at CBS News. The fact that he didn’t give up all of his earthly possessions and become a Buddhist monk may make the book that much more relatable, though: Licht’s writing style is personal and the lessons he learned about forgiveness, confidence, love, and letting go are good ones.
by Catherine E. McKinley
Love the color indigo? You’re not alone. It’s one of nature's rarest colors, and for almost five millennia, in every culture and every major religion, indigo has been one of the world’s most valued pigments. Catherine E. McKinley, author of “The Book of Sarahs,” has had a longtime romance with the color — so much so that she decided to use her Fulbright grant to explore its ancient story. That quest led her across nine African countries, and “Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World” blends memoir and history as it reveals the pigment’s relationship to the transatlantic slave trade, its profound influence on fashion, its spiritual significance, and much more. As McKinley notes in the prologue, indigo is in her blood. Her biological mother’s ancestry includes several generations of Jewish “rag traders” who dealt in cloths, and her biological father’s ancestry includes “African slaves traded along the same routes as indigo, where a length of blue cloth was a common exchange for human life.” Somewhere along the four-year journey that led to this book, McKinley discovered that she was “not just chasing beauty but trying to recapture some part of my own legacy and my blue inheritance.”
by Bill Turnbull
Publisher: The Experiment
For a news reporter, Bill Turnbull is a pretty funny guy. It’s a good thing, too, because his new book, “Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper,” demonstrates just how important a ready sense of humor — and the ability to laugh at oneself — is to the amateur apiarist. Turnbull comes across as affable and amused as he relates his initiation into the world of apiculture, and though much of what he shares are his own personal foibles and misadventures, there’s a lot to be learned here. Turnbull expounds upon topics ranging from the inner workings of bee colonies, to how a hive physically works (and even how to assemble one), and of course the threat to our bee population and what we can do to help. Like front yard gardening, backyard beekeeping is on the rise, and “Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper” is a honey-sweet introduction to what might otherwise be an intimidating pursuit. As Turnbull explains, “If bees didn’t sting, it would be a bit like keeping flies. If there’s no risk, there can be no adventure.”
by John Gierach
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
John Gierach has a way with both a casting rod and a pen, so it follows that he’s best known for his writing about fly fishing. The lifelong sport fisherman has more than a dozen books under his belt, including “At the Grave of the Unknown Fisherman,” “Standing in a River Waving a Stick,” and “Dances with Trout.” His latest, “No Shortage of Good Days,” is a collection of 20 essays on the art of fishing and the pleasures of outdoor life. Full of his trademark humor and clear-sighted wisdom, “No Shortage of Good Days” describes Gierach’s adventures fishing waters both familiar and foreign to him, from the Appalachians in Tennessee to Baja California. “Life,” Gierach writes, “is an unruly mess and ideals are hard to hold on to, but fishing is an isolated enough slice of it that there’s the hope we can do this one small thing perfectly.” If you can’t get away on that fishing trip you’re longing for this summer, “No Shortage of Good Days” may prove an enjoyable substitute.
by Richard Horan
Publisher: Harper Perennial
From the first few pages of this inspired book, when author Richard Horan finds himself standing beside the very same basswood tree that Abraham Lincoln was photographed with in 1860, “Seeds” draws you in like the branches of a favorite childhood climbing tree. The book is made up of an interesting mix of travelogue, nature writing, American literary popular culture history, and poignant personal essay. It chronicles Horan’s quest to explore America’s history by visiting the homes of significant figures — mostly writers — and collecting seeds from the trees that inhabit the grounds. The journey takes him from the California coast to wilderness in New Hampshire and Vermont, and everywhere in between. Along the way, he seeks out trees that inspired writers ranging from Faulkner to Wharton. What he finds — and even what he doesn’t find — along the way offers plenty to ruminate on and enjoy.
Teaser photo: Amelia-Jane/Flickr