Environmentally Minded Reads for

Literary Walks in the Woods (and Conservation!)

Compiled by Liz Merton and Sage Webb


For those who want to ponder environmental issues . . . or just be reminded of the beauty of a lonely walk across a windswept plain . . . we’ve grabbed a few books (from presses large and small) off the shelf and put them on this list.


An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas by Diane Wilson


Chelsea Green Publishing Company (Copyright 2005)


Read Liz’s review here.


Rick Bass praised this true-life account of Diane Wilson’s journey from shrimper to environmental activist. The story rolls along in thick colloquial prose (perhaps to a fault), providing local feel while offering a deep exploration of environmental issues on the Texas Gulf Coast and an “unredacted” presentation of the struggles Wilson and her associates faced in the 1990s and early 2000s in exposing environmental abuses by Formosa Plastics.


Open and unvarnished, Wilson presents themes of environmentalism, feminism, and the -ism of passionate commitment to a cause.




Since we’re on the subject of Rick Bass . . . .


For a Little While by Rick Bass


Back Bay Books (2017)


In this collection of short stories, Bass takes readers on intimate, incandescent journeys into the wilderness, beneath frozen waters, onto junked heavy machinery, and over bridges leading to loss. With a magical rhythm, he sets loneliness aflame and banishes worn-thin assurances.


For our money, Bass is a writer’s writer, and this collection helps explain why critics speak of his grace . . . why he enjoys a reputation as one of America’s leading nature writers.




When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle


Penguin (2011)


Read Sage’s discussion of the book here.


We once saw Boyle described as a “maximalist.” Perhaps he is. His prose runs elegant and driving, authentic and vivid. Unapologetically complicated, When the Killing’s Done weaves the lives of an environmental activist and a National Park Service biologist into a tapestry of shipwrecks, birth, death, and bad decisions, and then hangs it over California’s storm-tossed Channel Islands. For readers who see shades of gray even in the bluest waters, Boyle delivers, never leading the way to answers but running Pan-like through fields of tough questions.




The Wildlands by Abby Geni


Counterpoint (2018)


Read Liz’s discussions of the book here and here.


An Oklahoma family, devastated by a tornado that leaves the four children orphaned, fights poverty and guilt only to break apart when the oldest boy kidnaps his nine-year-old sister as part of his terrorist crusade against those who harm animals. Geni’s prose may feel ponderous at times, but her passion doesn’t flag and she doesn’t shy away from a complicated ending.




Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast by Mike Tidwell


Vintage Departures (2003, 2005, 2010)


Where Boyle steeps his readers in complexity, Tidwell seems to oversimplify in places (and sometimes seems to reduce his subjects to the “picturesque”). But his memoir of “hitchhiking” down bayous on commercial vessels highlights environmental concerns on the Gulf Coast, cultural considerations for once-isolated communities, and the beauty of a few last places that still live by the rhythm of Zydeco, the taste of crawfish and pistolettes, and the language and religion of another era.


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