A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Book Bingo square with "nature" in center and bird in upper left corner

Summer Book Bingo: Nature

2020 Summer Book Bingo, our free summer reading program with The Seattle Public Library, is coming very soon! We’ve been giving a sneak preview of a Book Bingo square each week until the full card is released in early May (past reveals: Uplifting and On Your Shelf). To hear it first, follow along with our category reveals on social media using the hashtag #BookBingoNW2020.

With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day here and social gatherings put on pause, it seems like a good time—in fact, a very good time—to immerse ourselves in “nature,” our next Summer Book Bingo square. We’ve been taking long walks in the spring air lately, letting the healing power of nature surround us. And, when we go inside, the books we read soothe us, too—so maybe it’s time to combine the two? For ideas on what to read for your “nature” square, here are some of the SAL staff’s favorites.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

A microbiologist writes a treatise on plants. How interesting could this book be? Actually, very. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times describes Lab Girl as “a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants.” Interspersed with fascinating details of different plant species—did you know a desert cactus can go years without water and can grow fur for protection?—Jahren also writes about her own path of becoming a scientist. By the end, you’ll be a microbiologist along with her, loving and wanting to protect the environment.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kimmerer, a biologist, professor, and member of the Potawatomi Nation, embraces the idea that plants and animals are our oldest teachers—in Braiding Sweetgrass, she shows us how all living things have a voice and lessons to teach us. The book itself is a braid, a twisting of three strands that Kimmerer describes as: “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.”

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Elizabeth Kolbert explains, through nail-biting field reporting and natural history, that the next great extinction is us. She reveals how climate change is the prime factor hurtling us towards this sixth extinction, which includes a loss of biodiversity that threatens to eliminate 20-50% of all living species on Earth this century. We also have an opportunity to change this narrative, and Kolbert explains how. Did you miss yesterday’s digital lecture as part of SAL’s Journalism Series? Watch Kolbert’s Earth Day Q&A with Sam Howe Verhovek here!

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

Edgefield County, South Carolina, has been home to generations of Lanhams dating back to our country’s era of slavery. In The Home Place, Lanham explores what it’s like to find joy and freedom in the same land his ancestors were tied to by forced labor, as well as what it’s like to be a black man in a profoundly white field (Lanham is an ornithologist). A meditation on nature and belonging, The Home Place is funny, angry, elegiac, and heartbreaking.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

If exploring the world of trees, fields, and skies isn’t for you, how about the underworld? Macfarlane’s Underland descends into the world beneath our feet and through time, examining explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers. Like Gilgamesh four thousand years ago, you too can seek out the darkness of the world with Macfarlane, whose book is “a portal of light in dark times,” according to Terry Tempest Williams.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Pacific Northwest region features prominently in this book, written by a now-local author who hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from Mexico to Canada. Wild is a memoir unlike most—it’s hard to put down, gripping, honest, gut-wrenching, funny, and hopeful—with a multitude of physical and spiritual challenges. During the time of COVID-19, Cheryl Strayed has also launched a new podcast, Sugar Calling, where she speaks to beloved authors about the uncertainties of this moment and what advice they may have for living and writing in the now.

Companion Grasses by Brian Teare

Poetry counts, too. If you’re looking for some verse to fulfill your “nature” square, check out Brian Teare’s Companion Grasses. What does it mean to dwell in a place? His poems go on foot to find the answer, including a dazzling sonnet crown sequence in the middle. This is a book of walking, a book of companionship and loss, and of seeing what remains—and though it’s modern, it’ll remind you of Dickinson, Whitman, and Donne. Companion Grasses is both field guide and autobiographical poetry; read it while you go on your own walks around the neighborhood to spark your own meditations.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

It’s never a bad time to read this classic, first published in 1854 as Walden; Or Life in the Woods. Thoreau built and lived in his own cabin for two years on Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. And sure, he gets a lot of flak for building it only a twenty-minute walk from his family home, but Walden makes for a complex, transcendental read on personal independence, civil disobedience, spiritual awakening, and social distancing. Bonus: it’s also easy to find online to read for free.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Want some fiction to fill your “nature” square? Consider Salvage the Bones. This book takes place over twelve days, with Hurricane Katrina on the horizon for the rural, coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Each family member is trying to prepare, in their own way, to survive the coming storm. Beauty and violence, poverty and resilience—Ward writes with frankness and lyric power. Her depiction of a natural disaster is simply unforgettable.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

Trees are some of the Earth’s oldest living organisms. They survive long past wars, viruses, extinctions, and droughts. Trees are social beings, too, communicating through their roots over long distances—much farther than you might think. In The Hidden Life of Trees, forester Wohlleben calls upon even the strictest city dwellers among us to rethink the way we see trees, revealing their secret social network. Feeling alone? Sit back and learn from the trees on how to connect, survive, and thrive.

Posted in Summer Book Bingo2019/20 Season