Dog-ear: Ninety Percent of Everything, Claire of the Sea Light, Paleofantasy

Since 2007, Orion has given an annual award to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about the relationship between people and nature, and achieves excellence in writing. What follows are short reports from Orion staff on some of their favorite Orion Book Award contenders. In April, five books published in 2013 will be chosen as finalists for the 2014 Orion Book Award; one will win.

I learned a lot from Rose George’s Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that Puts Clothes on your Back, Gas in your Car, and Food on your Plate, including the now-obvious—shipping represents ninety percent of world trade—and the not-so-obvious: There are 100,000 commercial vessels plying our oceans at any given time; roughly five hundred sailors being held for ransom by pirates, often for years; and shipping is not as “green” as we think. Ships are an efficient way to transport goods, but they also burn the cheapest (“bunker”) fuel possible, one step up from asphalt. (Be sure also to check out George’s previous book, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters. Did you know that forty-percent (!) of the world, or 2.5 billion people, have no access to a toilet?) —Andrew Blechman

Edwidge Danticat’s new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, set in a seaside town in Haiti, is told through graceful prose. Starting with the disappearance of a little girl named Claire, the story delves into the deeply intertwined lives of the residents of the town. Through their eyes, she evokes a deep sense of place, enhanced by her shimmering descriptions of the natural world. —Kristen Hewitt

Paleofantasy, by Marlene Zuk, spoke to the contrarian in me, the one who jumped on the chia-seed train early and then, smelling a trend, jumped right off. Through extensive research, Zuk, a biologist, takes the popular paleo-lifestyle to task, arguing that whatever the disadvantages of processed food and treadmills, our lack of evolution over the past ten-thousand years isn’t one of them. Biology and culture are far too diverse for one particular diet, fitness regime, or family system to work for a single person, even over the course of a lifetime, which is a useful reminder among all the “promises” and “secrets” thrown at us by mainstream media. —Emily Glaser