Dog-ear: The Faraway Nearby, All Natural, The Danube

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. Read about the finalists here, and check back next week for news about our winners.

A piece of literary origami, The Faraway Nearby features Rebecca Solnit taking her talent for integrating divergent narrative threads to new heights. Landscape, memoir, story, and sustenance swirl together in a kaleidoscopic journey through the personal, and the not-so-personal, events that end up shaping a life. In reality, readers will be far better off reading the book than this short summary. It’s pretty much impossible to encapsulate the alchemy that happens in The Faraway Nearby. —Jennifer Sahn

I’ve enjoyed Nathanael Johnson’s All Natural, which—get ready for it—has a really long, but descriptive, subtitle: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier. Among the natural approaches that receive some healthy investigation is the notion that vegetables are always good for you—turns out that there are plenty of vegetables that can hurt humans, from tea tree oil to bean sprouts. The lesson, though, isn’t that vegetables are bad—they aren’t—but that nothing is “always” anything. —Scott Gast

We know from Mark Twain and David Gessner that a recreational hazard of reading about a river journey may inspire one to put the book down and pick up a paddle. The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest, by Nick Thorpe, is no exception. From Romania to Germany, Thorpe travels upstream to learn and tell the story not just of the river and its prized sturgeon catches, but of the people who’ve lived along its banks for thousands of years, through kings, dictators, communism, and capitalism; through war and peace, from prosperity to today’s recession. Think of it as A People’s History of the Danube—and hop in. —Emily Glaser


  1. “integrating divergent narrative threads”
    is indeed a strength that Solnit has.

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