Illustration by Kyla McCallum

Nature Is a Central Character in These 8 Riveting New Books

Consider these required reading

Are you interested in foraging, forest fires, or birdwatching? Have strong feelings about big box stores or religious cults? Would you like to spend some time in Beijing, Appalachia, or the American West? Do you eat eggs? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, look no further, because we’ve got a new book recommendation for you.

Forager: Field Notes for
Surviving a Family Cult

Michelle Dowd

If you know what you’re doing, you can live from Jeffrey pines for a long time, eating the needles, bark, pollen, and seeds. Michelle Dowd knows what she’s doing. Born into an apocalyptic, ultra-religious, off-the-grid survivalist cult run by her grandfather, her childhood was one of abuse, isolation, and hunger. Forager is a page-turning coming-of-age that demonstrates how these same survival skills ultimately facilitated her escape to freedom. Braiding Sweetgrass meets The Glass Castle and Educated. (Algonquin)


Fire Weather: A True Story
from a Hotter World

John Vaillant

If you’ve read The Tiger or The Golden Spruce, you already know narrative journalist John Vaillant is an absolute master when it comes to gripping environmental storytelling. His latest book on wildfires is no exception. Cinematic and richly written, Fire Weather tackles the science of greenhouse emissions and droughts, the politics of unregulated capitalism, the dangers of oil-sand mining, and how these factors came together in one devastating mega-fire in Alberta. (Knopf)


Look at the Lights, My Love

Annie Ernaux Translated by Alison L. Strayer

Her first English-language work since winning the Nobel Prize, this brief and lovely volume forms a kind of retail diary, documenting Annie Ernaux’s impressions of life within Auchan, a big-box supermarket in the northwest Paris suburbs. She inhabits the space as an animal in a new ecosystem, producing a modern travel writing for those of us whose environments are wrapped in cellophane and offered at a price. (Yale University Press)


Bird Girl: Looking to the Skies
in Search of a Better Future

Mya-Rose Craig

“I don’t remember when I became obsessed with birds,” writes Mya-Rose Craig, “it seems to me as though I’ve been birding forever.” Given 20-year-old British-Bangladeshi “Birdgirl” is the youngest birdwatcher to see half the world’s bird species, that sounds about right. A formidable climate justice and diversity activist, mental health advocate, and environmentalist, Craig vividly captures her travels and trials, and what birds mean to her family in this poignant memoir. (Celadon Books)


Egg: A Dozen Ovatures

Lizzy Stark

Poached. Scrambled. Fried. Chicken. Robin. Easter. Nest. Fertility. Chaos. Collector. Ovary. What do you think of when you hear the word egg? The egg is a universe in a shell, thinks Lizzy Stark. Her curiosity about her subject knows no bounds, and this warm and playful deep dive is a surprising and reflective delight. (Norton)


The Lost Journals of Sacajawea 

Debra Magpie Earling

In a much-needed reckoning of destructive Western mythologies, Debra Magpie Earling offers an alternative view of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition by reimagining the story of Sacajawea through the Native woman’s own imagined voice. Intrigued? We dare you to read this fascinating conversation with the author and not get immediately hooked. (Milkweed)


Ghost Music 

An Yu

Sometimes a book isn’t so much constructed as placed delicately on one’s bow-legged subconscious. The suspense of reading Ghost Music is less in the movement of its characters — a former concert pianist and her mother-in-law, campaigning the man in their lives to produce a child for them — than in the artistry demonstrated by its author, An Yu, in balancing on the edge of surreality without ever toppling over. Navigating a town of mycelial logic populated by talking mushrooms, luminescent mushrooms, and furtive mushrooms, Yu drifts her characters through a quiet, luxurious witching hour just below the surface of the known world. (Grove Atlantic)


Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver

Poverty, opioid addiction, rural disposition, corporate greed, and all the failings of our child-welfare and educational systems take front and center in Barbara Kingsoler’s modern retelling of David Copperfield. But it’s Demon, a boy born to a teenage mother in a single-wide trailer in rural Appalachia, who makes these theorized and politicized issues as real and tragic as a blown-off mountain top. Kingsolver’s skill at crafting his voice–and giving him agency–is one in a long list of reasons this book won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize. (Harper)


This is a collection of Orion Staff contributions.