How to approach a list like this? The first impulse was to list my all-time favorites, though that was just daunting. So I literally went through the stack currently on the nightstand, and picked ten — though I cheated a little at the end.
1. Mountain Dialogues, by Frank Waters. A gift from a friend. I admit that I had never read Waters before, and further sheepishly admit that I don’t know much about him. But how rare it is to pick up a book and get the sense you are in the presence of an old and wise friend. I have been thinking about the New Mexican desert all winter, so this came to me at just the right time – as books so often do.
2. Two Billion Acre Farm, by Robert West Howard. A history of agriculture in America. Published in the fifties, I’m not sure if it’s still in print — in fact, I don’t know if any of his books are still in print, but they should be; Howard has a wonderful, lively style and sensibility that is often very funny. Though it is a little old fashioned, this book is as relevant today as it was when it was published. The early settlers’ diversified farms, the cotton gin, the invention of canning, the revolution of the feed industry, the loss of topsoil, the invention of barbed wire and how it all shaped our young country — it’s all in there. And his underlying message of the need for sustainability is, of course, that much more vital and more pressing today than it was fifty years ago.
3. Horses at Work, by Ann Greene. A look at manpower and horsepower shaping America’s cities in the industrial age.
4. America Yesterday, by Eric Sloane. I am a big Eric Sloane fan, and always have one of his books near at hand, just to page through . . .
5. The Snoring Bird, by Bernd Heinrich. Ravens in Winter. . . The Trees in My Forest . . . Bumblebee Economics . . . Winter World . . . Heinrich is unparalleled. My father gave me this book, Heinrich’s memoir about his father and his beginnings as a scientist. Though I haven’t started it yet, I have become a big fan of his over the years and am very much looking forward to it.
6. The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher. Also a gift from a friend. A classic, and should be required reading for all interested in “slow” food.
7. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton. In her introduction, she writes that she tried to create characters who are like New England granite. They are.
8. Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh
9. Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horse, Old Man, The Bear, by William Faulkner
10. . . . and four new and exciting debut short story collections:
The Boat, by Nam Le
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, by Kevin Wilson
Lydia Peelle lives in Tennessee. Her debut short story collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, was published in 2009 and includes “Kidding Season,” which was featured in the March/April 2009 Orion magazine.