Lit Review

As a literary genre nature writing has been around for ages but seems to have gotten a new wind in popularity among readers.  By reading collected works and lists of what to read written by scholars, readers are able to weed out the good from the bad while making a more informed decision on what sort of nature writing suits their tastes best.  One highly regarded anthology of nature writing is Bill McKibben’s American Earth  (2008).  Throughout a collected work such as this, there are many topics within the genre that can be touched upon.  In essays from authors such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, readers are introduced to the idea of getting away from standard civilization and going into nature—using nature as solace.  By reading works by these authors, readers are able to experience nature writing the way the first audience of this genre did.  In contrast, reading works by authors such as Aldo Leopold and Frederick Law Olmsted would give readers a chance to find their own comforts in nature writing and experience what other issues arise that can be discussed through this genre.  As one of the most comprehensive collected works, American Earth can also be used as a reference to specific topics within the genre.  Some authors wrote about certain places, while others wrote about the needs of the people in regards to nature—using this platform as a call-to-action.  The other way to utilize the historical body of nature writing text is to anthologize it with human experiences of each work.  This presents readers with a more intimate picture of what it was like to be in nature during different points in our history.  In Dan White’s Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping (2016), White undertakes the task of setting off on different camping trips according to historical times.  The author recalls the nature writing of the time, and studies the history surrounding it to experience nature the way people did in different eras.  For example, in the Victorian era, campers had guides with them who did most everything for the campers except bathe them.  In this chapter, White hires a guide to take him into the wild to experience camping as best he could as a Victorian age man.  This sort of study provides readers with an inclusive look into how nature writing has affected people like them throughout time.  White also recalls some skeptics of nature writing who thought that it inspired too many commoners to go into the wilderness unprepared.  Although both versions of anthologizing seen in Under the Stars and American Earth are useful, sometimes they can get a bit wordy.  In the case of a reader wanting to get to the point and experience the books for themselves, they could turn to an article from a scholarly journal that utilizes the list format to give readers an informed take on which books they can read in this genre.  In one article, Essential Books: Nature Writing, Thomas J. Lyon gives readers a new take on the required reading for nature writing as voted for by a contest put on by Milkweed Editions.  Many of the titles are ones previously seen in the book American Earth, but some new titles have been thrown into the mix.  One such example is a book of poetry by Mary Oliver.  Her ability to write as nature engages readers from the perspective of nature itself, thus drawing them in by allure.

Although effective, there are many other ways to become informed on the genre of nature writing.  Reading books by authors who have gone into nature to experience it for themselves sometimes prove to be both inspiring and informative.  Throughout Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (1999), a story of his journey along the Appalachian Trail, Bryson recalls facts and anecdotes about the history of the trail, the history of hiking in America, the history of the National Parks System and his qualms with it, and his emotions while on the AT.  The visualization he provides, along with facts and feelings, allows the reader to be there in some sense.  While reading this book, one can imagine these places as Bryson sees them, and for a lot of readers, this drove them to want to actually go there themselves.  Because of his description of the trail conditions in Pennsylvania, many hikers of the Appalachian Trail have skipped that section.  He has also shed light on the unpredictable weather atop Mount Washington, which is sometimes called the worst weather in the world.  Some other books that share similarities to this are Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012), and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (1996).

In order for the public to become more aware of the benefits of reading nature writing in regards to mental health and wellbeing or even just information gathering, readers should try to get involved as soon as possible.  Some of the best nature writing happens in children’s books.  To see what children think of nature writing you can click over to Linda Teran Strommen and Barbara Fowles Mates’ article from a scholarly journal, Young Children’s Ideas about the Nature of Reading.  Once readership is established the benefits can be seen and felt almost immediately.  The reason reading nature writing can be so inspiring is because reading about places, in a sense, takes you there.  In the article titled, Ecotherapy Could Be Beneficial, But We Need More Robust Evidence, Ambra Burls touches on why ecotherapy is needed, what some examples of it are, and how it can help people.  The article says that ecotherapy is especially important for psychological health, and for those who feel a need for a specific connection with the wild world that surrounds humans.  One example of ecotherapy mentioned is working with conservation efforts alongside animals.  It is stated that some of the most common wild animals to be used are owls, squirrels, and raccoons.  Because of the benefits, nature writing has seen a surge in popularity recently.  This is addressed in much more detail in the scholarly article, The Rise of Nature Writing: America’s Next Great Genre?.  No matter what the topic, the rise in readership of nature writing will be great not only for individuals and their mental and physical health, but for the health of the entire planet.