FEBRUARY READING LIST: FIVE BOOKS ON PLACE

What does it mean to truly understand a place? You could read 100 books on one specific region, know every detail about its history, flora, and fauna, but if you’ve never physically spent time there, can you claim to really understand it?

Conversely, if you’ve spent decades living in a specific area, perhaps on one specific parcel of land, but know nothing of its history or ecology, can you claim to really know it?

There’s no right or wrong answer here–at least not that I know of. But the questions themselves highlight just how fascinating and complex the topic of “place” is.

Below are five books that explore the concept of place from various unique perspectives. Whether focusing on a specific 360-acre meadow over the course of a century or using fictional characters to help understand an entire western state, these five books offer insights into the landscapes, people, and legends that make up our elusive idea of “place.”

THE MEADOW

by James Galvin

At the end of each of my podcast conversations, I ask the guests to name a few of their favorite books. Time and again, The Meadow is is mentioned as one of the most important books ever written about “place.” Galvin melds his skill as a poet with historical storytelling delves into the 100-year history of one specific 360-acre meadow located near the Colorado-Wyoming border. The changing seasons, the harsh landscape, the various families who have stewarded the land are all part of this winding, hauntingly beautiful work– a work that is beloved by poets, ranchers, and historians alike.

CLOSE RANGE: WYOMING STORIES

by Annie Proulx

I’ve read countless historical and natural history tomes about the land, people, and ecology of Wyoming–gathering facts and figures to try and make sense of that beautifully harsh landscape. But no book has helped me to understand the essence of Wyoming–the region’s hard-to-understand depth, its “spirit”–more than Annie Proulx’s Close Range. Through eleven fictional short stories, she captures the complexities of Wyoming’s people and the unforgiving severity of its land. A book that can be read all at once or picked up for fifteen minutes at a time, Close Range is perfect for anyone looking for a taste of the soul of Wyoming.

BODY OF WATER: A SAGE, A SEEKER, AND THE WORLD’S MOST ALLURING FISH

by Chris Dombrowski

Legendary Bahamian bonefishing guide David Pinder devoted his life to understanding every nuance of his home island–when it came to understanding the tides, flats, and the instincts of the elusive bonefish, there will never be anyone better than Pinder. But as guided bonefishing grew in popularity, both the ecology and economy of Pinder’s home island began to change. Dombrowski’s masterful storytelling gave me a new appreciation for this angler’s paradise, and it also made me think long and hard about the unintended effects of adventure travel on fragile places.

GODSPEED

by Nickolas Butler

To describe Godspeed as a “thriller’ is a laughable understatement–kind of like calling Mt. Everest “a mountain.” I couldn’t help but crank through the entire 350+ page book in just a few sittings. It’s the story of three life-long friends who are presented with a too-good-to-be true opportunity–an opportunity that eventually threatens their business, families, and lives. The novel is set in and around Jackson Hole, and the stunning landscape of northwestern Wyoming acts as a fourth main character in the book’s plot. Butler masterfully describes the mountain vistas and winter squalls in a way that made me feel like I was back in Teton County, marveling at the beauty and power of the place.

THIRTEEN MOONS

by Charles Frazier

I’m constantly drawn toward ambitious, sweeping novels set in landscapes that I know and love. Thirteen Moons is one of those books–it’s an at times heartbreaking work of historical fiction, spanning several notable periods, including the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. But what I loved most about this book were his depictions of the lush, temperate landscape of Appalachia– the place where I experienced my first serious-to-me outdoor adventures. Frazier is a master of describing the sights, smells, and sounds of the rhododendron-covered coves of my home state of North Carolina– if there’s an author who can do it better, I need to read their work immediately.

For more book recommendations from Ed, head over to his blog, Mountain & Prairie.

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