If You Only Read a Few Books in Spring, Read These






The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith

Sue Stuart-Smith’s fascinating book, written before the coronavirus crisis, brings indebtedness to nature into new focus and, during a time in which many of us are compelled by our phones and computers, extends the awareness – backed up by compendious and elegant research – of how mentally enriching it is to swap screen for green.”


The Well-Gardened Mind provides a new perspective on the power of gardening to change people’s lives. Here, Sue Stuart-Smith investigates the many ways in which mind and garden can interact and explores how the process of tending a plot can be a way of sustaining an innermost self.









Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

“The titular essay in this collection concerns the flight of swifts: twice a day, at twilight, they fly high up into the sky, a movement Macdonald describes as both a devotion and a kind of planning.


There and throughout the book, she brings a keen eye to the places where human and animal lives intersect, preserving a wonder at the animal world even when it’s entangled in our own.


Despite frequent chronicles of habitat loss and extinction and other terrible consequences of humans’ poor caretaking, the collection never veers toward despair. Like the swifts, if we look far enough, it’s still possible to find a path through the storm.”







Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices.


In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.







The Unreal and The Real by Ursula K. Le Guin

“The titles of the two parts of this selected edition of Le Guin’s stories are Where on Earth and Outer Space, Inner Lands—Le Guin leaves it to the reader to decide which of these is real and which unreal.


The Shobies’ Story tells of a ship that travels instantly from one point to another; and Solitude takes place on a planet where women often live alone.


One of the final stories in the collection, Sur tells of a group of women who ventured to the South pole before anyone else, but who kept the tale of their adventure to themselves.”










The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Originally published in 1951, Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us is one of the most influential books ever written about the natural world.


Carson's genius for evoking the power and primacy of the world's bodies of water, combining the cosmic and the intimate, remains almost unmatched: the newly formed Earth cooling beneath an endlessly overcast sky; the centuries of nonstop rain that created the oceans; giant squids battling sperm whales hundreds of fathoms below the surface; the power of the tides moving 100 billion tons of water daily in one bay alone; the seismic waves known as tsunamis that periodically remind us of the oceans' overwhelmingly destructive power. The seas sustain human life and imperil it.


Today, with the oceans endangered by the dumping of medical waste and ecological disasters such as the Exxon oil spill in Alaska, the gradual death of the Great Barrier Reef, and the melting of the polar ice caps, Carson's book provides a timely reminder of both the fragility and the centrality of the ocean and the life that abounds within it.







World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“What the peacock can do,” Nezhukumatathil tells us, “is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life.” The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments.


Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder:


it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts.










Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents--her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father--and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver.


And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds--the natural one and our own--"the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin."


Gorgeously illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.





The Murmur of Bees by Sofia

From the day that old Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge, the life of a small Mexican town forever changed. Disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees, little Simonopio is for some locals the stuff of superstition, a child kissed by the devil. But he is welcomed by landowners Francisco and Beatriz Morales, who adopt him and care for him as if he were their own.


As he grows up, Simonopio becomes a cause for wonder to the Morales family, because when the uncannily gifted child closes his eyes, he can see what no one else can—visions of all that’s yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. Followed by his protective swarm of bees and living to deliver his adoptive family from threats—both human and those of nature—Simonopio’s purpose in Linares will, in time, be divined.


Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.