The Best Books for Dreaming, Exploring, and Contemplation in the Wintertime

The best nature-inspired books to read (or give as gifts) this holiday season

Winter is an ideal time to get your hygge on and stay indoors reading– cozy socks and hot chocolate, anyone?

Herewith, we’ve compiled a list new and old reads that feature nature either directly or in the abstract. (We’ve also included a few classics and cult favorites that are relevant to the theme.) Whether you’re shopping for the bookworm in your life or simply in need of a new, engaging read, this list has a little something for everyone.

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Shop the story and read our reccomendations, below.

Forest Dark: A Novel by Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss’ [easyazon_link identifier=”0062430998″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Forest Dark[/easyazon_link] centers around two fictional narratives that take place at the same time: a New York philanthropist named Jules Epstein has recently disappeared in Israel as an American novelist named Nicole narrates her concern about a life she feels like she is missing out on– a duality that results in the book’s ultimate exploration of the idea of divided selves. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR’s Fresh Air so eloquent summarizes: “Forest Dark tackles that ultimate question [the meaning of life]. Nicole Krauss takes chances with form… The pleasure of Krauss’ writing is in the wayward precision of her language that draws us into the desert, ‘the forest dark’, and other contemplative places where illumination occurs.” In the book Krauss examines everything from Jewish religion and history to the cult of Kafka, war, and sage reflections on “the ancient, plundered forests of the Middle East; and the paradoxes of being,” says Booklist. “A resounding look at the enigmas of the self and the persistence of the past.”

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s moving, harrowing, at times hilarious account of the trials and tribulations of his time spent hiking the Appalachian trail as a novice is a narrative that pre-dates Cheryl Strayed’s [easyazon_link identifier=”0307476073″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Wild[/easyazon_link], but it strikes a similar chord. (A novice hiker takes on an ambitious trip, and learns something profound about himself, the woods, and human nature in the process.) As the New York Times once wrote: “Short of doing it yourself, the best way of escaping into nature is to read a book like [easyazon_link identifier=”0307279464″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]A Walk in the Woods[/easyazon_link].”

Bold Blooms: Quilts and Other Works Celebrating Flowers by Kaffe Fassett

Renowned color expert and quilt and fabric designer Kaffe Fassett draws inspiration from the natural beauty of flowers, and in Bold Blooms, which explores his pattern collection, he offers tips for 25 new patchwork and needlepoint projects that explore how to modernize the old-world craft of quilting. Working in various textile “moods”– from nuetrals and soft pastels to rich, dark tones– [easyazon_link identifier=”1419722360″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Bold Blooms[/easyazon_link] is a collation of ideas wherein the artist shares design ideas and practical advice for those looking to understand the art and intention that goes into working intimately with fabric.

The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Rogers

Don’t let the dry title fool you: Robert Rogers’ [easyazon_link identifier=”1556439539″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]The Fungal Pharmacy[/easyazon_link] is a surprisingly intriguing read about the incredible (and often understated) power of mushrooms grown in North America– both medicinal and otherwise. This is a great resource rich with information culled from clinical research and folk medicine alike, with several examples of practical applications that illuminate the incredibly complex world of lichen. This is a good read for plant nerds, nutrition buffs, historians, foragers, hikers who want to know more about what they see on the trail, botany lovers, and anyone interested in holistic wellness.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Author of the New York Times bestselling [easyazon_link identifier=”144947425X” locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]milk and honey[/easyazon_link], Rupi Kaur’s second collection of poetry is “a vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing; ancestry and honoring one’s roots; expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.”

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur herself, [easyazon_link identifier=”1449486797″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]the sun and her flowers[/easyazon_link] is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming:

this is the recipe of life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
must wilt
in order to bloom

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the best selling [easyazon_link identifier=”0307455920″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Americanah[/easyazon_link], is most widely known for her iconic TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” and her incisive preamble, “The Danger of a Single Story“.

In [easyazon_link identifier=”1616202416″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Purple Hibiscus[/easyazon_link], Adichie tells the story of a 15-year-old Nigerian girl named Kambili and her older brother Jala’s shared struggle to reconcile horrifying religious intolerance in the Nigerian state. Taking place in the city of Enugu, Adichie paints what the San Francisco Chronicle notes is “at once a portrait of country and family… and the tremendous pleasure of an odd, purple hibiscus blooming amid a conforming sea of red ones.”

The Ayahuasca Test Pilot Handbook by Chris Kilham

In this “essential guide to Ayahuasca Journeying”, medicine hunter Chris Kilham explores the origins of ayahuasca, the mythological plant that, once the sole dominion of shamans and indigenous natives in South America, has became and international phenomenon. Around the world, more and more people are becoming interested in ayahuasca journeying– a shamanic “trip” experienced as part of a ritual that induces transformative feelings of healing, inclusivity, love, oneness with the universe, closure, calm, and more. Straight forward, clear, and organized like a narrative travel guide, [easyazon_link identifier=”1583947914″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]The Ayahuasca Test Pilot Handbook[/easyazon_link] arms readers with everything they need to know about this increasingly revered but often misunderstood indigenous plant.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollen

Michael Pollen’s [easyazon_link identifier=”0143038583″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals[/easyazon_link] is by now a tome of the environmental movement, having sold almost 2 million copies since its first publication in 2009. Pollen’s 2009 followup [easyazon_link identifier=”014311638X” locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Food Rules[/easyazon_link] continues in the lineage of its precursor, and though it was less discussed it is equally illuminating, charming, and full of useful knowledge about how to eat (and how to make peace with eating) in an industry steeped in misinformation. Plus: it’s an incredibly quick read with many practical applications.

The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Simple Seasonal Recipes & Short Stories from the Central Coast of California by Kendra Aronson

Kendra Aronson’s [easyazon_link identifier=”0692563172″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]The SLO Farmers’ Market Cookbook[/easyazon_link] is a collection of recipes, short stories, and interviews that animate the unique food culture that exists within the Central Coast of California. Aronson has written, photographed, and self published (with the help of her community of donors at Kickstarter) a moving memorandum of culture that quickly garnered praise from Alice Waters, the empress of sustainable agriculture and leader of the farm-to-table movement as we know it. With 15 recipes per season and three recipes for each category–breakfast, light bites, lunch, dinner, and dessert, we are drooling with the turn of every page. Beekeeper Burrata garnished with mulberries and edible flowers, anyone? 

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Torday

By now you’ve likely heard of Paul Torday’s debut comedy novel because it was made into a movie featuring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. But Torday’s 2007 novel, [easyazon_link identifier=”0156034565″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Salmon Fishing in the Yemen[/easyazon_link], is as funny and endearing as it is based in truth: Torday’s narrative is crafted around his extensive experiences in government, as well as his personal interests in both salmon fishing and the Middle East. (The novel won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and the 2007 Waverton Good Read Award.) In the book, Dr. Alfred Jones, an employee of the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence, is tasks by a rich Yemeni sheikh named Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama with populating the desert wadis of his native country with Scottish Salmon. Jones initially dismisses this as impossible, but the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is eager to take the sheikh’s money. Written in the form of letters, e-mails, interview transcripts, and other non-narrative forms of exchange, Torday’s wit and creative zeal shed light on a rarified aspect of modernity that many of us are looking for: a feel-good story about the Middle East.


Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker largely absent, he doesn’t show interest in much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fifteen and pregnant.


Set in the fictional coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi during a 12-day span when a massive Hurrican makes landfall, Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winning novel follows a pregnant teenager named Esch while tracing the repeat sacrifices she and her three brothers make to protect themselves from the destructive forces of nature. At once defined by the absence of parenting (Esch’s father is an unavailable alcoholic) and the prospect of premature parenting (Esch is only 15-years-old), [easyazon_link identifier=”1608196267″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Salvage The Bones[/easyazon_link] is a poignant story about the enduring power of family, one in which the protagonist frequently compares the people around her to aspects of the natural world, from character descriptions to appearances and anything that stirs up broader emotional introspection about the relationship people have to nature and– more importantly– to each other.

New Treehouses of the World by Pete Nelson

For those who loved [easyazon_link identifier=”0316378216″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Cabin Porn[/easyazon_link] as much as we did, Pete Nelson, the star builder behind Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters TV show, has published a followup to his debut Treehouses of the World that is sure to dazzle and delight.

In [easyazon_link identifier=”0810996324″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]New Treehouses of the World[/easyazon_link], Nelson takes readers on an international tour of more than 35 new treehouses that animate how treehouses are designed, constructed, and appreciated in a wide array of cultures and contexts. The wanderlust-inducing visual book also includes written portions on Nelson’s travels, discoveries, and the personal epiphanies he’s made as he continues to explore the ever-expanding frontier of bespoke arboreal architecture.

One Spirit Medicine: Ancient Ways to Ultimate Wellness by Alberto Villoldo

Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., is a psychologist and medical anthropologist whose Wall Street Journal Bestselling [easyazon_link identifier=”140194731X” locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]One Spirit Medicine[/easyazon_link] traces the healing practices of the Amazon and Andean shamans for an enlightening read about the modern, fragmented approach to medicine and Villoldo’s own journey back from the edge of death. “Today our minds, our emotions, our relationships, and our bodies are out of kilter,” the back of the book reads, “We know it, but we tend to ignore it until something brings us up short– a worrying diagnosis, a broken relationship, or simply an inability to function harmoniously in everyday life.” To truly heal, Villoldo claims, we need to return to the tenets of wellbeing that shamans discovered millennia ago– a philosophy he refers to as “One Spirit Medicine”, and the regenerative manner in which it yields a renewed sense of purpose in life.


Need some other wholesome gift ideas for this holiday season? Consider giving to these awesome environmental organizations, or consult our Garden Collage Gift Guide.


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