The Big One
by David Kinney
(Atlantic Monthly, $24)
Martha’s Vineyard isn’t just about “the people who stay in the big houses,” said G. Bruce Knecht in The Wall Street Journal. David Kinney’s “lively” account of the island’s annual five-week Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby focuses on the workaday locals who squeeze as many casts into the 838-hour contest as caffeine and catnaps will allow. Though “the nonstop fishing” and salty storytelling “can be exhausting even from the comfort of an armchair,” Kinney strings the  material together as elegantly as anyone could.

Life List
by Olivia Gentile
(Bloomsbury, $26)
This biography about an accomplished amateur ornithologist offers a “provocative” study of personal ambition, said Kelly Nuxoll in The Christian Science Monitor. Hobbyist Phoebe Snetsinger was 49 when a cancer diagnosis inspired her to attempt the longest tally of bird sightings ever—a quest that lasted nearly two decades and often separated her from family. In using Snetsinger’s story to examine “the tension between the obligation to others and the obligation to oneself,” Olivia Gentile has written a book about the lives of all women.

Our Life in Gardens
by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30)
Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd “write about gardening the way MFK Fisher wrote about food,” said Susan Salter Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times. The two men have spent 30 years cultivating a 23-acre Vermont garden that is said to be one of the most beautiful in North America, so they have ample knowledge to share about soil and seeds and pruning. One reads them, though, to assimilate lessons “about love and an appetite for life and things rendered more sweet by their brevity.”

The Thoreau You Don’t Know
by Robert Sullivan
(Collins, $26)
The author of Rats “can sometimes push a little hard” in trying to convince us that Henry David Thoreau was more of a fun, plugged-in guy than our high school teachers made him out to be, said David Gessner in The New York Times. But it’s important that non­experts stop thinking of the father of American environmentalism as an austere monk. Above all, Sullivan’s book invites readers to embrace the Thoreauvian idea that nature’s wonderful “wildness” is “something nearby and commonplace.”