Former Los Angeles Times environmental columnist Mark Harris is the author of Grave Matters, an exposé of the funeral industry and guide to eco-friendly burials that is now out in paperback.
The Foxfire Book edited by Eliot Wigginton (Anchor, $17). The best of the 1970s back-to-the-land books. As a teenager, I was fascinated by its descriptions of Appalachian handcrafts, from log-cabin building to soapmaking. Today, I pick it up to read the oral histories and the interviews with the mountain elders of a rural Southern culture. Their hillbilly patois is pure poetry.
Remembering by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, $14). The anger and shame that Andy Catlett feels after losing his hand in a farming accident sever him from the family and friends who come to his aid. In this slim, hopeful novel, Andy works to regain himself by returning to the land, taking up useful work, and investing in the good community around him.
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray (Milkweed, $15). A bracing and at times funny memoir of a hardscrabble youth spent on a rural Georgia junkyard. It’s also, and even more powerfully, a personal lament for the wholesale destruction of the longleaf pine ecosystem that once defined the coastal plain that Ray calls home.
The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler (Free Press, $15). This smart screed against modern land-use planning argues that our penchant for building around the needs of automobiles has resulted in communities that are charmless, alienating, and, in the age of “peak oil,” ultimately unsustainable. In Home From Nowhere, Kunstler offers an antidote: a return to walkable, human-scale streetscapes.
Boy Scout Handbook (Boy Scouts of America, $25). The original Dangerous Book for Boys. The BSA Handbook inspired me and countless other suburbanites to venture into the wilds for the first time, instilling a love and respect for the natural environment and an ethic to conserve it.
In Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld (Unbridled, $25). The love story of an ornithology professor and his student (a budding artist) drives this lovely, lyrical new novel. But it’s the deep, abiding love Tom and Addie Kavanagh share for the birds themselves—and the length Addie goes to preserve their habitat—that give it loft.