Rants from the Hill: On Packrats, Bobcats, Wildfires, Curmudgeons, a Drunken Mary Kay Lady, and Other Encounters with the Wild in High Desert by Michael P. Branch ( Random House, 2017)
I have always wanted to visit the American deserts. Having grown up in a world of green, I wanted to see a different landscape, one that I was certain would be beautiful in its own way. Michael Branch's collection of essays, Rants from the Hill, many of them previously published in High Country News, allowed me to see the The Great Basin in Nevada, where he and his family live. Branch's work is new to me, and I wish I had discovered him sooner, as I found his essays both humorous and insightful. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of his essays is the fact that he writes from the perception of not just an environmentalist, but a father. This insight, I believe, is especially interesting, considering that it seems that much of American nature writer is grounded in the figure of the lone, male writer (a point that Branch himself makes in the book). Note: I received this book as an advanced copy and it won't officially be published until June -- but it is worth the wait!
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature by J. Drew Lanham (Milkweed, 2016)
In a series of linked essays, naturalist J. Drew Lanham details his life growing up in rural South Carolina. Narrating both family stories and describing the natural world around him, Lanham's essays are, at times, funny, other times, angry -- but no matter the tone, his words are always thought provoking. His piece, "Whose Eye is on the Sparrow" about his first outing with a BB gun will stay with readers long after they close his book.
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello (Sarabande Books, 2017)
A curious look at the interactions between humans and animals, Elena Passarello's book of essays examines natural history by imitating medieval bestiary collections. In this work, we can examine Mozart's relationship with his pet Starling or explore space with Arabella, a spider who traveled with astronauts. There's even the bizarre story of Mike, a chicken who lived over a year without his head! A fun and engaging read.