11 Books About Small Towns, Nature, And The Open Road To Read When You Need A Break From City Living
I am a New York City person. I don't know how to drive, I find slow walkers insufferable, and grass makes me sneeze. But, even for the most hard-line city slicker, there comes a time when you're trapped on a crowded F train at rush hour, pressed between a finance bro and a hipster who hasn't showered yet this month, when you start to fantasize about living somewhere quiet and green. Or, at least, visiting somewhere quiet and green, and then leaving as soon as you start to miss the smell of rancid trash and street hot dogs. If you're looking for a quick dose of nature, the open road, or just regular country life, here are a few books to read for a break from city living.
I mean, I love New York, but I have had a stranger spit at me full in the face while walking down the sidewalk. Sometimes, you just want to escape into the open plains of the American west. You want to stroll the charming English countryside. You want to hop on a motorcycle and drive to a coast, or be adopted by some kindly Canadians on their secluded farm. You don't do this, of course, because you have a job and friends and no proper hiking boots. But pick up one of these books, and you can have the next best thing:
'A Walk in the Woods' by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is like your friendly undergrad English professor who's going to hold class outside today. His memoir of walking the Appalachian Trail is filled with (genuinely) fun facts and amusing anecdotes, as well as heart-stopping descriptions of beautiful wilderness. Very few nature writers could make the history of ecology this entertaining.
'Blankets' by Craig Thompson
Winter in deeply conservative small town America might not seem like the most romantic getaway spot. But Craig Thompson's Blankets is an utterly gorgeous graphic novel about first love, grappling with faith, and coming of age against the crystalline beauty of a Wisconsin winter.
'No One Is Coming to Save Us' by Stephanie Powell Watts
No One is Coming to Save Us is a poignant retelling of The Great Gatsby, set in the American South. JJ Ferguson has come home to the small town of Pinewood, North Carolina. He aims to finally win the love of his high school sweetheart, Ava, but despite his newfound wealth, JJ's homecoming isn't quite the easy victory lap he was hoping for. Much like Fitzgerald before her, Stephanie Powell Watts explores the complications of the contemporary American Dream.
'Grayson' by Lynne Cox
Grayson is a quick read, but this true story will stay with you long after you've breezed through the book itself. Champion swimmer Lynne Cox was out on her morning swim one day, when she came across a lost baby whale. Rather than leave the baby stranded in shallow water, Cox risked her own life to reunite mother and baby in the vast Pacific Ocean.
'Klondike Tales' by Jack London
If you're looking for classic man-vs-wild (or sometimes dog-vs-wild, or even man-vs-dog-vs-wild), then Jack London is the author for you. Klondike Tales is a gripping collection of true adventures from London's time trekking the frozen expanses of the Yukon in the Klondike Gold Rush.
'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie
For lovers of YA fiction, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is an absolute classic of small town YA novels. Sherman Alexie manages to capture the joys and frustrations of being a teenager in the middle of nowhere, especially when our hero, Junior, leaves his school on the rez for an all-white high school in an isolated farm town.
'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac is kind of the worst, but On the Road is still a delightful, sparkling mélange of hipster nonsense (although back then it was call "beatnik nonsense". As Kerouac hitchhikes his way across the boundless North American continent, you'll find yourself wanting to throw caution to the winds and eat pie for dinner, too.
'The River of Kings' by Taylor Brown
The Altamaha River is known as Georgia’s “Little Amazon.” Taylor Brown's The River of Kings explores the beautiful, dangerous expanse of this river through three interwoven narratives: the story of two brothers on a kayaking trip, the story of their father, and the bloody, legendary history of the river itself.
'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery
Who doesn't like Anne of Green Gables? Monsters, that's who. If you're craving some good-natured adventures in sunny, rural Canada, then Anne can hook you up. This story of a hopeful, redheaded orphan will make you want to run off and drink raspberry cordial in the woods.
'Flaming Iguanas' by Erika Lopez
If Kerouac just doesn't do it for you, try Lopez. Flaming Iguanas is a fun, irreverent spin on the classic road trip novel. It's filled with feminism, motorcycles, illustrations, love, and the perfect post office. Tomato Rodriguez is off on an all-girl odyssey from coast to coast, and you'll want to tag along for the ride.
'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald
If you don't mind mixing a nature memoir with an unflinching account of grief, then you need to pick up H is for Hawk. Helen Macdonald recounts her experience raising and training a goshawk, one of the world's most vicious predators, while coping with the loss of her father. The result is this stunning memoir of falconry, literature, nature, and love.