Better Living Through Books

Touch Grass

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Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

Earlier this month, I boarded a plane in the middle of a rainy late-winter week and flew south to meet a friend on a small island off the coast of Georgia. We hiked through very old forests and biked to the beach and observed rare birds making their way north for the season, but mostly, we sat side-by-side in rocking chairs talking and photosynthesizing. If you’ve ever felt like a brand new person after 15 minutes outside on a bluebird day, you know plants aren’t the only organisms that can convert sunlight into energy.

live oaks draped with Spanish moss overlooking the marsh at sunset
Delia Owens could never.

It was a magical couple days and a real reminder that spending time in nature is rarely the wrong choice. As we emerge from hibernation season and welcome longer days and higher temps, I’m thinking a lot about how and why to prioritize going outside. So, slather on some sunscreen, grab your water bottle, and enjoy this bouquet of books about the power of the great outdoors.

If you’re going to read one book on this list, make it The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.

Williams draws on research from biology, psychology, philosophy, and even urban planning to explain how being in nature affects our minds and bodies. Her enthusiasm for the outdoors is evident, as is her understanding that green space and free time to spend in it aren’t always easy to come by. This is pop-science writing at its very best, and Williams practices what she preaches. When her decades-long marriage ended by surprise a few years ago, she followed the science—including recent studies that indicate time spent in nature is a powerful tool for healing trauma—and packed up her gear. Williams documents that journey and adds to her science reporting in Heartbreak, the audiobook of which is the most innovative I’ve ever listened. (Pro-tip: it’s included in Spotify Premium.)

What makes the great outdoors so awesome? Awe. Dacher Keltner wrote a whole book about it. Combine Keltner’s scientific approach with Jenny Odell’s philosophy of unplugging from the “attention economy” (spoiler: you’re gonna need to spend less time on TikTok) to identify ways you can slow down and cultivate a life-changing sense of wonder in your everyday existence.

If the idea of sitting around “doing nothing,” as Odell’s book suggests, makes you feel itchy, might I suggest birding? It requires you to go outside, and once you’re there, you can get lovely hits of dopamine from identifying our feathered friends and checking species off your list. (Is birding the original Pokémon? That’s a hot take for another day.) Because it requires stillness and rewards paying close attention, birding can also help you develop and heighten other sensory abilities. Christian Cooper, who was birding in Central Park when a white woman walking a dog called the police on him for no reason, shares the myriad ways birding has enriched his life in Better Living Through Birding. Looking for an even sharper connection between birding and activism? Trish O’Kane has it covered in Birding to Change the World. And for a more literary approach, put Amy Tan’s Backyard Bird Chronicles, coming out April 23, on your list.

Armchair adrenaline junkies will love In the Shadow of the Mountain, Silvia Vasquez-Lavado’s memoir about how climbing the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents) and eventually leading a group of women who had survived sexual assault on a hike to Everest base camp helped her heal from trauma and recover from alcoholism.

hashtag goals

Lest you think outdoor adventuring is just a young person’s game, Caroline Paul’s Tough Broad explores how our relationship to the outdoors can become even more expansive as we age. My 41-year-old knees found it both inspirational and aspirational.

Want to make your time outside bookish? There’s always the tried-and-true method of listening to audiobooks while you bask, bike, run, or hike. Take it up a notch with these creative ideas for inside-kids who are ready to venture out.

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