These 8 books will help soothe your climate anxiety by focusing on the little things

A tiny turtle in a hand
Turtles, like this one at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, are among the creatures celebrated by a variety of new books that help bring the focus back on the details of the imperiled natural world.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)
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On the Shelf

8 books to help you refocus on nature

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As an Oregonian, part of me dreads summer. As much as I welcome the light and the warmth, I now worry constantly that heat, drought and wind will set off another forest conflagration, destroy another beloved patch of wilderness. Having just lived through the hottest month in recorded history, it’s tempting in 2023 to let dread give way to utter hopelessness. The climate crisis is huge, and my presence on the globe is so small.

Instead, I’ve relearned to pay attention to the tiny things. After three years in our rented house staring at a garden overrun with invasive species and noxious weeds, I decided to start with something I could handle. I wanted to bring back native pollinators — bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds — so I’ve planted a combination of drought-resistant native perennials and annuals to provide months of color, nurture years of resilience and pass blissful hours methodically weeding out decades of neglect.

The 14 most essential works of nonfiction include histories by Kevin Starr, Carey McWilliams, Reyner Banham and, ruling them all, Mike Davis’ ‘City of Quartz.’

April 11, 2023

As a reader, I’ve come to notice I’m not alone in this refocusing. Surely it’s related to the last few years of lockdown and isolation — a fallow period has brought forth a crop of books that offer small steps to cooling both our environment and our aimless anxieties.


Whether you’re looking to rewild your land, fantasize about rural escapes or just get to know your neighborhood birds a little better, each of these new or forthcoming works eases us into a kind of focus you can’t find on a screen. As has been said before, you save what you love, and you fall in love by observing what’s been overlooked.

Book cover for "Better Living Through Birding" by Christian Cooper.
(Random House)

Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World
By Christian Cooper
Random House, 304 pages, $28

The birder who went viral after being racially targeted in Central Park is using his flash of fame for good, chronicling how this self-described “Blerd (Black nerd)” became an avid birder. He argues that anyone can learn to take notice anywhere — from backyards to concrete canyons — starting with something as simple as finally recognizing the enchanting flute-like triplet notes of the common robin. Cooper, host of National Geographic’s new “Extraordinary Birder” series, joins the L.A. Times Book Club Aug. 16.

Christian Cooper, author of “Better Living Through Birding” and host of Disney+’s “Extraordinary Birder,” joins the L.A. Times Book Club Aug. 16.

July 14, 2023

Returning Light: Thirty Years on the Island of Skellig Michael
By Robert Harris
Mariner: 272 pages, $30

Harris has lived seasonally on Skellig Michael for 30 years as its warden. In “Returning Light,” he observes a bird’s flight as “spirals and unraveling lines I had seen in … early Irish manuscripts” and “the sea running …eating away at the foundation of the island, setting it free within the air.” He contemplates the monks who spent their entire lives sleeping in stone huts.

"A Wild Promise" by Allen Crawford
(Tin House)

A Wild Promise: An Illustrated Celebration of the Endangered Species Act
By Allen Crawford
Tin House: 208 pages, $35
(Aug. 8)

Featuring an introductory essay by Terry Tempest Williams, Crawford’s compendium of creatures recognized by the Endangered Species Act is an ode to all the animals that have seen their numbers grow after gaining federal protection. It features beautiful illustrations to pore over and a history of each listed species. I can also attest that it makes a perfect bedtime book for small children.

Australian author Charlotte McConaghy brings ‘Migrations’ to the L.A. Times Book Club Feb. 24.

Feb. 17, 2021

Spark Birds
Various authors, foreword by Jonathan Franzen
Orion Magazine: $22
(Aug. 15)

In the foreword, Franzen acknowledges that nature writing is often only read by those who are already interested in their surroundings. In drawing together essays and poems sparked by birds, he hopes to attract others. “We can’t make a reader care about nature. All we can do is tell strong stories of people who do care, and hope that the caring is contagious.” Essays by Emily Raboteau, Lia Purpura, J. Drew Lanham, Elizabeth Kolbert and others, as well as poems by Mary Oliver and Li-Young Lee, crescendo gradually into a murmuration that captivates the attention.

"Landscapes" by Christine Lai.
(Two Dollar Radio)

By Christine Lai
Two Dollar Radio: 230 pages, $26
(Sept. 12)

Lai’s novel is set on the crumbling estate of an old English house where Penelope, a young archivist, is making a careful inventory of the manor’s artworks. As the climate changes radically in the once-verdant English countryside, Penelope’s cataloging takes in the gardens around her. With its careful attention to landscape painters and diary entries leading up to the demolition of the house, this is the ultimate piece of fiction about noticing what’s been overlooked.

The author discusses her quartet of novels, written fast on the heels of Brexit, Trump and the ensuing horrors and concluding with “Summer.”

Aug. 12, 2020

Of Time and Turtles: Mending the World, Shell by Shattered Shell
By Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Matt Patterson
Mariner: 304 pages, $29
(Sept. 19)

Montgomery takes readers to the Turtle Rescue League in New England, where hundreds of the reptiles are rehabilitated, presenting the people who work there as individuals driven to do their small part to restore these animals to health. As she and her partner start to do the work, we get a close-up view of turtle nests and egg incubation, as well as a broader look at what measures must be taken to protect these ancient creatures.

"The Book of Wilding" by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell.

The Book of Wilding: A Practical Look at Rewilding, Big and Small
By Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell
Bloomsbury: 560 pages, $40
(Sept. 26)

The couple inherited a nearly-3,500-acre dairy and farm from Burrell’s parents. Here they document what they have done to restore its original nature to the land. In doing so, they provide a handbook for everyone from the gardener to urban planners on how to rewild our environments, restore water flows, encourage animal migration and reconstruct bird habitats.

Bear Mountain, a refuge for cougars, mule deer and bobcats, has been added to the Nature Conservancy’s new Frank and Joan Randall Tehachapi Preserve.

Dec. 24, 2021

Cacophony of Bone: The Circle of a Year
By Kerri Ni Dochartaigh
Milkweed: 312 pages, $26
(Nov. 14)

When the Irish author and her husband move to a small railway cottage in the Irish countryside, their lives become immediately constricted with the advent of COVID and lockdown. Unable to leave, she began to keep a day-by-day diary of noticing. In poems and essays, Ni Dochartaigh writes in exquisite detail of the seasons, beginning with the “ghost-trace, moon-white” and silent winter that kicks off a new phase of life.

Book Club: Christian Cooper

What: Christian Cooper joins the L.A. Times Book Club to discuss his memoir, “Better Living Through Birding,” with Times writer Carla Hall.

When: Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. Pacific.

Where: Livestreaming. Sign up on Eventbrite for watch links.

Join us: Sign up for the Book Club newsletter for the latest books, news and live events.