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Gift Guide: 13 Favorite Outdoor-Themed Books

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Dec 10, 2021 10:38 AM |
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These staff recommended reads are the perfect accompaniment to your shoulder-season adventures — or a way to stay busy while you wait out the high-country snow. We also think they'd make great holiday gifts for the nature lovers in you life.

Is there anything better than cozying up inside with a good book after a brisk winter hike?

Reading is an ideal past time all year — but it seems particularly rewarding during the dark, wet days of winter. We often seek out stories and illustrations transport us to our favorite summer memories on trail. And as it turns out, there are a lot of books out there that do just that.

WTA staffer Laura Norsen reads on a hike.
WTA staffer Laura Norsen reads on a hike. Photo by Andy Norsen.

These staff recommended reads are the perfect accompaniment to your shoulder-season adventures — or a way to stay busy while you wait out the high-country snow. We also think they'd make great holiday gifts for the nature lovers in you life.

Imaginary Peaks book cover“Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams” by Katie Ives 

Katie Ives’s debut novel, “Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams,” tells the true tales of fictional lands dreamed up by adventurers the world over. At first glance, it may not conjure an obvious connection to Washington, but the novel opens with Washingtonians — most notably, Harvey Manning, our own famed author of beloved guidebooks such as the “100 Classic Hikes: Washington.” Incidentally, Manning served as lead editor on the inaugural edition of “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills,” whose success as the definitive mountaineering text launched Mountaineer Books, which also published “Imaginary Peaks” 

Ives takes us through time and space from the texts of the Qin Dynasty to modern phantoms in Google Earth, but always returns to Washington, threading Cascade Crests and emerald basins to the birth of fictitious pinnacles around the globe. As readers follow gripping and meticulously constructed historical accounts peppered with fun factoids, we come to realize that from Shangri-La to our own Deception Pass, mythical places are deeply entwined in our collective consciousness. The novel is a fascinating look at the human desire to discover new places, and how that desire fuels imagination and lore — a must read for anyone who has ever been called to explore. — Charlie Lieu, WTA board member

Lookout book cover“Lookout: Love, Solitude and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest” ny Trina Moyles

“Whatever you do, do not go out there to find yourself.” These words of warning given to the author during training for her first season as a fire lookout turn out to be a prediction. Dropped at a remote tower in the boreal forest of northern Alberta, with only a dog for company, Moyles finds herself obsessively examining herself and upending her life in the isolation of the lookout. After a bumpy start, following the author’s journey as she learns to trust her senses and grows into a seasoned, skillful fire spotter is a lesson in persistence, independence and self discovery. Through Moyles’s witty and brutally honest storytelling, it feels as though you’re there with her in that lonely lookout tower, sharing her wild adventures, which are at times hilarious introspective, or truly terrifying. After this book, you may find yourself researching opportunities to spend a summer as a fire lookout, or at least to hike to one of Washington’s many fire lookouts! — Laura Norsen, database coordinator

Fatima's Great Outdoors book cover“Fatima’s Great Outdoors” by Ambreen Tariq, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

Fatima is having a hard week. The kids at school wrinkled their noses at her lunch, a boy pulled her braid and her math quiz didn’t go so well. But, that weekend, her family had their first camping trip planned. They snacked on samosas and sang along to Bollywood tunes as they drove to the state park. Fatima helped her papa set up the tent and learned how to make a fire by watching her mama. And she and her sister even got past their terror of the “forest monster.” By the time Fatima goes back to school, she has something to tell her classmates with pride and excitement. “Fatima’s Great Outdoors” is a beautiful book, with an especially powerful message for anyone who doesn’t quite fit in. Ambreen Tariq is an activist and creator of Brown People Camping. Read her book to the kids in your life — just be prepared for them to ask to go camping when you’re done. — Jessi Loerch, Washington Trails editor 

The Camping Trip book cover“The Camping Trip” by Jennifer K. Mann

Ernestine lives in the city with her dad and has never been camping before when her aunt and cousin take her along and show her the ropes. “The Camping Trip,” by local author-illustrator Jennifer K. Mann, has a lot to offer parents introducing kids to nature. It run through the practical things kids love to know (what to pack, how long the car ride will be, where you’ll sleep). And it shows Earnestine pushing her limits, carrying a heavy backpack on a hike, braving homesickness and swimming in a lake full of fishes! Full of warmth, humor and gorgeous illustrations, this story is one you won’t mind reading to younger kids on repeat. The comic book style also makes it a great early reader. It’s perfect for preparing children for their first camping trip or relishing memories of summer. This book won a 2021 Washington State Book Award and would make a terrific gift. — Loren Drummond, digital content manager

Discovering Nature on the Mountainside book cover“Discovering Nature on the Mountainside” by Lenka Chytilová, illustrated by Hedviga Gutierrez and “Discovering the Hidden Woodland World” By Magda Garulakova, illustrated by Martin Sojdr

The “Discovering Nature on the Mountainside” and “Discovering the Hidden Woodland World” board books are unlike most children’s board books. This sturdy educational series features layered cutout pages that cleverly create a reading experience mimicking the discovery of an actual outdoor experience. As you turn the pages, you’ll reveal hidden hibernating bears, mountaintop marmots, foraging insects and shifting seasons. Not narrative driven, they’re ideal for letting kids’ interests and imaginations take the lead (though there are written prompts and educational captions). Toddlers have plenty to point at, and adults may get curious enough about the critters they can’t immediately identify to do a bit more research. Just like on a hike. — Loren Drummond

Hiking Washington's History book cover“Hiking Washington’s History” by Judy Bentley and Craig Romano

This is the second edition of Judy Bentley’s guide to history and trails in Washington state. Guidebook author Craig Romano teamed up with her for this update, which includes 12 new hikes, and general updates throughout. It’s a good partnership — Bentley is an expert on Pacific Northwest history and Romano is a master at detailed, entertaining trail descriptions. If you enjoy history or hiking, you’ll love this book. Even if you never hike any of these trails, you’ll learn about the state’s history in a way you hadn’t considered before — perfect rainy day reading. And the book is full of lovely photos, both current and historic, and maps to help you when you do head out to explore on your own. — Jessi Loerch

Lost Fire Lookout book cover

"Lost Fire Lookout Hikes and Histories: Olympic Peninsula and Willapa Hilla" by Leslie Romer

Our state's rainy western flanks might not be first place you'd look for fire lookouts, but local hiker and author Leslie Romer has documented over 60 current and former lookout sites between the mouth of the Columbia River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Part history book and part guidebook, Romer combines years of ground-truthing with detailed, archival research to bring these oft-forgotten sites to life. "Lost Fire Lookout Hikes and Histories" lays out all the background you need to start planning your summer adventures around the Olympic Peninsula and find some truly off-the-beaten path locales.

Migrations book cover“Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy

Sometimes a book sticks with you, lingering in your mind long after you’ve finished reading. “Migrations” is one of those books. Set in a not-so-distant future where the seas and skies become increasingly empty as countless species go extinct, the novel begins with Franny, a woman with a mysterious past, talking her way onto a struggling commercial fishing boat in Greenland. Franny manages to convince them to aid her in a research project tracking what will likely be the final migration of Arctic terns from the Arctic to Antarctica by promising to use the birds to lead the crew to sporadic schools of fish. Over the course of their long and perilous journey south, Franny’s tragic and potentially dangerous past is gradually revealed. With sparkling prose and tragic characters, this page turner of a novel will be one you’ll find yourself entirely unable to put down. — Laura Norsen

Mount Rainier Artist Tour book cover“Mount Rainier National Park: An Artist’s Tour” by Molly Hashimoto

Molly Hashimoto is an affectionate tour guide to Mount Rainier National Park. Whether you’ve never been or you’ve been a thousand times, you’ll enjoy her circuit through the park. The book is filled with the beautiful watercolor paintings that she is so well known for. Hashimoto has an artist’s eye, which of course comes through in her watercolors. But it also is clear in her writings. She’s a devoted fan of Mount Rainier, and she’s spent countless hours looking closely at it for her art. That detail comes through in her writing as well. Her explanations of natural history, geology and human history are mixed in with her own stories of her time in the park. It’s the next best thing to actually taking a hike through the park with her.

Trees book cover“Northwest Know-How: Trees” by Karen Gaudette Brewer, illustrations by Emily Poole

“Our native trees loom large in our imaginations because they’ve seen more than many of us will ever see in our lifetimes. And when our time is past, they’ll remain to witness the future,” Karen Gaudette Brewer writes in her introduction to her tiny, tidy, beautiful book. The book is a collection of natural histories for the trees you’re likely to see on a hike around the Northwest. You can pick up this book for a quick reference or sit down to read by a cozy fire. In addition to the stories of specific trees, you’ll find “Northwest Wonders” that explain how winds shape trees and give you a quick glimpse of ghost forests. And while you’ll certainly want to read all the way through, this book could stand alone just on its images. The illustrations by Emily Poole are simply stunning.

The Book of the Moon book cover“The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor” by Maggie Aderin-Pocock

If you’ve ever looked in wonder at the beauty of the moon, this book is for you. Maggie Aderin-Pocock has been entranced by the moon since she was small. She brings her lifetime of enthusiasm to this utterly charming book. You’ll learn the science of the moon — did you know that the gravity on the moon isn’t consistent? Parts have higher gravity, which scientists luckily discovered before the first moon landing. You’ll also learn about history, art, mythology and even the tides. The author’s explanation of the tides is simple and clear, and utterly fascinating. The writing is so conversational, it feels like you’re just having a chat with a good friend about her favorite obsession. After reading this book, you’ll always be willing to walk out after dark to look for the moon — and you’ll understand why sometimes, you can see it during the day, too. — Jessi Loerch 

The Pacific Crest Trail book cover“The Pacific Crest Trails: A Visual Compendium” by Joshua M. Powell

The Pacific Crest Trail has a certain mystique about it. It’s inspired many people to make the space in their life for a hike that takes many months and travels from Mexico to Canada. Whether you’ve made the trip or not, flipping through a new book by Joshua M. Powell will make you think of the trail in a new way. Joshua hiked the trail in 2014 and he was just as determined to write a book about it as he was to finish the trail. As a book designer and book seller, it was a good fit for him. Joshua tells the story of his trek in pictures and words. He says that, from the beginning of the trip, it was Washington that kept him going. It was where he fell in love with hiking.  His book is a pleasure, full of beautiful illustrations and entertaining and educational infographics. Whether you read from cover to cover or just flip through, it’s a pleasure to follow Joshua on his adventure. — Jessi Loerch

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.


edlorah1 on Gift Guide: 13 Favorite Outdoor-Themed Books

Also highly recommended: Gary Snyder's extraordinary book of essays, "The Practice of the Wild".

Posted by:

edlorah1 on Dec 12, 2021 02:42 PM

Billy Wan on Gift Guide: 13 Favorite Outdoor-Themed Books

I bought Molly Hashimoto’s earlier book “Colors of the West,” which got me back into painting with watercolors. Highly recommended. And if you are interested in humorous ‘70s adventures in the Cascades, Sierra, Tetons, and the Wind River Range, and in the fledgling Seattle outdoor businesses of that era, you will have some good laughs reading my mountain memoir “Banquet of the Infinite: Dropping Out to Find Myself.” Illustrated with many vintage photographs. Recently published and available as an eBook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Posted by:

Billy Wan on Dec 17, 2021 03:27 PM