WSIRN Ep 163: Wonderful, wonder-filled reading in the great outdoors

WSIRN Ep 163: Wonderful, wonder-filled reading in the great outdoors
This week’s guest Ashley Gossens created a nature-driven Seattle book club that brings the page to life in an adventurous, completely unique way. We’re talking about the up-close encounter with wildlife that made a book real to her, what nature has taught her about motherhood, and the particular, magical way a book can affect your confidence. Today’s episode is on the shorter side, perfect for listening outdoors during a walk, a run, or simply sitting on the porch breathing a little fresh air.


What Should I Read Next #163: Wonderful, wonder-filled reading in the great outdoors with Ashley Gossens

Connect with Ashley Gossen’s Alpine Trails book club: Website | Instagram


Books mentioned in this episode:
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If you’d like to support your local indie, check out And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Florida, by Lauren Groff (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Once Upon A River, by Diane Setterfield (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Harry’s Trees, by Jon Cohen (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Overstory, by Richard Powers (AmazonBarnes and Noble)

Also mentioned:
• Ashley’s Alpine Trails Book Club


What do YOU think Ashley should read on the trail next?  Tell us in the comments!

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78 comments | Comment


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    • Christie says:

      I was coming here to recommend Anthill! This is such a great nature book. Wilson is Pulitzer prize-winning Biologist who has written a TON of non-fiction books, mostly about ants. Anthill is fiction and it has two storylines; the first is about a boy growing up in Alabama who spends a lot of time in the forest. He grows up and nature is very important. His story is slow to start but gets better in his second section and even becomes interesting. If you hate the first 30 pages, don’t give up! Because you have to read the anthill sections. Ants, it turns out are riveting! In this book, the anthill is a character (not the ants, the colony) and it’s a battle to the death. This isn’t cutsy anthropomorphism. This is non-fiction with a storyline. So cool, compelling and edge of my seat!

  1. Elizabeth says:

    As soon as I heard Ashley’s favorite books and her reasons for loving them, I immediately thought of The Overstory. I want to strongly second that recommendation! I felt so strongly about it, in fact, that I came here expressly to write this even after I heard the book recommended on the podcast — which I’ve never done!

  2. Lisa says:

    I wanted to recommend The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. The magnificent giant coastal redwood trees star in this wonderful book (along with some adventurous humans!) I purchased this book in the gift shop at Muir Woods National Monument years ago — and it captivated me.

    • Erika Claves says:

      Hi Lisa! It looks like we both recommended this one minutes apart:-) I got mine at Muir Woods too! What a beautiful area and a fascinating book.

  3. Erika Claves says:

    Since trees seem to be a big theme this week, I highly recommend The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. This is non-fiction and details the lives of student researchers living in the California redwood forests. The students actually sleep and work in hammocks 300 feet up in the trees while studying the plant and animal life in this ecosystem. I read this when it was first published in 2007 and was worried it would be boring, but it felt more like a novel and I couldn’t put it down.

    This could also certainly provide some adventurous ideas for a trip for Ashley’s bookclub 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I LOVE that book—thanks for recommending it here! I actually recommended that on WSIRN a long, long time ago, back in episode 26, to a man who loved adventure-filled books. It’s a great pick for Ashley as well.

  4. Stephany says:

    I’d like to recommend The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey for Ashley. This book has the perfect combination of reverence for the natural world (in this case, Alaska) and a strong magical/mythical thread. It is a beautiful story!

    • Melissa says:

      I agree! I thought of The Snow Child immediately when listening to this episode. Also, To the Bright Edge of the World by the same author is fantastic–and lots of nature in it.

    • Trisha says:

      I second this recommendation! When I heard Ashley’s interests The Snow Child immediately came to mind. It felt like such a perfect fit I was sure it would be the first book recommended. There’s a gorgeous sense of setting and atmosphere in rural Alaska in the 1920s, when everyone up there was farming and hunting and living off the land. It has a very realistic feel but there is a magical realism/modern fairytale type element that I think she will enjoy.

    • Ashley says:

      The Snow Child is one of my favorite books and we actually read it for the first ever Alpine Trails Book Club book selection! 🙂

  5. Jennifer Rittall says:

    I wish I lived closer and could join your book club Ashley. It sounds amazing! Also I’m kind of jealous that you get to read Harry’s Trees for the first time. It is one of my favorites of 2018.

    • Laura says:

      I wish we could be friends too! Hiking and reading are my most favorite things and now I want to find/start a club like this. It’s been hard to keep up my outdoor activities with small children, so I’m impressed by your efforts! Annie Dillard is an obvious recommendation and also Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. I’m also really liking The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.

      • Ashley says:

        You should definitely start an outdoor book club!! Get in touch if you are interested and need some help getting started! We read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk for the book club and we all loved it. I also love Annie Dillard and will check out The Shepard’s Life. Thank you!

    • Ashley says:

      You should start your own outdoor book club! It’s so much fun! 🙂
      Also- I read Harry’s Trees since we recorded the episode and I loved it!

  6. I really think Ashley would like Kate Morton’s new book The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It has a house with history, some supernatural, and a very vivid picture of the outdoors around the house.

    • Ashley says:

      I discovered Kate Morton from Anne’s recommendations on the podcast and I wondered if I would like her books. It’s great to know that you think I would like them!

  7. Melissa says:

    A slightly different recommendation, but I love Paul Doiron’s detective series. The main detective is a Maine Game and Fish Warden, something I know less than nothing about. BUT, his writing and descriptions of Maine, even during the winter, in the poorest areas of the backwoods of Maine, are absolutely stunning. His latest took place on a small (fictional) island off the coast of Maine, and I was zillowing houses, trying to find out how difficult it would actually be to live off the coast of Maine.

  8. Jennifer D says:

    As soon as I heard Ashley’s likes, I immediately thought of two book recommendations:

    1. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
    2. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

    They both have nature, magic, and a bit of an edge to them!

  9. Anna says:

    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert could be a good one for Ashley. It has so much nature imaginary and it’s fiction. I enjoyed that book so much, I had to pace myself so it would last me longer 🙂

  10. laura shook says:

    I have two great books to recommend to Ashley: The History of Bees by Maja Lunde; and also When The Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle. This last book talks about island ecology (set in Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara) and takes place in the 1800′. I recommend this for Ashley because T.C. Boyle cares deeply about preserving the natural environment and is able to create a powerful sense of place in his books. The History of Bees takes place in a future after bees have gone extinct.

  11. Pat Meiser says:

    I’d like to recommend The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Both novels have a strong outdoor element.

  12. Kate says:

    Two books popped to mind as I listened to this (just found this podcast btw and absolutely loving it!). The two books are:

    Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    (Non fiction, autobiography of a botanist/researcher. A gripping story of a career in /obsession with research, interspersed with beautifully written details of plant’s lives.)

    The River Why by David James Duncan.
    (Now, I only realised when googling to find the author just now that this has been made into a movie – I know nothing about that, and read this a very long time ago, but a fond feeling has stuck with me that though I have zero interest in fly fishing, it was an absolutely beautiful story)

  13. Natalie says:

    I recommend reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, and I second the recommendation for Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I wish I lived close to Seattle to join this book club!

    • Natalie says:

      Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith is another favorite of mine. They also have a follow up book, Dear Bob and Sue: Season 2. This is a memoir written by a couple from the Seattle area, and is a laugh-out-loud account of their adventures in the National Parks.

  14. Jess says:

    These are probably some really obvious recommendations as they’re both classics but:

    Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
    Also poetry of Mary Oliver

    Loved the episode, Ashley!

  15. Lauren D. says:

    Lovely episode! I think Ashley might enjoy “The Shell Collector” by Anthony Doerr. Some of these short stories are still sticking with me!

  16. Anne-Grete says:

    I really enjoyed this episode with Ashley, I also have two book recommendations for her, as she likes short story collections:

    1. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Really enjoyed this book, maybe it is a bit sad, but the stories are so sweet and you get to meet new people in each story.
    2. All the Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva
    This was chosen as book of the year by Reading Women 🙂

  17. Amanda says:

    Sarah Addison Allen’s novels are feel-good stories with mystical realism based on nature. Her first one is The Peach Keeper, and all of her novels are equally as delightful. Another title to recommend is The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor.

  18. Mellissa says:

    For magical realism, I highly recommend Eden Robinson – in particular, “Son of a Trickster” and “Monkey Beach”. She’s a Canadian author who weaves indigenous culture and mysticism with modern storytelling and characters and I just love everything I’ve ever read by her.

    • Anna Bessonova says:

      Your comment made me remember a collection of short stories by Charles de Lint – a Canadian author combining magical realism, fairytales, nature, and urban themes. Really enjoyed his short stories and since Ashley likes the format she might enjoy his writing too.

  19. Erica Sperduto says:

    I also recommend the signature of all things. So much nature described so beautifully.
    I also want to recommend “Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire. It is about a boarding school for children that have been to other realms and have come back to this world. It definitely has the creepy children and atmospheric tone with a mystery and magic. I read this almost a year ago and still think about it most weeks.

    • Ashley says:

      Thank you for the recommendations! I read and loved The Signature of All Things but I haven’t heard of the other and it sounds I’m totally intrigued! 🙂

    • Ashley says:

      LOVED Lab Girl and apparently I really need to read The Wild Trees, so many people are recommending that one to me in the comments. 🙂 Thank you!

  20. Shea Failmezger says:

    If you love books about nature, you will love Bernd Heinrich’s books. He is my FAVORITE biologist. Yes! I am nerdy enough to have a favorite biologist! The Mind of the Raven and The Trees in My Forest are two of my favorites.

  21. I just had the chance to listen to Ashley’s episode today and I thought of two books she might like. One seems obvious, but it’s LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren. The other fits your books about books and magic realism, it is THE HOUSE AT THE END OF HOPE STREET by Menna van Praag. Enjoy all these new book recommendations, Ashley!

  22. Danielle says:

    I wonder if Ashley would like the books The Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter? It’s been years since I’ve read them (I can’t even remember the storylines), but both take place in the swamps of Indiana and are celebrations of nature, and the need to conserve our natural forests and resources.

    • Ashley says:

      Oh my goodness, this comment section is the best Christmas gift I got this year! I now have quite a long list of recommendations that I am so excited to read!
      Anne- it was SO much fun doing the podcast with you and you have the best community of listeners. You are so lucky. 🙂

    • Teresa Brookes says:

      I also thought the same thing….and added Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter, which I think is almost better than The Girl of the Limberlost!

  23. Kelly Petersen says:

    I just wanted to add a push toward all Barbara Kingsolver, but especially Flight Behavior & Prodigal Summer. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is also wonderful and it’s non-fiction. On the subject of mothering, I suggest Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith. She is a poet, but this is a slim book of her thoughts on being a working mother that Amazon calls a lyric memoir. I just started reading Braiding Sweetgrass and both books hit the same emotional notes for me.

  24. Katheryn says:

    As I was listening to this episode, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances came to my mind. It contains magic and nature, and the story is told in short story form that is told from the point of views of several people who lives were affected by one person.

  25. Lanika says:

    I think Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent fit for Ashley’s reading preferences! “Lush” is the most apt word I can find to describe how she writes about nature. Specifically Flight Behaviour and Prodigal Summer, but of course the famed Poisonwood Bible is also spectacular. First time ever commenting, that’s how strongly I feel about this recommendation!

  26. Kate Steele says:

    I just finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the teachings of plants. If Ashley hasn’t read this yet, she definitely should and then read Robin’s other book Gathering Moss which I just put on my TBR list.

  27. Karen Bradley says:

    I definitely recommend To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey-who wrote the Snow Child. It is historical fiction and includes nature, exploration, romance, and magic!!!!

  28. Abigail M. says:

    I wish I had gotten to this episode earlier! I kept waiting for a recommendation for Pam Houston’s debut short story collection Cowboys are my Weakness. It never came, so I get to recommend it! Don’t be fooled by the title, or what appears to be the current cover; it is a book about relationships, but not sappy, but also rafting, dogs, women’s friendships and winter camping. I might re-read it tonight!

  29. Karen O says:

    Ashley could check out two books by David George Haskell: The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (2012) and The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (2017). Anyone who loved Braiding Sweetgrass will probably find these interesting. There’s also American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (2012) by Eric Rutkow.

  30. Teresa Brookes says:

    Just listened to this episode, so sorry for the delay in commenting. Listening to Ashley was such a joy, because I like the ‘wild//wilderness//outdoors//nature” type of books. I wanted to suggest a couple of older books and a new book she might enjoy reading:
    1. The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (based in Indiana, woods, butterflies).
    2. The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter (lovely story of about bees, flowers and the California coast). I loved this book.
    3. Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens. I just finished this and it is beautifully written and you can just imagine being in the swamp with the birds. Also such a great story about the outliers in life/our towns and southern living.

  31. I think The Summer Book by Tove Jansson would be perfect – such a lovely description of place in Scandinavia, while also being a beautiful portrayal of grandmother and granddaughter. And it’s sort of short stories, sort of not.

  32. Emily says:

    I just listened to this episode and I think Ashley should try one of my favorites, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery. The main character grows a lot throughout the book and shares Ashley’s love of nature and books about it.

  33. Joy Klumpp says:

    I just want to say THANK YOU for this episode. It is by far my favorite thus far because of my love for wildlife and the outdoors. I’m not a big reader but have wanted to improve in that area of my life and this episode is just what I needed to encourage me to read more. After listening, I knew I needed to pick up “H is for Hawk” IMMEDIATELY as I am an avid birder. I found it at my library and have just DEVOURED IT! Every single book that was discussed on this episode is now on my TBR list. Now on to peruse the comments to add some more!

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