Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Trees

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Today I’m joining the Nonfiction November theme of a “fiction and nonfiction book pairing” (hosted this week by Sarah’s Book Shelves). Since I am deep into reading a couple of books about trees (certainly an oddity for me), this seemed like the perfect theme.

First, a story.

I have a thing about trees. I love them. I don’t know them–I’m lucky if I can accurately identify two or three kinds–but I love them.

I don’t think I realized just how much I loved trees until I lived in a place that had very few. It was hot. It was a little desolate. I missed the trees.

When I was a kid, one of my best friends in the neighborhood had a couple of towering oak trees in her front yard. One, which we creatively called “The Big Oak,” was perfect for climbing, and it had a swing.

All summer long, for years, we kept a ladder leaning against it so we could climb at any time. Throughout our summers together, we aimed for new heights, naming the branches as we went (“Swing Point,” “Allison’s Point,” etc.) until we could go no further. We told stories, made up games, and as we grew older, used it as a place to gossip.

If anything represented idyllic summers, it was that tree.

Years passed, as they do. Our families both moved out of that neighborhood after we graduated high school. My friend and I lost touch.

One day in college, I received a package from her out of the blue. Inside was a small cross-section from a branch, lovingly finished and branded with a short message (she and her whole family are amazing artists).

She also included a note, saying The Big Oak had died and had to be cut down. The remaining neighbors had told her and she returned to salvage some of the wood. The cross-section was from the branch we called, “Allison’s Point.”

Every time I look at that little cross-section, I’m brought back to our countless days spent high in the branches. I can picture the steps and reaches it took to wind our way to our “points,” and feel the rough handholds on the bark.

I remember the days we went silent, watching the activity of the neighborhood with no one the wiser that we were up there, and the days that we talked and laughed nonstop. I remember the day I fell out of the tree and (after I could breathe again), we both swore never to tell anyone, afraid we would be banned from the tree forever.

And so, my love of trees runs deep, but I can’t say I ever thought I could read novel-length books about them.

The Overstory–with its multiple stories of the silent but central roles trees play in people’s lives–has brought all of this back, and along with it, an affection, appreciation, and awe of the hidden life of trees.

And if I never thought I’d read a novel about trees, I really never thought I’d be excited about a nonfiction book about trees. But the one below now tops my list.

Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Trees

The Overstory by Richard Powers

While this book was a slow read, I found it absolutely captivating. The writing is mesmerizing, the stories are poignant, and–though they seem disparate at first–they come together in a satisfying way. It’s not for everyone, but I understand why so many have raved about this Pulitzer-prize-winning book, and why it has the power to change the way we view the natural world.

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen

Harry is a Forest Service employee, consumed by grief at the unexpected death of his wife. A young girl grappling with her own grief convinces him to help with a natural adventure that may save them both. This is another novel about people who love trees. I’ve only just started it, and it seems less activist-oriented than The Overstory, but it’s also grounded in a wonderment and love of the natural world.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben
This nonfiction book seems like the perfect companion to The Overstory, which has a scientist character who puts forth the idea of trees communicating and interacting to protect one another–and is ridiculed. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m hopeful that it will continue the reflections started while reading The Overstory.

Related: 13 Eco-Fiction Books about the Environment and Nature

Any other books about trees or the natural world that you would add to this list?

Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Trees


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