My wife teaches high school English, and each May she assigns a list of summer readings for her returning students. It's a great habit that everyone should practice, so here's a list of books, in no particular order, I recommend for summer reading on the beach or back porch. Some may be hard to find or a bit pricey, so patronize your local library.
U"Appalachian Winter" (2005) by Marcia Bonta. A cool read for a hot summer day. In the spirit of Edwin Way Teale's four seasons books, this completes Bonta's account of the seasons as they unfold around her home in the mountains of west-central Pennsylvania.
U"Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West" (1996) by Stephen Ambrose. A particularly timely title as we celebrate the bicentennial of the greatest adventure in American history.
U"Our Natural History: The Lessons of Lewis and Clark" (1995) by Daniel B. Botkin. A fascinating analysis from a biological perspective.
U"Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds" (1999) by Scott Weidensaul. Essential for anyone interested in bird migration.
U"Wild America: The Legendary Story of Two Great Naturalists on the Road" (1955) by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher. Of historical note because later this year Weidensaul will publish his account of retracing this journey 50 years later.
U"The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession" (2004) by Mark Obmascik. A well-told tale of extreme birding.
U"Why Birds Sing: A Journey Through the Mystery of Bird Song" (2005) by David Rothenberg. A musician's take on bird song.
U"Naturalist" (1994) by Edward O. Wilson. A compelling autobiography of one of the greatest biologists of modern times.
U"Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World" (2001) by Ann Moyal. The fascinating story of the discovery and eventual understanding of the oddest mammal on the planet.
U"For Love of Insects" (2003) by Thomas Eisner. An easy-to-read account of why insects are the most successful life form on the planet.
U"Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World" (1997) by Mark Kurlansky. The title says it all.
U"Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World" (1999) by Mark Pendergrast. And you thought it was just a breakfast beverage.
U"Made for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines" (1996) by Ronald Lanner. Their lives literally depend on each other.
U"Where the Sky Began" (1982) by John Madson. A vivid natural history of a shrinking and underappreciated ecosystem -- the tall grass prairie.
U"Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World" (1996) by Richard Conniff. Meet and understand some invertebrates that might otherwise make your skin crawl.
U"Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds" (1999) by Bernd Heinrich. Read this, and ravens will rank among your favorite birds.
U"Vulture: Nature's Ghastly Gourmet" (1997) by Wayne Grady. I doubt that any book could instill affection for vultures, but this quick read gives deeper meaning to the term "scavenger."
U"A Natural History of the Senses" (1990) by Diane Ackerman. Meet the world beyond sight and sound.
U"A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore" (1996) by Joanna Burger. If you vacation at the beach on the East Coast, this book will enrich your stay.
U"A Parrot Without a Name: The Search for the Last Unknown Birds on Earth" (1990) by Don Stap. If you've ever dreamed of being the first to explore a tropical jungle, this book's for you.
U"Water: A Natural History" (1996) by Alice Outwater. I wish every politician would read this book about the world's most precious natural resource.
Finally, if you prefer fiction, try an environmental mystery from authors such as Jessica Speart, Nevada Barr or James Hall.
Of course, I've only scratched the surface. There are hundreds of great nature-themed books in print. If you have a favorite that you think may have escaped my attention, let me know.
XSend questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, R.D. 5, Cameron, W.Va. 26033 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.