Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto

Writing Wild

3.5*

‘An exciting, expert, and invaluable group portrait of seminal women writers enriching a genre crucial to our future.’ —Booklist

Blurb:

In Writing Wild, Kathryn Aalto celebrates 25 women, both historical and current, whose influential writing helps deepen our connection to and understanding of the natural world. These inspiring wordsmiths are scholars, spiritual seekers, conservationists, scientists, novelists, and explorers. They defy easy categorization, yet they all share a bold authenticity that makes their work both distinct and universal.

Part travel essay, literary biography, and cultural history, Writing Wild ventures into the landscapes and lives of extraordinary writers and encourages a new generation of women to pick up their pens, head outdoors, and start writing wild.

My thoughts:

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers and Mavericks Who Shape How We See The Natural World is by Kathryn Aalto and illustrated by Gisela Goppel. Published by Timber Press it will be released in paperback on 1 April, with a Kindle edition to follow on 14 April 2020.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I do enjoy reading books about nature, so Writing Wild appealed to me. Kathryn Aalto’s reason for writing her book was to highlight what these 25 women writers have written, their historical significance and the barriers, biases and bullying they overcame to write. It covers two hundred years of women’s history through nature writing, including natural history, environmental philosophy, country life, scientific writing, garden arts, memoirs and meditations and does not aim to dismiss men’s contributions. Gisela Goppel’s portraits of each writer head each chapter. Aalto writes an introduction to each writer and includes excerpts of prose, poems and essays with added recommendations for further reading, plus a list of sources and an index.

Predominantly American and British, some of these women writers are familiar to me, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Vita Sackville West, Nan Shepherd, Rachel Carson, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard and Helen Macdonald. Others are new to me, but I would like to read several of their works, such as Andrea Wulf’s book The  Brother Gardeners in which  she explores how England became a nation of gardeners. Wulf, a design historian, writes horticultural and historical history through narrative nonfiction, borrowing techniques from fiction to make nonfiction come alive. Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses essay collection, which Aalto describes as written with  laugh-out-loud humour and depth of empathy, also particularly appeals to me.

One of the things I learned reading this book is the name ‘Cli-fi’. I hadn’t come across it before but of course, it is not a new genre. As Aalto points out it goes back at least to Jules Verne’s 1889 The Purchase of the North Pole. Contemporary examples including Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. The writer she chooses to illustrate this genre is Saci Lloyd, an acclaimed writer of cli-fi, whose vivid and action packed books include The Carbon Diaries, about the effects of carbon reduction policies. They are gritty eco-thrillers featuring Laura Brown a 16 year old trying to manage life with a carbon deficit card.

Kathryn Aalto is a writer, designer, historian and lecturer. For the past twenty-five years, her focus has been on places where nature and culture intersect: teaching literature of nature and place, designing gardens, and writing about the natural world. Her work explores historic and horticultural themes with a contemporary twist. She is the author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). Her website is kathrynaalto.com.

My thanks to Timber Press for a review copy via NetGalley.