By Leigh Ann Henion
To merely call it travel writing would be overly simplistic. Leigh Ann Henion takes readers on a spiritual sabbatical in her premiere novel, “Phenomenal.” Wishing to reconcile the obligations and love of motherhood with her desire for adventure, Henion reawakens her sense of wonder by taking part in natural phenomena across the globe. She vibrantly captures nature’s truly awesome performances from passionate lightning storms in Venezuela and volcanic eruptions in Hawai’i to the seductive dance of aurora borealis in Sweden. Her poetic, colorful descriptions rekindle a childlike admiration of the world.
As the book progresses, Henion unpacks the modern humans’ need for control and our tendencies to distance ourselves from the immediate. In an effort to close that gap, she investigates the shared human experience, connecting the reader intimately with the locals she encounters throughout her travels. An eclectic Puerto Rican beach denzien and a generous Tanzanian whittler are only a few of the heartwarming characters.
Intermittently taking on a tone of wisdom, Henion weaves aphorisms, missteps and moments of self-realization into her book. She includes eyebrow-furrowing, thought-provoking quotes like, “But maybe transcendence isn’t about leaving. It’s about being present.”
Henion also provides intellectual fodder, referencing scientific and philosophical greats and bravely taking on debates with an astrophysicist. Throughout her memoir, Henion includes little reminders about the importance of protecting the environment, as global climate change threatens the existence of some of these life-altering phenomena. A truly delightful read, “Phenomenal” lets you ride shotgun on a quest for understanding and beauty. – Reviewed by Julia Lindsay
By Loren M. Wood
Yosemite National Park’s well-known advocate, John Muir, had an obscure counterpart in the east, posits author Loren M. Wood. This conservation pioneer helped establish our country’s most visited national park in the Great Smoky Mountains and brought native plant horticulture to the beds of turn-of-the-century gardens.
Like a detective, Wood follows the life of Harlan P. Kelsey (1872-1958) through letters, newspaper clippings, government documents and other historical anecdotes. Uncover Kelsey’s childhood influences that led him to found a native plant nursery in North Carolina at age 12, and pursue the growth of an entrepreneur who transmits his love of nature to local and national governments as an environmental advocate.
– Reviewed by Eliza Laubach
By John Schaeffer
John Schaeffer illuminates the way to live off the grid in this 14th edition of the 1982 classic. Released this year, the new edition contains more than 450 pages of charts, definitions and personal anecdotes to help the common person live sustainably. Shaeffer brightens the pages with comedic titles like “A Mercifully Brief Glossary of PV System Terminology” and “Small Wind Turbines, Cuisinart for Birds or Red Herring?”. This extensive resource is not only a guide to renewable energy, building and transportation, but to lifestyle and worldview changes that help us act as better stewards to the environment.
– Reviewed by Julia Lindsay