I finally read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens this month. I knew it was meant to be a great read, but until now I had unfairly categorised it as easy beach holiday reading.
As I’ve been feeling burnt out and in need of easy reads, I decided to give it a go. I loved it. There is a plot twist in the story of the so-called Marsh Girl that might sour the plot for some readers, but alas. I thought it was brilliant.
Where the Crawdads Sing turned out to belong to a book category I’ve adored in the last few years – novels about women retreating into nature to work out who they really are and what’s important to them.
Here are some books like Where the Crawdads Sing that similarly celebrate nature, wild spaces, and embracing both your uniqueness and solitude.
“Slowly, she unraveled each word of the sentence: ‘There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.’”Where the Crawdads Sing
Similar books to Where the Crawdads Sing that are set in nature
1. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
“The dawn chorus was a whistling roar by now, the sound of a thousand males calling out love to a thousand silent females ready to choose and make the world new.”Prodigal Summer
Prodigal Summer is one of my all-time favourite books. It’s a novel about life – and the slow unwinding of a summer – rather than any large plot points, which sets it apart form the “whodunnit” storyline of Where the Crawdads Sing.
That said, it’s a beautiful story of self-sufficient women living life their way in nature, in this case the Appalachian mountains, which overlaps with the nature-loving protagonist of Delia Owens’ novel, Kya Clark.
2. The Middle of Somewhere by Sonya Yoerg
“This was why she had come. Not to think, or learn, or seek absolution. She had come to enter into a world of pure perception, to explore this canvas of gray and blue.”The Middle of Somewhere
The Middle of Somewhere was one of my recommended books to read during burnout. It’s easy to read in a weekend and offers a welcome change of scenery – the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.
Weighed down by emotional baggage as much as her backpack, widowed Liz Kroft heads deep into the wilderness for the solitude she craves. That solitude is interrupted when her boyfriend, Dante, decides to tag along, but as two strange brothers appear on the trail, it’s not long until she’s glad of the companionship.
3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
“… home was not just a cabin in a deep woods that overlooked a placid cove. Home was a state of mind, the peace that came from being who you were and living an honest life.”The Great Alone
The Great Alone is one of the most recommended books for readers who loved Where the Crawdads Sing and has a similarly impressive reputation.
Kristin Hannah tells the story of a desperate family seeking a new beginning in the near-isolated Alaskan wilderness, only to find that their unpredictable environment is less threatening than the erratic behavior found in human nature.
4. Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
“It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.“Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found
How can I not mention Wild? Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is essential reading if you love spending time in nature alone.
5. The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert
“Shortly after Pat and I met in 2001, we discovered that we were most fully ourselves in wild places. That our love was strongest among rocks and rivers, trees and tundra. Since our first summer together, when we spent two months camped on the bank of a remote Arctic river, we had dreamed about another grand adventure.”The Sun is a Compass
Caroline Van Hemert’s story of her trek across the Alaskan Wilds is easily one of my favourite travel memoirs. As an ornothologist specialising in the misshapen beaks of chickadees, at the start of the book Caroline Van Hemert is in desperate need of time away from graduate school.
Along with her husband, Pat, she comes up with an impossibly ambitious adventure: travelling by rowboat, ski, foot, raft and canoe 4,000 miles across Alaska. What follows is a stunningly beautiful ode to nature, human spirit, and companionship.
6. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
“From coast to coast, Americans of every conceivable background had looked up at Eustace Conway on his horse and said wistfully, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing.’ And to every last citizen, Eustace had replied, ‘You can.'”The Last American Man
If you daydream about escaping into the woods to live in a cabin by a stream, you’ll probably love reading The Last American Man too. Although it reads like fiction at times, toeing the line between man and myth, it’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s biography of Eustace Conway who in 1977, at the age of seventeen, left his family’s comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains.
For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature.
7. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
“Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.”Into the Wild
Into the Wild is one of the classic tales of leaving the urban wild for the wilderness. After giving away his savings and most of his possessions, 22-year-old Chris McCandless disappeared in April 1992 into the Alaskan wilderness in search of a raw, transcendent experience. This is Jon Krakauer’s story of his haunting and mysterious disappearance.
8. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
“There is a Dutch word, uitwaaien, ‘to walk against the wind for pleasure’…”The Signature of All Things
I debated adding another book by Elizabeth Gilbert to this list, but she writes about nature so well. In her 2014 novel, The Signature of All Things, Liz Gilbert celebrates botany through the tale of the extraordinary Whittaker family, led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker – a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade.
Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma, becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself, and as her research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man whose otherworldly paintings of orchids draws her in the exact opposite direction – into the spiritual and divine.
9. Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
“It’s not just that they can forgo society, it’s more like they need to. For people like that, the natural world is vital, a spiritual experience.”Where the Forest Meets the Stars
Where the Forest Meets the Stars is another book with a protagonist who adores and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of nature. After both losing her mother and battling breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, living alone in a cabin in the woods.
Determined to prove that her hardships have not broken her, Joanna throws herself into her work until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises. Even more mysteriously as the novel unfolds, the child shows Joanna how to love again in this gentle story of companionship, trust, and wild beauty.
Glendy Vanderah has also just published (in April 2021) The Light Through the Leaves – another beautiful novel of love, loss, and self-discovery that similarly shows her love for time alone in the wilderness.