Puberty and the ensuing independence of your late teens conspire to make you feel like you’re suddenly living in an intensely complicated world. It’s a full-time job just trying to figure out your place in it. Then you hit your twenties and your inward gazing gives way to outward glances. It’s time to begin exploring the world that exists beyond you. Besides hitting the road, one of the best ways to do that is by reading the works of great authors on the places they love. Not only will you learn about the world, but you’ll learn about what it truly means to be alive in it.
Wolf by Jim Harrison
The literary giant’s first novel, written when he was 33, chronicles the narrator’s journey into the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the hope of catching a glimpse of a wolf. As much about sex and art as wolves and wilderness, it’s a moody, anger-filled book that leaves the reader hungry for the emotional chaos of a fully lived life.
Great Plains by Ian Frazier
Probably the most thorough examination of a geographic region ever accomplished in less than 250 pages, and certainly the most heartfelt. This travel-writing masterpiece brings humor and poetic sensibility to America’s oft neglected middle section—a region whose history is packed with suffering, failure, and startling beauty—and proves that every square inch of the country deserves careful consideration.
The Pine Barrens by John McPhee
If you see the world as being poisoned by self-obsession, McPhee is the antidote. By turning his attention to others—in this case, the eccentric backwoods inhabitants of the pine forests in his home state of New Jersey—McPhee demonstrates the timeless wisdom of closing your mouth and opening your ears.
Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan
This abstract and hilarious novella from 1967 remains a countercultural classic While the book’s true meaning is still open to debate, there’s no denying Brautigan’s genius in turning his beloved Pacific Northwest trout streams into rich and sometimes perplexing metaphors. Once and for all, this book proves that fishing is about a lot more than just fish.
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Lopez spent seven years traveling in the far north for this natural history, which explores everything from the lives of polar bears to the unique qualities of Arctic light. Yet the most stunning thing about Arctic Dreams isn’t what he learned; it’s the mysteries of that harsh landscape that remain unsettled in his mind. Through Lopez, we see that knowledge is not necessarily the answering of questions. It’s the asking as well.
Next Up: The Adventure Begins: The Best Books For Teens