Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this year, which means that we are in for an early spring. If you recently weathered the polar vortex that caused frigid temperatures in the Midwest, record snow in the Pacific Northwest, blizzards on the East Coast, or even snowfall in places like Las Vegas and Maui (!), you’ve likely been holed up inside, ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors again. Now that the days are getting longer, you might be able to finally take that hike, train for that run, or just get outside and breathe some fresh air without getting precipitation all over you. Why not listen to some audiobooks while you’re out there? We’ve got some suggestions where the authors do such a great job of describing the place and time that they set their novels, you’ll think you’ve been swept up and set down smack gob in the middle of their settings. Whether you can’t wait for the warmer weather on the horizon, or you want to hang on to these last days of cold, these selections will make you want to get outside, no matter if March goes out like a lion or a lamb.
By by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer
This knock out of a novel takes place first in Mexico City, then all sorts of places, ranging from Central America to Israel to West Africa and Europe, and finally ends in the Sonora Desert. It chronicles the movement of the Visceral Realists, a group led by two particularly charismatic poets as they search for the long-lost poet Cesárea Tinajero. All of the locations in this book are so well-rendered, they’ll leave you smelling, tasting and hearing the places as if you visited them yourself.
By by Per Patterson
The quietness of this novel matches both its subject matter (an old man looking back on the year he stayed with his father in a cabin) and its setting (a far corner of Norway). The characters are stoic and the landscape seems bleak. But there are also little moments of thaw, with rays of hope glimmering through if only for a moment or two. This novel’s small joys are like seeing the warmth of your own breath on a cold day.
By by Amitav Ghosh
On the India/Bangladesh border, there is a group of mangrove forests/islands called the Sundarbans. These deltas serve as the backdrop for the search of a rare freshwater dolphin by a marine biologist named Piya. She is accompanied on her trip up the Indian backwaters by a translator and a fisherman. And though the book is nominally about searching for a dolphin, it is also a search for language and India’s ever-shifting identity. There are also crocodiles and tigers.
By by Smith Henderson
Social worker Pete Snow lives in rural Montana in 1980. When an 11-year-old boy wanders into a schoolyard, it leads Snow to seek out the boy’s father, a religious zealot who lives alone in the woods. The descriptions of Montana’s natural beauty are matched only by the often-brutal descriptions of many of the characters populating its land (poachers, drunks, and survivalists to name a few). The book is as raw and arresting as nature itself.
By by Eowyn Ivey
In Alaska circa 1920, a homesteading and childless couple, Jack and Mabel, fashion a tiny snowman after a recent storm, regale it with accessories like a scarf and mittens and carve a face on its head. The next day, the mittens, scarf and head are gone but what remains are footprints leading into the woods. A girl eventually appears, wearing the missing scarf and mittens. The Snow Child’s central mystery hints at the fantastical, but never fully crosses into fantasy territory. The haunting atmosphere only adds to the opaque and beautiful fog of this novel.
By by Esi Edugyan
George Washington Black, the 11-year-old narrator, lives in Barbados, on a British sugar plantation as a slave in 1830. When an opportunity arises for Wash (his nickname) to escape, he finds himself riding in a flying machine, diving to the depths of an ocean and finally traversing through the Arctic. This novel reads like an adventure book. The lush descriptions of the island, the sea and the Arctic make this a breeze of a read, despite the heavy subject matter.
By by Gina Apostol
A Filipino translator and an American filmmaker travel to the Duterte-era Philippines in order to shoot a movie about an incident in Balangiga, Samar in 1901 where Filipino revolutionaries staged an insurrection against the American military and the American military retaliated by razing the countryside and killing an untold amount of Filipinos. The American filmmaker, named Chiara, writes the script and gives it to the Filipino translator, Magsalin, who decides to translate it into an entirely different script from the original. This book is actually hilarious. It captures, with sharp wit and cutting precision, how the history of an occupied territory will get rewritten by its occupier.
By by Chigozie Obioma
Four brothers live in a village in Nigeria in the 1990s. When the narrator, Ben, the youngest of the four brothers, describes how his father has taken a job in a larger city nearby and the brothers decide to become fishermen, things start to unravel for the family when a prophet foretells that the oldest brother will be killed by a fisherman. This parable documents not only the plight of the family, but the larger plight of a nation ruled by dictators and corruption. The visceral descriptions of fish, clothes, animals and trees, allow the reader into a world experienced by few.