It’s that time of year, friends: the days are as short as they come, the nights are deep and cold, and that armchair and cozy blanket are looking more and more like the perfect place to spend an evening tucked in with a good book. 

So, in preparation for a winter break where most of us will be spending more time at home than usual, we asked some OA faculty and staff for book recommendations that have inspired their imagination, given them food for thought, or gotten them through tough times. Their responses included science fiction, real-life adventure writing, poetry, and even a couple of podcasts to go along with your next book!

Whatever you might be looking for, get ready for an incredible selection of recommendations that will take you to new universes, through undiscovered backcountry, and on deep dives into critical conversations. Then, call up your local independent bookstore to order your next favorite read! 

Fiction/Science Fiction

Exhalation, Ted Chiang

The Dutch House, Ann Patchet

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Overstory, Richard Powers (with podcast episode “The Social Life of Forests”)


The Hidden Wound, Wendell Berry 

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates 

White Fragility, Robin DeAngelo 

How to be an Antiracist, Ibrahim X. Kendi


The Sun is a Compass, Caroline Van Hemert



Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook For Youth 



The More Extravagant Feast, Leah Green 

Early grrl by Marge Piercy

The poems of Cheswayo Mphanza


English and History teacher Chelsea always has a wide variety of books on her shelf. For example, if you want beautiful writing that spans five decades and “explores the nuances of what it means to be a sibling and to have memories and a piece of yourself stored in a place you can’t return to”, check out The Dutch House by Anne Patchett. Or, if you’re looking for a mysterious, suspenseful investigation into the power of memory, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer is another fantastic choice. 

However, one of Chelsea’s current favorites is Exhalation by Ted Chiang. “It’s possibly my favorite book of the year,” she says. And why did it receive such an honor? According to Chelsea, this collection of sci-fi short stories “will expand your brain in ways you didn’t know possible. This just might, as it has for me, become the book you try to force upon others so you can discuss it with them!” 

Sci-fi is always fun, but if you’re longing for real-life adventure that’s tied more to the planet as we know it, our Outdoor Programming Coordinator David’s recommendation may be exactly what you need. David recommends picking up The Sun is a Compass, which he describes as “an epic story of adventure, migration, relationships, and life.” In it, you follow wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert and her husband “on a human powered journey from Seattle to the Arctic Ocean by rowboat, ski, foot, and paddle. It’s a book that connects people to the bigger story of the world in which we live and hopefully inspires y’all to take on something big and scary.” 

If you’ve been digging into 2020’s critical conversations around racial justice and white privilege, Natural Science teacher Ted recommends Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound. “I have read all of Wendell Berry’s writing,” says Ted. “You should too.” Berry’s extended essay from 1970 could serve as an interesting comparison for those perusing more modern must-reads like Coates’ Between the World and Me, Robin DeAngelo’s White Fragility, or Ibrahim X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist

As you can see from the list so far, OAers love a good read, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, a short essay or a long novel. However, here at The Outdoor Academy we are also all about action — taking what you learn or feel passionate about and turning it into something that changes the world for the better. That’s why Eliza — one of our current Resident Wilderness Educators and an OA alum herself — recommends all students read Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook For Youth. Here’s why: “Kids and teens have immense power! This book gives recommendations for acting on the values fostered here at OA: protection of earth and other people, making change big and small, and staying awake to the patterns and systems that rule our lives.”

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a way to take a break from the hectic world, how about some poetry? Eliza has options for you there as well! “Poetry is an antidote to a hyper-rational world,” she says. “I read poetry to slow down in time and wander in my own head. Here are three recommendations: The More Extravagant Feast by Leah Naomi Green, OA Alumnus (I read this on campus this fall and relished every poem; themes of Human/Nature, gratitude, watching wildlife, motherhood, and ritual abound), the writing of Marge Piercy (I first read the work of MP, a classic feminist poet, as an OA student in Spring of 2012. I’m loving Early grrrl this winter.) and the poems of Cheswayo Mphanza (You can find the work of this contemporary talent sprinkled online in various journals. Check out his poem On Composing.)” 

Finally, how about a combo book and podcast? A favorite among the OA community this year — and we’re probably not alone — has been Richard Powers’ epic saga on the interconnecting lives of humans and trees: The Overstory. Indeed, copies were floating around the Sun Lodge this whole fall semester! “I just started it,” added Ted when discussing his recommendations. “I was hooked in five minutes!” (Click here for a previous list of all of Ted’s recs from last spring). Whether you were hooked and already devoured The Overstory cover to cover, or if you just want a taste of it, Nish, our Math teacher and Wilderness Educator, suggested listening to a recent episode of The Daily titled “The Social Life of Forests”. He added that the whole episode “smells of Natural Science and Environmental Seminar classes at OA.” And what better combination is there than OA Science and ESem?! (Maybe only the combination of a book and a podcast about trees!)

So, we hope you’ve found something on this list that piques your interest! Leave us a comment on Facebook or Instagram and let us know: What are your Current Favorite Reads? 

By Katie Rowlett, OA Admissions Counselor