Bookworm: Books on camping, hiking, and enjoying nature

‘The Reckoning’ is going to be politicized, when it’s not, not entirely

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Camping Grounds”

  • By Phoebe S.K. Young
  • c. 2021, Oxford University Press
  • $34.95, higher in Canada; 414 pages

“Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors”

  • By Amber Share
  • c. 2021, Plume
  • $22, $29 Canada; 205 pages

The silence is intense. It was the first thing you noticed: no cars, no neighbors’ radios, no sirens, nothing but crickets and the sound of wind through leaves. The second thing you noticed were the stars because, without streetlights, you can see them. Sometimes, you wish you could camp forever or maybe you could just read about it instead ... ?

“Camping Grounds” by Phoebe S.K. Young and “Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors” by Amber Share.

If you’re thinking big, you could almost say that humans have been camping since the beginning of time and nobody made much of a fuss over it. In this country, though, starting in the 1840s and with the popularity of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, many more-affluent Americans began to feel a need to get “back-to-the-land,” though it should be noted that few aspired to Thoreau’s Spartan life.

At the beginning of the Civil War, “hundreds of thousands of American men found themselves living in army camps.” You can understand their hardships during the War but afterward, a surprising number of them had “cheery memories” of those camps and Civil War veterans “recalled [having fun] in great detail.” That, says Phoebe S.K. Young in “Camping Grounds,” was likely due to the camaraderie found there.

Around the turn of the last century, camping became both recreation, and a “tramp problem.” The former was embraced by the new class of mostly white, mostly white-collar workers flush with leisure and vacation to use. The latter generally were “marginalized men” and for them, “camping” continued well into the 1930s.

As for camping as we know it now, it was encouraged by the establishment of National Parks and private campgrounds. It’s a perfect way for “back to nature” types or anyone who needs to get away (but not too far away). And, as Young shows in this hefty, thorough, but totally enjoyable slice-of-history, camping is also a way for activism.

As for those parks, well, you’re going to want to visit some of them after you’ve read “Subpar Parks” by Amber Share. First, though, before you leave, give yourself time to laugh.

No doubt about it, campers and hikers will find some incredible places to visit in our national parks and recreation areas. But one man’s radiance is another man’s rubble, and some people are a little pickier when it comes to places like the Statue of Liberty (it’s just “a big green statue and that’s it”) and jaw-dropping mountains in Alaska. Reviewers were moved to say they were “too cold” at Glacier National Park, tired of cactus at Saguaro National Park, and sick of horse poo at a national park where horses are found. Park visitors weighed in, and Share’s project (collecting these reviews from “disgruntled customers” and park rangers who met them) turned into a passion that turned into this helpful, useful, fun book.

If you want more books on camping, hiking, and enjoying nature, your favorite bookseller or librarian can surely point you in the right direction, and they’ll even be able to find books for the kids. Be sure to ask them and get these books in your tents.

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“The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal”

  • By Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.
  • c. 2021, St. Martin’s Press
  • $28.99, $38.50 Canada; 195 pages

You can barely stand to look. You open your eyes quick, though, and scan because you need to be informed but the news is sometimes hard to take lately. Consuming in small bites may be best, or devour it if you can, but take care. In “The Reckoning,” Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. says you may’ve been the victim of trauma, and she offers a way to work beyond it.

“The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal” by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

“This country was born on trauma...” says Trump, through war, hardship, theft of land, slavery, and betrayals of all sorts – not to mention disease. As a psychologist, she wondered what things “might be like” for America after months of divisive politics and pandemic.

Trump, who was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, blames much of her PTSD on her uncle but for America as a whole, she says we’ve been through something deeper and wider-ranging: the trauma of slavery, injustice, and ongoing inequality – mostly for Blacks but also for Native Americans, and LGBTQ people – that continues to permeate every corner of American life.

White people inherently enjoy white privilege, Trump says plainly, and they might try to deny it but the fact is that the world Whites walk in so blithely is not the same one Black citizens live. That causes trauma to extend both ways because “Trauma shapes us in ways we may not be aware of, and will always do so unless we face what has happened to us...[and] what we’ve done to each other.”

And that’s where politics enter, especially since the end of the Civil War: politicians have become adept at convincing white America, subtly or overtly, that Black people are lesser; that “moving on” without reckoning is possible; and that we should put transgressions aside by whitewashing them, minimizing them, and by refusing to demand accountability.

“But as seductive as it is, wiping out chapters in our history,” says Trump, “... leaves future generations vulnerable. We know this. Only remembering will heal us. Maybe it will even set us free.”

Let’s start here: readers who come to “The Reckoning” for another dose of author Mary L. Trump’s family story will not be disappointed. She has plenty of acid left to spray on the last presidential administration’s years, but that’s not this book’s primary focus.

White privilege and the dismantling of racism is, and that comes as some surprise, in both the history Trump uses to make her points and in the obvious passion in her arguments. What she writes, however, and the lofty ideals she espouses are nothing new, yet here they feel like small terriers at your feet, nipping for unwavering attention, demanding focus and deep consideration.

You may not like what you read but it’s going to force you to think, hard, about the future, individually and nationally.

Unfortunately, “The Reckoning” is going to be politicized, when it’s not, not entirely. Though it shouldn’t, that may chase away politics-weary readers who would otherwise get a lot out of a book like this, one that may be an absolute eye-opener.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.