Holiday Gift Guide: 8 Books We Excerpted on Longreads in 2021

A short list of books we loved (and featured) this year.

Looking for a gift for the reader in your life? Here are eight books we featured on Longreads this year: the memoir of a teen environmentalist, an essay collection on dance and illness, a refugee family’s story, and more.

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Diary of a Young Naturalist | Dara McAnulty 

In this debut memoir, autistic climate activist Dara McAnulty writes about his immersive, intense connection to nature and wildlife with lyrical, evocative prose. The book’s entries, centered around McAnulty’s encounters around his home in Northern Ireland through the seasons, show a teenager’s deep appreciation for the natural world, science, and conservation.

Unfortunately, for me, I’m different. Different from everyone in my class. Different from most people in my school. But at breaktime today I watched the pied wagtails fly in and out of the nest. How could I feel lonely when there are such things? Wildlife is my refuge. When I’m sitting and watching, grown-ups usually ask if I’m okay. Like it’s not okay just to sit and process the world, to figure things out and watch other species go about their day.

Read an excerpt: ‘The Fledglings Are Out!’


The Other Mothers: Two Women’s Journey to Find the Family That Was Always Theirs | Jennifer Berney 

When Jennifer Berney and her wife Kelly embarked on the journey to start a family, they found that the options available did not accommodate lesbian couples like them. Part-memoir, part-history of fertility and the LGBTQ+ community, Berney’s book explores feminism, outdated notions of heredity and paternity, and queer family-building.

As I was coming of age as a lesbian and considering my future, it had never once occurred to me that the medical industry could legally withhold services from me or anyone else, that they could say yes to straight couples and no to queers, but in fact they did just that. Most sperm banks and fertility clinics turned away any woman who wasn’t conventionally married. Sperm banks weren’t made for lesbians.

Read an excerpt: Binders Full of Men


Beyond the Sand and Sea: One Family’s Quest for a Country to Call Home | Ty McCormick 

Asad Hussein grew up in Dadaab refugee camp complex in Kenya, which was established in the early 1990s as families from Somalia fled the country’s civil war. When he was 9, his older sister Maryan was able to resettle in Arizona, but he and the rest of his family had to wait for years before they could come to America. Their story, told beautifully by Ty McCormick, is ultimately a hopeful one, while also revealing the absolute brokenness of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Many new arrivals in Tucson who had come from Dadaab, including Yussuf, had never lived outside of a small rural village. Some of the children had never seen the outside of a refugee camp. Maryan was unique in that she had lived alone in Nairobi. She also spoke decent English, and was used to a level of independence that was unusual in conservative Somali communities. This was a source of constant friction in her marriage, but it was also a font of opportunity in America.

Read an excerpt: When Refugee Families are Separated, Women Carry the Burden


Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town | Colin Jerolmack

Colin Jerolmack spent eight months living in rural Pennsylvania, in the greater Williamsport area, among communities caught in the middle of a fracking controversy. His book is a deep dive into the wider fracking debate, U.S. property rights, and the conflict between America’s notions of liberty and personal choice and the public good.

Thanks to land leasing, George had finally broken free of a lifetime of relative deprivation. Though he was hardly alone in turning to the fracking lottery in an effort to escape hardship, George certainly made out better than most. Of course, those who didn’t own any mineral estate couldn’t participate in the fracking lottery.

Read an excerpt: The Fracking Lottery


Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness | Renée K. Nicholson 

What does life look like for a ballet dancer with rheumatoid arthritis? This essay collection from Renée K. Nicholson explores the world of professional dance, the discovery of one’s body, and living with chronic disease.

The rest of my life will always be entwined with rheumatoid arthritis. But it’s my choice to also be something more, to not feel sick, to still find those shadows of a dancer, which is to say tiny flecks of magic, within me. Like anyone who is hopelessly in love, I will always be the keeper of a flame.

Read an excerpt: Happy is a Relative State


The Nation of Plants | Stefano Mancuso

Plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso presents a whimsical discussion of the lives of plants, and the many lessons they can teach us about living and thriving on this planet — together. A manifesto of sorts, it’s playful, informative, and inspiring, reminding us of the interconnectedness of all things and urging us to take action in a time of climate change.

Playing with something whose working mechanisms are not well known is clearly dangerous. The consequences can be completely unpredictable. The strength of ecological communities is one of the engines of life on Earth. At every level, from the microscopic to the macroscopic, it is these communities, understood as relationships among the living, that allow life to persist.

Read an excerpt: Why Bumblebees Love Cats and Other Beautiful Relationships


 Adrift | Miranda Ward

In her memoir, Miranda Ward reflects on pregnancy loss, infertility, and the unique place of almost-motherhood: an uncertain landscape characterized by waiting, wanting, hoping, and not-knowing. A writer and geographer, she asks questions of geography on the most intimate scale and discovers the wilderness of her own body.

The idea of the miscarriage in progress perplexes the part of me that imagined that this is a thing that can only happen privately, violently, suddenly, because it is a thing that is happening without much noise at all, and meanwhile here I am transcribing an interview, here I am meeting with a freelance client, wearing a new skirt I bought yesterday from the charity shop, here I am buying groceries and planning dinner, with nothing but a question mark inside me.

Read an excerpt: The Geography Closest In


The Kingdoms | Natasha Pulley 

Natasha Pulley’s genre-bending and time-twisting novel is an original and entertaining adventure, blending history, speculative fiction, a love story, and a wartime tale into one.

Most people have trouble recalling their first memory, because they have to stretch for it, like trying to touch their toes; but Joe didn’t. This was because it was a memory formed a week after his forty-third birthday.

He stepped down off the train. That was it, the very first thing he remembered, but the second was something less straightforward. It was the slow, eerie feeling that everything was doing just what it should be, minding its own business, but that at the same time, it was all wrong.

Read an excerpt: Even the Steam Had a Shadow