Nature has a way of putting my brokenness into perspective. In the last half dozen years, I’ve contended with lymphoma and an anxiety disorder. I’ve had nausea, extreme pain, and unsettling, ruminating thoughts. In these struggles, I often need the restoration that I can only find in the mountains. So, I turn to Tahoe. When I sit on the gravelly sand, looking at the immaculate blue water and enormous pines, a sense of calm and acceptance always washes over me. This magical spot gives me the fuel I need to face reality with somewhat less chaos inside.

This year, we are all recovering. As we emerge out of the pandemic, organizers of Nevada Reads want to push you out of your cozy book nook and into the outdoors to “create moments of wondering appreciation.”  

Kendra Atleework of Bishop, California is the author of a memoir about life in the Sierra. Photo: Amy Leist Photography, courtery Nevada Humanities

Nevada Reads, the statewide book club hosted each year by Nevada Humanities, always aims to get people reading and to host conversations about ideas that relate to Nevadans. Each year, organizers choose a few books, encourage people all over the state to read them, and offer accompanying programming, such as workshops and talks from the authors. This year’s theme, more hopeful than in years past, is Cultivating Environmental Literacy.

“I think the topic of the environment, it’s really broad,” said Kathleen Kuo, Program Manager for Nevada Humanities. “We’re focusing on getting people to go outside and safe ways to appreciate what we have in our backyard, just looking more deeply. It extends to conversations on climate change, community health and social justice … who’s lived on this land past and present.” 

For 2021, Nevada Reads went with two memoirs, bucking the usual trend of mixing non-fiction and novels. The selections befit the troubling and depressing times we’ve been living.

“I think there’s a lot of time for inward reflection during the pandemic,” Kuo said. “And memoirs are a great way of learning about someone’s story. We all need a little bit more compassion and empathy for others.”

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of a book of inspiring short stories about nature. Photo: Caroline Beffa Photography, courtesy Nevada Humanities

In World of Wonders, In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, Aimee Nezhukumatathil weaves poetic short stories from her life with the plants and animals that have inspired her along the way. Miracle County by Kendra Atleework is a gritty personal account of loss and belonging in the Sierras. It’s filled with historical and environmental history, told through a deeply personal lens.

“Aimee’s is very accessible,” Kuo said. “If you’re intimidated, you can break it down easily. Kendra’s—we did focus on the closeness to Nevada. It’s a counterbalance to Aimee’s book. You learn more about drought, wildfire, the more serious side of thinking about the earth. We wanted people to think about where they’re living and this space around it.”

People from across the state are invited to workshops on a swatch of topics, some you’d expect, like one on watercolors, and some that are less conventional, like classes on listening practices in nature and solar dyeing using nearby plants. There is also a Zoom discussion with both authors on Earth Day.

Nevada Reads events include Meet the Authors, April 22, 2-4 p.m. on Zoom and several hands-on art workshops, beginning with UNR Art Professor Eunkang Koh’s “Wonders of Nature: Exploring the Beauty of Bird Feathers Using Gouache and Pen” on April 21, 4-5 p.m.

More art workshops by Candace Garlock, Sidne Teske, Sarah Lillegard, and others here. More info on Nevada Humanities website.