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Your favourite fiction books with simple living characters/themes?

Posted by on Wednesday 12 October 2011 in meta | 19 comments

I’m having a bit of a book week here on The Really Good Life – and on Recycle This too.

Following on from yesterday’s favourite non-fiction simple living books, I thought I’d do a run down of my favourite fiction books with simple living themes – either characters who live simple lives, or who grow or make or cook real food — but I can’t think of many. So instead, I’ll tell you the few I like and then I’m going to beg, on my knees beg, for your suggestions!

(I asked this question on UK Veg Gardeners nearly a year ago and most people suggested non-fiction-with-a-narrative books that are meant to be read curled up in an armchair in winter rather than a reference text — I do like those too but in this case, I’d prefer out and out fiction suggestions if possible.)

Ok, so here are my few:

  • Drop City by TC Boyle – this one certainly won’t be for everyone as it’s half about hippies, with their free love & LSD, but the other half is about life in the Alaskan bush and it’s fascinating. I now have a collection of non-fiction books about life in Alaska to read whenever I finish Drop City because I don’t want to leave that world.
  • Giants in the Earth by Ole Edvart Rolvaag – I was hesitant to include this one because I didn’t love-love-love it but it was very interesting – the experiences of some Norwegian settlers “going West” in the 1870s and their subsequent hard life as homesteaders. Apparently it’s core reading on many high school or college syllabuses in the US but it’s pretty much unheard of in the UK.
  • Various post-apocalyptic speculative fiction – my guilty genre fiction pleasure — you can keep your vampires and your spaceships, I like reading about our world coming to an end ;) It might seem odd to include it on this but when humanity is all but destroyed and there is no one to delivery take-out pizza or make new ipods, people quickly fall back to simple-style living. Even if the books don’t go into lots of explicit detail about it, it’s there – and I think it’s the bit that really fascinates me, and gets my cogs working in a “what if I was in that situation?” way. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham is one of my favourite books full stop and for this sort of thing – slowly rebuilding a farm for the group’s survival, and also a lot of discussion about how society should be rebuilt. The third part of Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes deals with global warming-like flooding. John Christopher’s The Death of Grass is mostly about a journey but one happening because of the … death of grass (so no wheat etc or grazing land for animals) – it makes me want to run out and grow potatoes!

…And that’s it, that’s all I can muster — so please, please, please have you got any suggestions I can add to my to-read pile? This winter might be another long, cold one so I need plenty of fireside entertainment :)


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Jo

    Susan Pfeffer – Life as we Knew it
    and the next two books in the series

  2. Hazel

    Hmm, tricky…
    I don’t know about out and out fiction. Most of the (non-reference type non-fiction) books I read for inspiration are (auto)biographies:
    Better off by Eric Brende
    Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’ve never read these books, give them a try. I saw the Saturday morning TV programme occasionally as a child, but it didn’t really appeal. I’ve read them in the last couple of years, initially to read to my children, but I actually enjoyed them just for themselves and would read them again. My children’s faces when she describes Christmas in the cabin were a picture and we’ve spent many happy hours putting a glass of popcorn into a glass of milk like her husband did as a boy!
    My children are at the right age to read Enid Blyton at the moment, and there’s a lot of simple living in her books. One of my favourites that my son has been reading is The Secret Island, where four children runaway from their wicked aunt and uncle and live off the land until their parents rescue them. I’m not suggesting you put it on your reading list, but it’s interesting that that appealed to me even then!

    Will try to think of some more (sensible) suggestions!

  3. Sooz

    The first book I thought of was The Secret Island by Enid Blyton too, I read and re-read it dozens of times as a child and imagined making my own weaved willow home, sleeping on heather and growing my own food.
    I also enjoy post-apocalptic fiction, I can recommend Margaret Atwood, especially Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood (and The Handmaids Tale too) and The Chrysalids by John Wyndham…Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is good too, it’s about a woman in america who ‘time travels’ to an alternate, utopic world…or Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, about an island populated only by women and the way they live. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is very good too :)

  4. bookstorebabe

    My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. A children’s novel I was always fond of. I used to want to run away and learn how to live off the land and train my own falcon, too! The author and her family are all naturalists/outdoorspeople, so she’s knowledgeable about the subject.
    Sigh, I know I’ve read fiction along the lines you’re looking for, but my mind is a blank at the moment.

  5. Maria

    The Witch of Hebron – by Howard Kunstler. Set in the US. A world post-oil, it falls into the post-apocalyptic niche, and is a lovely read to boot. I finished it and started re-reading it shortly afterwards! very lyrical. I heard of it over at Cold Antler Farm blog.

    Not quite on the same post-apocalyptic scale, but How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff) is set in the UK, when an un-named terrorist/war event means normal life (with electricity and oil and all that comes with those) is interrupted. It is a lovely, lovely read. Goes way beyond it’s ‘teen fiction’ label – either that or I’m a 28-year old teenager.

    PS – thank you for listing your favourite post-apocalyptic fiction – I will go forth and investigate! (have already read Day of the Triffids but the rest are new to me).

  6. 5olly

    do you use ReadItSwapIt.co.uk ? you should you know.

  7. D

    children’s books I liked: the Borrowers and the first box car children book. I love the creative ideas of the borrowers, and I think it helps me reuse stuff, even though I am a bit large to use bottle caps as bowls.

    post apocalypse: Alas Babylon. covers house people survive in the immediate aftermath of nuclear war in a small town.

  8. Su

    I particularly like the Lillian Beckwith books, set on Skye in the 1950’s, although they are not true fiction, being semi-autobiographical.

  9. Poppy

    What a great idea for a post and I think I shall be (trying) to read some of these books too; I especially like the sound of The Death of Grass and How I Live Now.

    I use to love the Borrowers too. I also love Heidi, I know it is a childrens story really but I use to love reading (or listening as I think i had it as an audio book) to tales of sleeping in the sweet smelling hay loft and her trips up the mountains with the goat herd. We even use to have ‘Heidi suppers’ of cheese melted on bread just like in the story

  10. Poppy

    A favoutrite book of mine at the moment that also sort of fits but isn’t fiction is Living the Good Life by Linda Cockburn. It is mostly a diary/blog of a family who give up spending money for 6 months and how they cope. It inspires me so much and really makes me want to get out and do things

  11. louisa

    Thanks for all your suggestions, guys! Here’s a list of all the suggestions so far – I’m going to work my way through it via the library and Abebooks/Amazon marketplace:

    • Life as we Knew it by Susan Pfeffer
    • Better off by Eric Brende
    • Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    • The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
    • Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
    • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham [already one of my favourite books]
    • Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
    • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
    • The Witch of Hebron by Howard Kunstler
    • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
    • The Borrowers by Mary Norton
    • Alas Babylon by Pat Frank
    • Lillian Beckwith’s Skye books
    • Heidi by Johanna Spyri [already got]
    • Living the Good Life by Linda Cockburn

    I’m interested by how many of these are supposed aimed at children/young readers — anyone got any theories why? In a similar vein, my favourite book-on-tape when I was a kid was Swiss Family Robinson, because of the simple living/survival aspect — they’re really creative, I just wish the book wasn’t quite so silly (monkeys, lions, kangaroos and penguins all living on the same tropical island!).

  12. Clare

    Brendan Chase by BB.

    And I second (third, fourth) Laura Ingalls Wilder and My Side of the Mountain.

    • louisa

      Brendan Chase was a bit difficult to google but I’ve found it now and will add it to my list :)

      I think I’m definitely going to have to prioritise the Little House books :)

  13. Hazel

    Nice to meet another Secret Island fan! I did read and re-read it as a child. And I may have borrowed it from DS’ book shelf since then…
    I think maybe the small scale and (usually) lack of adults in the books make them appealing to children.
    I think children are also pretty logical, and black and white(“If cars are bad for the world why do we still have them?” is a pretty typical question on the environment) and self sufficiency is logical- if you catch a rabbit, you get to eat. If the garden doesn’t grow, there is less food. Maybe?

    Another sort-of-biography I’d forgotten is ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family move from Arizona to Virginia and eat locally (100 mile radius, I think) for a year. I know your list is pretty long, but it may be a long winter and it’s not hard reading (I like Kingsolvers writing style). I enjoyed the library book so much I bought myself a copy!

    • louisa

      Yeah, those are possible ideas – or expanding from the small scale thing, maybe it’s the “family friendly” aspect – no hoodies, no drugs, truly bad kids etc.

      ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ was recommended on VegGrowers too so I’ll add it to the list as well — it may indeed to a long winter. Just hope I can still get to the library ;)

  14. Shoestring

    I read this post and the following comments roaring ARGH! in a delighted, incoherent, mad woman sort of way! Love it! I started writing a very similar post last year but never managed to get a beefy enough list together. Little Women was definitely at the top and I Capture The Castle was on it too. I also loved LOVED The Secret Island. Am going to be on Amazon within the hour, blowing all of my nectar points on some of the books mentioned here :). PS I have also developed something of a penchant for the whole post apocolyptic thing but am a proper newbie to it all. Recommendations welcome! PPS Have you read The Hunger Games? The film is out next year. PPPS And, yes, most of these books are for kids/teenagers. Weird.

    • louisa

      I ummed and aahed about whether to include I Capture The Castle on my list – because the simple living stuff, even a lot about how they cope on so little money, is glossed over. It is one of my favourite books though – a curled up in front of the fire, under a blanket, covered in animals book :)

  15. april

    All the Jean M Auel books about Ayla, the Cro-Magnon girl brought up by Neanderthals in Ice-Age Europe. She is forever digging up roots with her digging stick, and weaving handy baskets out of willow twigs. Not to mention cooking the ptarmigan, stuffed with its own eggs. The reasearch is amazing, and covers many aspects of pre-historical life.

  16. Smith

    For post-apocalyptic simple living, see “Alas Babylon” by Pat Frank. Great book. Cheers.

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