(The Great Outdoors) - The outdoorspeople and adrenaline junkies on your holiday shopping list are almost impossible to shop for, right? Not this year: Check out these adventure, travel and outdoor titles they will be sure to love, whether they prefer to do their reading beside a wild river or reclined on a cozy couch.
Some of these books are classics that deserve to be read by a new generation. Others are recent offerings likely to become classics.
Before Cheryl Strayed wrote “Wild,” about finding herself on the Pacific Crest Trail, satirical humorist Bill Bryson found America on the Appalachian Trail. The book that resulted is “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,” (1999, Broadway Books). Many narratives have been written by distance hikers. Most are earnest and self-revelatory, but as usual, the acerbic Bryson wants you to laugh, often at him, more often at yourself. He also wants you to think about the improbable, fragile existence of a hiking trail that stretches 2,100 miles across the hyper-urban American East.
Meet two engaging, real-life whitewater fanatics who decide that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” and then set out to prove it in Jo Deurbrouck’s “Anything Worth Doing,” (2012, Sundog). Unfortunately, over the course of a decade the men’s river adventures evolve from lovely to odd to tragic. With an understated compassion reminiscent of Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” Deurbrouck carries us down the West’s great rivers and into the hearts, minds and homes of that rare breed for whom security is optional but passion is not.
“The River Why,” (1983; 2002, Sierra Club Books) by David James Duncan is a classic coming-of-age novel about a boy running away from his fishing obsessed family ... in order to fish, of course. Soul-searching, steelhead-hunting, irreverent Gus Orviston has, in the two decades since this book’s original publication, become something of a cult figure for the outdoor crowd, as has Duncan himself. The 20th Anniversary edition contains an updated foreword by Duncan, reflecting on fishing, life, and his struggle to find a publisher for his debut novel so many years ago.
You’ve heard of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.” Now try “Ordinary Wolves,” by Seth Kantner (2005, Milkweed). Often compared with London’s work, Kantner’s debut novel is a gritty and moving account of a boy growing up in a family which has chosen, on principle, a subsistence life in a sod home on the Alaskan tundra. Like his main character, the author grew up in the Arctic. The book is suffused with Kantner’s intimate knowledge of both the mundane details and the broad, sweeping miracle that is life in one of the harshest climates on Earth.
Beryl Markham's “West with the Night,” (1942; 1982, North Point Press) carries us from the British-born aviator’s childhood in Africa, through her days as an African bush pilot, to her historic flight across the Atlantic in 1936. Like fellow pilot-writer Charles Lindbergh’s “The Spirit of St. Louis”, Markham’s narrative flies true. Controversy surrounds the book’s authorship, partly since several of Markham’s friends and lovers were writers, but mostly because she never again wrote with such stately grace. Whoever’s hand was on the pen, the book remains a lovely adventure memoir.
These days, Ted Kerasote is the bestselling author of books about his dogs (“Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog”, etc.) but his early offering, “Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt,” (1993, Kodansha), remains one of hunting literature’s most thoughtful books. Kerasote is at his best when he examines three hunting traditions: subsistence hunters in Greenland; wealthy trophy hunters bagging sheep in Siberia; and his own version of subsistence hunting in rural Wyoming. His conclusion is a bit predictable -- subsistence hunting is spiritually meaningful; trophy hunting is not -- but the journey to that conclusion is well worth taking.
“Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow,” (2003, St. Martin's Press) by Maria Coffey is, like Joe Simpson’s “Dark Shadows Falling,” less adventure writing than a critical look at the business of adventuring. Twenty years after her boyfriend's death on Everest, Coffey focuses on what she calls the personal costs of extreme adventure, weaving together not just the stories of climbers but also of the wives, husbands, children, and parents those climbers leave behind when they fail to return home from their beloved mountains.
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