A Voyageur’s Reading List

When you can’t actually get away from work or school to travel and explore, we satisfy our wanderlust with the adventures of others. Here are a handful of the books I’ve been reading.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I stumbled upon this book while cleaning out the out tripping shed at the camp I worked at. I’d never heard anything about it or the Pacific Crest Trail, but I liked the book cover so I started reading and really enjoyed it. If you don’t know anything about camping, it will give you some confidence that it’s never too late to fall in love with hiking. If you do know camping, you’ll appreciate Cheryl’s descriptions of pain and perseverance on the trail (though I did cringe at how unprepared she was going into the trip). It’s also not just a trip description, but a story about life’s troubles and how four months of hiking can help you work through them. It’s an easy read and I’d definitely recommend.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This story is truly a classic, but if you’ve only seen the movie you aren’t getting the whole story. Jon writes of Chris McCandless and his hitchhiking journey to Alaska, but supplements it with some of his own experiences. He draws a parallel between the reckless decisions both he and Chris made, and how luck worked out in one person’s favour, but not the other.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Funny and witty, Bill Bryson recounts his walk along the Appalachian trail. This book is a bit different than other outdoorsy books in that Bill Bryson isn’t exactly you’re definition of an adventurer-explorer-dare-devil. He’s relatable; it’s an enjoyable story about how to stop routine and just get out into whatever wilderness you have.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer writes great adventure novels, and this one is no exception. Jon somehow convinces Outside Magazine to send him on a Mount Everest trip in order to study the mountain’s commercialization and its climbers. This trip would become known as the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, with 8 fatalities in a single day. This book is his personal account of the tragedy.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman

Blair Braverman is a tough girl in love with the North. She has lived in Norway and Alaska, working with sled dogs and guiding on glaciers. The story is exciting in nature, but also confronts the fears of living in extreme environments. Also Blair is a total badass and it’s an entertaining read. I especially like it because I went to work in the Arctic at about her age (she was much more extreme than I was though) so I can relate to the ways in which one can become obsessed with the North.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

This isn’t your typical adventure book, but needs some recognition. A work of fiction, Atwood tells the story of a woman returning to her home in northern Quebec to find her father. This novel combines suspense and mystery with the beauty of Quebec wilderness and a desire to get away from the world. What makes it so incredible though, is the chilling ending you never would have predicted.

Alone Against the North by Adam Shoalts

This one is on my reading list for my canoe trip(s) this summer. Adam Shoalts sets out the explore an unnamed river in the Hudson Bay Lowlands (where I’ll be canoeing this summer) that has no record of ever being paddled. Without a map, anything can lie beyond the river bend (say, a 20 ft. waterfall) and I can only imagine the courage it takes to paddle not knowing what you’re in for.

Honourable mention: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another fiction by Margaret Atwood, this book has nothing to do with canoeing, camping or climbing; it is, however, my favourite book. The protagonist is perhaps the last human on Earth. While trying to cope with his new life in isolation, he recounts the role he played in the events that caused a contagion to be spread across the globe. This novel incorporates two major themes: humanity’s recklessness with the fragile Earth and what happens when scientists try to play god. It also touches on tragic love, true friendship, poverty and social injustice. Oh and this is just the first in a trilogy – there is so much more to the story.

Books on my to-read list:

  1. Let My People Go Surfing – Yvon Chouinard
  2. Arctic Dreams – Barry Lopez
  3. The Wild Inside – Christine Carbo
  4. The Mountains of My Life – Walter Bonatti
  5. Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold
  6. Travels with Myself and Another – Martha Gellhorn

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