Volumes with a view
    Photo by Carly Art on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

    Every reader has a guilty pleasure genre: crime, romance, sci-fi, chick lit. My literary dessert is something else entirely, and it doesn’t involve Fifty Shades of Gray. Brace yourself, here’s my confession: I’M ADDICTED TO BOOKS ABOUT PEOPLE CLIMBING MOUNTAINS. Or kayaking rivers. Or skiing powder. Or living by themselves in wooded cabins. I suppose there could be worse things…I could own every book by Danielle Steele. Anyway, it’s feeling rather flat and dreary in old Evanston this month, so cold that you can barely walk outside let alone play around in the great outdoors. Here I share with you my favorite outdoor books of all time. In these books you, dear reader, can escape to a more mountainous world.

    Dersu the Trapper , V.K. Arseniev

    Could you survive inside the taiga, the vast and desolate Siberian forest? We couldn’t either. But Russian explorer Vladimir Arseniev does thanks to a solitary aboriginal hunter named Dersu. Arseniev, who made 12 major scientific expeditions between 1902 and 1930, writes a long but gripping tale of the adventures he, Dersu, and his team have in the bleak but beautiful Siberian forests. Don’t miss the underrated 1961 film adaptation, Dersu Uzala, which has some of most powerful nature vs. man scenes of all time.

    Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

    “A man on foot, on horseback, or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” Edward Abbey, man. Here he was talking about saving our nation’s national parks. Desert Solitaire chronicles Abbey’s experience as a park ranger in Arches National Monument in southeast Utah, and ranges from funny stories about meeting locals to more non-fiction-y chapters about solutions to solve national park problems. After visiting Yellowstone last summer and being horrified by the overcrowding and pollution of cars and other motorized vehicles, I can confidently say this: It’s a damn shame no one listened to him.

    Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2, Jennifer Jordan

    A downside to being an outdoor lit addict is this: Women are frequently absent from all the adventure. That’s definitely not the case in Savage Summit. Author Jennifer Jordan brilliantly writes about the five women who have managed to summit the harrowing mountain. It’s Into Thin Air level enthralling, but all about women.

    The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, Wendell Berry

    “Our unprecedented prosperity, rather than being founded in a convivial wholeness with the earth and with others, is predicated on the systematic exhaustion or destruction of life’s sources.” Preach, Wendell, preach. Wendell Berry, in my opinion, is the voice and answer to our environmental—and as Wendell would argue, moral—crisis. In our technology-infested world, Berry argues for a more agrarian, more peaceful and honest existence. His fiction is also excellent.

    Instant Karma: The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum, Wayne Sheldrake

    Want an epic powder day but stuck in zero altitude Evanston? Take some turns with Northwestern graduate Wayne Sheldrake in his joy of a book, Instant Karma. Sheldrake is a NUT. He breaks his bones (his leg three times and his pelvis once), falls in love and climbs different mountains, but the thread that pulses throughout every page of this book is his deep love and passion for skiing. And of course, since he’s a ski bum, his voice is “super chill” and frequently funny.

    Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

    “Contrary to the myth, the West was not made entirely by pioneers who had thrown everything away but an ax and a gun.” Okay, so maybe this is cheating since Angle of Repose is one my favorite books of all time, but I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t deserving. Stegner’s saga about an aging man researching his grandmother Susan’s quest to go West is a work of art: perceptive, marvelously written and containing irreplaceable descriptions of the old West.

    More to check out…The Solace of Open Spaces by Greta Ehrlich, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, The River Why by David James, Duncan Breaking Trail by Arlene Blum, Coming into the Country by John McPhee, In Search of Powder by Jeremy Evans, Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx, A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle, Deliverance by James, Dickey Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey Cowboys are my Weakness by Pam Houston


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