A Reading List for Adventurous Souls

In 2017, Swift Industries produced a letterpress, hand-bound book of essays, activities, and art to celebrate their annual summer solstice camping trip. I was asked to contribute a reading list – I most happily agreed!  Here is the full text:

Letterpress printing of A Reading List for Adventurous Souls

Ten titles to inspire an adventure, or to take on your next trip.

The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing – Thomas McGuane

Brimming with detailed descriptions of landscape and picture perfect sentences, McGuane’s collection of fishing stories is a hard book to put down. If moving more slowly through a place allows you to see it with more detail, a cyclist sees more than a driver, a wayfarer more than a cyclist, but an angler’s pace would be the most detailed of all.

Saints in Their Ox-Hide Boat – Brendan Galvin

This book-length poem tells the story of St. Brendan the Navigator, who sets sail from Ireland in the 6th century in a currach (a leather-clad boat), along with a few bickering Irish monks, on a spiritual journey into the unknown reaches of the icy North Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard to say where the monks went on their watery pilgrimage. Some think they may have reached North America, but they are also reputed to have mistaken a whale for an island. 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan

Finnegan’s memoir traces a lifetime of surfing, a passion he sometimes tries to escape for “more important” pursuits. But the waves call him back again and again over the years. This book is a good one for those of us who might doubt the value of our adventures. A reminder that our outdoor passions ultimately form a thread that ties together the unpredictable events, places and people in our lives.

Close to the Wind – Pete Goss

The Vendée Globe is a solo sailboat race around the world – starting in France, passing the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the Southern Ocean south of Australia, rounding Cape Horn, and then going back up the Atlantic to France. Each finish is an impressive achievement, but in the 1996 race, skipper Pete Goss turned around and sailed back 160 miles against a massive storm in the Southern Ocean to rescue a competitor whose boat was sinking. This is the story of that adventure, in his own words.

Northwest Trees – Stephen F. Arno and Ramona P. Hammerly

Illustrated entirely in ink sketches, this is a great guide to the trees of the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Canada). An accessible guide to identification, this book also describes each tree’s ecology and role in human history. A great way to learn the trees of the region and an inspiration to keep a sketchbook on your travels.

Need For The Bike – Paul Fournel

Fournel’s Need for the Bike is the only book about cycling that I would recommend to someone who doesn’t ride. He captures the emotion and beauty of cycling perfectly, without getting bogged down in technical details.

Danger on Peaks – Gary Snyder

Any of Snyder’s poetry would be well chosen to weigh down your backpack or panniers. He writes about the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra Nevadas, and Japan, drawing on his long experience in those regions. Danger on Peaks begins with Snyder’s first ascent of Mount St Helens in 1945 and sticks mainly to the mountains and forests of the West Coast.

Bad Land: An American Romance – Jonathan Raban

Raban travels from his home in Seattle to southeastern Montana, where he writes about homesteads and the little towns that popped up along the railroads at the turn of the 20th century. Drought, floods and hail challenged the settlers and eventually drove many away. It’s a tough history and one has to admire those who managed to stay. I particularly love his writing about Evelyn Cameron’s photography in the compositionally challenging prairie: “country that defeated the best efforts of the eye to get it in sharp focus.” Having always lived in places with “classic vistas,” this book helped me to appreciate the beauty of places with long horizons.

Mink River – Brian Doyle

This novel, which weaves together the stories of the residents of a fictional Oregon coast town, inspired the conversation that became this reading list. One evening, after a ride, Martina was describing her new favorite book and, as I realized it was Mink River, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Since first reading it, I have given away three copies of this book. Doyle is a wonderful storyteller and his quirky characters inhabit a world that’s almost like the real one, but a little more magical.

Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

As I was compiling this list, I started reading this book on the recommendation of a friend, herself an adventurous soul. I was immediately taken with Kingsolver’s vivid and detailed Appalachian Mountain setting and stayed up reading well into the night. Starting a new book is like starting a new adventure: it’s exciting to see what comes next!


And, just for fun, here are some insights into the production of this delightful little book: