If, like me, you don't read as much as you might like to, you probably want to get the most out it. so here are three books you absolutely must make time to read!
With less time on my hands as well as the proliferation and accompanying distraction of other media, such as podcasts, I certainly do not read as much as I used to but my love for the written word, and specifically the printed word, is undimmed. My modest library is still a sort of refuge for me in moments of stress.
Right, enough preamble! Of the books I have read in recent months below are three that I have particularly enjoyed. I think what unifies them all is that they have in some way inspired me, to write, to go outside or to persevere.
Between the Sunset and the Sea by Simon Ingram
When I read Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane, I don’t mind telling you I cursed the author. Cursed him for stealing my emotions, for reaching inside me and brazenly and eloquently plagiarising my own un-expressed thoughts and feelings.
Between the Sunset and the Sea is another of those books that feels its way into the fabric of a mountain lover and often expresses what we feel so much better than we can. I love this book.
Perhaps it is because the emotions I feel in the mountains and wilderness can be so raw, deepfelt, and often inexplicable, but when an eloquent personal account comes along it feels as if it was penned for me. Wisely the author did not set out to tramp up the best known hills in perfect weather but instead:
"to climb as many as I could at the frayed ends of the day, the time when mountains lose the little civility they tolerate during the daylight and return to the wild".
This joyous uncouthness of our wild places will be well known to anyone whose enjoyment of mountains stretches beyond a sunny bank holiday walk. In seeking out and (secretly?) relishing the bad weather Simon Ingram certainly adds an extra frisson of excitement to his walks and climbs.
In truth this book is much more than a personal journey up sixteen British mountains. It is as much a history that illustrates humankind’s evolving relationship with mountains; often spiritual, sometimes obsessive, and occasionally bizarre. It does all this without the machismo one frequently encounters in tales of mountaineering derring-do. And in that respect it is closer to most people's experience of walking in the mountains. Occasionally it feels as if the author amplifies his accounts, in true romantic style, but it is a recognisable trait in all of us aspirant adventurers, who are yet to experience life-threatening extremes. It means the adventures in it, from the terrifying (Ben Macdui) to the scientific (Schiehallion) are in every way as accessible as Britain's mountains. Something one can easily forget when hunched over a desk, dreaming of distant and glamorous ranges.
In a world where we like our art to have value, I would also point out that this book is packed with it. It is exceptionally well-researched and chock-full of interesting histories. I don’t know if writers like to hear this, but it's the kind of book that you could dip in and out of as the mood takes you. No, perhaps I shouldn’t say that! Do as I did; read it all, then keep it near your bedside, because you will want to reread chapters from time to time, probably as you plan your sunny bank holiday weekend... secretly hoping to encounter a little grimy weather to make it feel all the more real.
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Dare to Do by Sarah Outen
I saw Sarah Outen speak at the Kendal Mountain Festival and very much enjoyed her obvious desire to infect the audience with her enthusiasm for adventure. There is something to applaud in people who actively try to inspire others. I know “inspiration” has become a bit of a buzz word and we may all get heartily sick of being told who can or cannot inspire us to do greater things, but as I grow older I actually grow less cynical about these things, so anyone who spends time wanting to make other people’s lives better is a champion in my book. Well done Sarah!
Dare To Do is a quick read. It took me a few days, in contrast to Sarah's round the world journey itself which spanned 4.5 years and some 25,000 miles. It is intelligently written and the prose just, sort of, flows. Like the authors own human-powered endeavours, by bicycle, kayak and rowing boat the story moves smoothly along, there is no clunking of gears or any awkward drawn out episodes.
Of course it must be a distillation of a trip so huge that it could many volumes. But, irrespective of the length of each leg of the journey, Sarah cleverly gives the the right weight to the most interesting aspects and sections. There is never a dull moment, something that surely cannot have been true of some frustrating days out at sea.
The author doesn't shirk from documenting her own personal highs and lows but, like many a great travel book, it is as much about the people she meets; surprise encounters and unexpected relationships, like Goa, the young Chinese man who jumped on a bike and accompanied her for 3,000 miles, seemingly on a whim.
I think Dare To Do also struck a chord with me because I have set out blindly on a journey of discovery - albeit of a slightly different nature and probably less taxing. In Sarah’s words:
"But setting out, all I knew is all we ever know – that I knew nothing about how the story would unfold.”
2017 is a year I have not planned. Yes I have an end-goal but when I started I was not really sure how I would get there. This book has helped keep me plodding on! Oh and it s a rollocking good adventure too.
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Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
Yvon Chouinard’s now legendary tale of an accidental businessman who went from a dirtbag looking to make his own gear to owning Patagonia, one of the most recognisable and respected outdoor brands in the world.
The story of his rise is as good as any climb, but what stands out is the undying philosophy of a someone who genuinely feels there is a better way to work. I have had first hand experience of trying to lead and change corporate culture and it is hard. In fact I am not ashamed to say I failed. So to read of the success of a man who has built big business around a culture of responsibility, well-being, enjoyment and generally doing good is absolutely inspirational (there I said it again).
I am also a little jealous of the relentless drive that the likes of Chouinard must possess.
Irrespective of what the stereotypical image of a scruffy climber / surfer may be. To have a vision and to deliver on it, not once but almost exponentially in terms of business and ethos is seriously impressive.
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