Wednesday, June 6, 2012

All Summer in a Day: An Outdoors and Ultrarunning-Inspired Reading List

With the passing of the prolific Ray Bradbury coinciding with the transit of Venus across the sun, it's another reminder to pick up some books for some summer reading.

I've had this disorganized list of suggested reading for awhile. I'll post it now, and revisit with short summaries and author information. Roughly, this list corresponds to themes which I think are of common interest to ultramarathon running and training. It is mostly non-fiction, is more western-U.S. biased, and is very incomplete -- I've limited it only to books I've actually read (or listened). There are gaping holes, in fact, with great western writers such as Stegner, Harrison, Proulx, and Mclean, whose essays I've read but not their more substantial works. This list isn't prioritized, and while all of these books were sufficiently enjoyable, some (depending on the subject) really stand out as memorable. Lastly, this is far from a prescribed reading list, because of the arbitrary categorical limitations. Strictly running and reading only about running makes us even more dull in social settings -- by all means, let's not forget classic literature!

Please let me know your suggestions along these lines, and if you loved/hated any of these in particular. Happy summer reading!

Short Stories (Print/Download and Read Outside)

Africa (The Continent, not the country or Darcy)Into Africa (Dugard) -- Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Alaska and Alaskan MountainsInto the Wild (Krakauer)
The Last of His Kind -- Bradford Washburn biography (one of several), with some great pics in the hardcover version. Sadly, I still haven't made it to the Mountaineering museum in Golden!

Forever on the Mountain -- Dissecting a famous Denali tragedy.
The Call of the Wild -- Classic to be read by the fire.
The Cruelest Miles -- Dogsled team racing to deliver diphtheria vaccine.

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush (Blum) -- In an interesting tale of the last major North American gold rush, Blum weaves together the stories of 3 men whose paths cross in significant ways.  The book is heavily-sourced on biographical information, but takes artistic liberties to move the story in a realistic way.  This makes it more enjoyable, but it remains informative regarding the factual aspects of mining history and culture, the founding of boomtowns and the characters that comprised them.  As a source of Colorado pride and interest, we get to trace the dealings of legendary gangster "Soapy" Smith from Denver to Creede and eventually the Alaskan frontier.

Central/South American Adventure
River of Doubt -- TR is my favourite President; Candido Rondon is a hero as well.
The Old Patagonian Express (Theroux) -- An infamously crusty and cynical traveler, Theroux still nails some spot-on social insights as he passes through America -- all of it -- on trains.

Everest and Himalayas
Into Thin Air (Krakauer) -- Everest Tragedy.
The Climb (Boukreev) -- Ibid, but worth reading both of these.

14ers (Roach) -- Guidebook, but smattering of important and humorous prose and references.
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (Bird) -- Isabella Bird is tough-as-nails.
Centennial (Michener) -- Required Colorado reading. More meaningful than a "Native" bumper sticker.

Other Climbing Accidents / Critical Analysis
Touching the Void (Simpson) -- Raw and honest tale of survival.
Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow -- A different perspective from the climbing widows' perspective.
14er Disasters -- Not comprehensive, but brings out important lessons on familiar mountains.
The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier (Davidson, Vaughan) -- Another crevasse escape story, this time on Mt. Rainier. Sometimes uneven and cliched, but also raw and honest. Has great references to local Colorado (training) climbs as well.

10th Mountain Division
The Last Ridge -- Riva Ridge, soldiers on skis, Camp Hale, Colorado ski history and WWII intertwined.

In Search of Captain Zero -- Somehow, impossibly, almost better than the movie "Point Break" ...and almost true.
Crazy for the Storm -- A surfing and ski memoir of a boy's father and a troubled childhood. Quite reflective and honest, for as young as he was during much of it.

Western and Mormon Migration
Roughing It -- Mark Twain's semi-autobiography of Western living. Classic, informative, hilariously insightful.
Undaunted Courage -- Lewis and Clark.

Under the Banner of Heaven -- A specific criticism of a very small Fundamentalist LDS group, although readers will draw their own conclusion as to whether to extend some criticisms to broader religious critique.
Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy -- Critical, via use of original source documents, but also with a great deal of respect and admiration.

SAR and Survival
Deep Survival - Physiology and psychology of survival
Mountain Rescue Doctor: Wilderness Medicine in the Extremes of Nature -- Not fully edited in the version I read, but still great SAR stories from the Mt. Hood region.
Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Stranded: I've Come from a Plane... -- Way more than just the cannibalism aspect: survival in general against tough odds, and a vivid portrayal of the long walk out through the Andes.

A Walk in the Woods -- Bryson's humourous bumbling on the Appalachian Trail.
Wild -- Lone, "lost" female on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Earthly and Spiritual Purpose
Mountains of the Mind -- Deeper thinking in and about the mountains.
Mountains Beyond Mountains -- Dr. Paul Farmer is my favourite Dr. and darn near favourite person that I haven't met.
Snow Leopard -- Seeking in the Himalayas.

Born to Run -- Leadville Trail 100, Tarahumara, barefoot running -- a great read about long-distance running.
Ultramarathon Man -- Not embarrassed to say that Dean Karnazes got me interested in the possibility of even thinking about long distances. Ultramarathons couldn't be an insular clique of weirdos forever....could it? Hey, he wrote down his stories and was an engaging and encouraging person to meet.
(contrast to Pam Reed's "The Extra Mile," which does not have the same fun and inspiration that Dean has. Reed may be interesting to those interested in disordered eating and the female athlete triad, but I can't shake a sense of obsessiveness continuing to come through).

Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously -- An interesting look into x-country ski racing and a year of training. Taken as a whole with other parts of McKibben's writing, there are aspects of hypocrisy that knock him down, in my mind, as an unimpeachable didact. But, still a well-written story with unfortunate tragedy with his father.

Eat and Run (Jurek): Scott Jurek's memoir of a running, cooking, and eating career (still in progress). With great candor and honesty, Scott presents details of his rise into ultramarathon running and some great adventures, while noting some honest flaws in himself and the process. I appreciated Scott's nature as a "seeker" as he clearly explores different ideas and thoughts, and he links together his own thoughts to the larger whole with occasional mentions of books and even research studies. The vegan recipes and food ideas (I believe, as does he, the idea of food exploration is a better process than rote following of recipe) are great, although the links between running and food are somewhat forced at times. The final chapters leave us more with melancholic musings than any sort of closure; then again, that's closer to the honest truth.
Ultramarathon readers should take these lessons to heart and examine not just the "runner's high" and thrill of victory, but also some of the heavy costs in the Religion of Ultrarunning.

Running with the Buffaloes -- CU Buff x-country, Wetmore and Goucher: a Colorado classic.
The Perfect Mile -- (Audio) 3 legitimate challengers to the "impossible" 4:00 mile come together in history.
Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America's Greatest Marathon - Bounces back-and-forth between the classic 1982 Boston Marathon duel, and the subsequent paths of Salazar and Beardsley, which both seemed to take a turn for the worse after this career peak. Between both stories, we see examples of both addiction and depression which seem to be treated (if not masked) by intense running.

Running and Being (Sheehan) -- Pre-eminent running physician, thinker, and Runner's World icon.
Psychology and Running (Sachs) -- I found a dusty copy of this at the CSU library, and found it to be an accessible and interesting collection roughly around the "runner's high"
(Bern Heindrich's writing) -- Brilliant thinker, but I've had a hard time with his writing.

WWII Survival
Lost in Shangri-La -- A plane crash and (near) first-contact in a remote area of New Guinea.
Unbroken -- Olympic running and a WWII tale of escape and survival. Amazing.

Forests and Forest Service
The Last Season -- Disappearance of a park ranger, bringing out a bit of the dark and lonely side of the profession.
Nature Noir -- A darker look into what goes on in our parks and forests.
The Wild Trees -- Hidden in plain sight: how a radical group of scientists and enthusiasts discovered, explored, and protected the tallest trees in the country. And sometimes made love in the canopy.

Novels / Novellas
The Long Walk (King) -- Epitome of ultra. 4 miles per hour, or're killed.
The Stand (King) -- After Armageddon, the Bad Guys live in Las Vegas, and the Good Guys live in Boulder. I could totally see that! Best read as a teenager or young adult probably, but a great story. You wouldn't believe how exciting it was for me and some geeky friends when that came out as a week-long miniseries/movie in the 90s...
The Running Man (King) -- King plus Schwarzenegger = Awesome as a movie, but also a quick read as a book.
The Road (McCarthy) -- I didn't love it and wasn't as satisfied by the ending, but it's mostly about mood and atmosphere (book and movie).

Sand County Almanac (Leopold) -- Wisconsin Prairie
The Singing Wilderness (Olsen) -- Minnesota North Shore.
Encounters with the Archdruid -- Western ecology
"[It's] the sort of place that gave mining a bad name. This has been happening in the West for the past hundred years, but it doesn’t have to happen. Poor housekeeping is poor housekeeping wherever you find it. I don’t care if it’s a mine or a kitchen. Traditionally, when mining companies finished in a place they just walked off. Responsible groups are not going to do that anymore."
This quote was made in regard to improving quality control of mining companies. Have extractive companies been sufficiently responsible since then?

The book, and quote, date from 1971.

Road Trip

Travels with Charley -- Steinbeck, as a cranky old man, travels the country with his little d0g.
On the Road
Blue Highways

Monkey Wrench Gang
Desert Solitaire

Let My People Go Surfing

Cult classics, because the cult is small and competition is thin
Once a Runner (Parker, Jr.)
Again to Carthage (Parker, Jr.)
-- Great details in the training and heat of competition -- and how cool would it be to train from a cabin in the woods for months? -- but plot is lacking outside of the running bits.


  1. I'm part way through River of Doubt. Very good so far.

    For surfing, I liked Eddie Would Go.

  2. Great suggestion, I haven't read it -- thanks!

  3. Nice list! Can't forget Once A Runner and Again to Carthage by John L. Parker. I just finished Again to Carthage (the sequel) last night. It really gets you itching to lace up and wishing you could run a 4 minute mile!

    Hope to see you back in Leadville sometime,
    Jon from the Coffeeshop

  4. Thanks, I forgot, when initially I was going to leave off fiction altogether!
    I've read them and added them tongue-in-cheek. I had a tough time with "Again to Carthage" because the Florida lobster-diving/boat scene didn't really hook me.

    1. That would do it in, I suppose. Having been an avid skin/scuba diver myself, I guess that made it all the better!

  5. I'm a slacker when it comes to reading, but that may be remedied once I go digital.

    Since it relates to diet (as well as health), I would add "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. I never dreamed a book on American dietary policy and metabolism could be interesting, but it was fascinating.

    Of course there is political/philosophical stuff, but I'll hold off on that.

    I'll second anything by Krakauer unconditionally, those books are absolutely gripping.

    "Born to Run" was a great read, and not simply because of the barefoot thesis -- which was interesting -- but because of the good story telling and because of the background on various ultra runners.

    Based on Wyatt Hornsby's review of Jurek's "Eat and Run" I'm planning on reading it also, because it too seems to be more than what it seems (which to me was only a book about diet and food).

  6. That is a good list you have going there. A few of them I have read, but many that I haven't. I'm particularly interested in reading about the 10th Mountain Division. The River of Doubt sounds interesting as well.

  7. I've been excited about Jurek's book, and finally just ordered it, since it won't be in the library anytime soon and it'll be nice to check out some of the recipes (maybe).

    Steph, welcome back! River of Doubt is definitely one of my favourites. And when we were in Vail, I tried explaining the 10th Mountain Division a little bit to Alistair, since there was a statue -- "soldiers with skis," how cool is that?

  8. Added a Jurek review. Easy, quick read, but enjoyable details if you're into "The Scene" as well as character exploration and examination.

  9. Added "The Ledge" (re: Mt. Rainier) and "The Floor of Heaven" (re: Yukon Gold Rush)