Yes, I know it’s nearly time, but in case you’re a last-minute shopper, here are three reads I highly recommend for the adventurous soul in your life.
In 1963, Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Mount Everest. His son Leif, now a guide, writer and alpinist in his own right, has written a funny, touching and, in many parts, profound book. In addition to showing what it was like to grow up as the son of a world-famous father, Whittaker shows how he overcame his own obstacles – including a botched back surgery that left him with one leg that wouldn’t move – to make his own Everest ascent. But the best bits of My Old Man and the Mountain are the evocative descriptions of nature, such as, “The river is the color of pavement. We hike past rhododendrons and hemlock and chartreuse moss as thick as a down comforter. A black slug paints a trail of slime along a nurse log. An ivory flower on the edge of the trail shudders as Joss walks by.” This book might not send you to Nepal, but it will make you want to get out into the wilderness and immerse yourself like Whittaker does.
Garrett McNamara gets a lot of crap. Some people say he takes unnecessary risks, others slam his use of high-tech powered boards, while naysayers quibble about the “real” size of the faces he surfs at Nazare. But no matter what you think you know about him, McNamara has one hell of a story to tell. All too many books have throwaway titles tagged on seemingly for the sake of it, but Hound of the Sea’s is that rare one that’s actually descriptive: Wild Man, Wild Waves, Wild Wisdom. We get an insider’s view of McNamara’s tempestuous childhood (think hippies and cults), a weed-smoking foray into pro surfing and the revelatory experience of watching Laird’s early tow-in experiments. The relentlessly-paced narrative takes us from California to Hawaii to Portugal, where McNamara puts a sleepy village on the global big wave surfing map and astounds the locals by going out in swells that keep fishermen on shore and tourists safe on the cliffs above the towering waves.
Cheryl Strayed’s Wild gets all the press, but Brendan Leonard’s Sixty Meters to Anywhere is every bit as compelling and inspiring. Drinking-related debauchery landed Leonard in jail at age 23 and he recognized that he needed a new start. This book tells the tale of how he found himself and a different life in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. Leonard doesn’t have Whittaker’s preternatural powers of description, but the raw and candid emotion he conveys pull you in from the first page. Look deeply enough in the simplicity of his prose, and you’ll find some profound wisdom, such as “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This is a book that you’ll struggle to hold onto because you’ll be compelled to share Leonard’s story.