Do you have a massive “to-be-read” pile? Have you always fancied taking on that one book that you never quite find time for? What better time to catch up on your reading than during 3 weeks of social isolation? Let’s face it, it’s a free pass to curl up in an armchair - or in the garden if the weather is kind – and lose yourself in the pages.
As part of our Armchair Adventures guide to getting the most from the next few weeks, we’ve pulled together a list of great books to keep your sense of adventure flowing. And, of course, being us – our choices all feature the outdoors.
Into Thin Air – John Krakauer
Some people love fiction, some love true-life stories. John Krakauer’s first-hand account of the deadliest ever day on Everest is the best of both.
Krakauer, a journalist and climber, accompanied Rob Hall on a climbing ‘tour’ of Everest. Everyone involved was an experienced mountaineer, but no-one was prepared for what would befall the small group as they ascend the highest place on earth. For many in the climbing community the events are well-known, but Krakauer’s writer’s eye brings a new dimension to the story. For those who know nothing, Into Thin Air is a propulsive, nail-shredding account of men and women fighting a mountain that wants to kill them.
Krakauer is the author of another modern classic of adventure writing, Into the Wild. This account of a young man and his solitary journey into the heart of the wilderness may make the perfect reading for this brief period of solitude.
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
At the other end of the spectrum, Bill Bryson puts the chuckles into adventure writing. Bryson is well-known for his travelogues around Europe, America and Great Britain by car and rail. In A Walk in the Woods he instead opts for foot-power, to hilarious effect.
Overcome by middle-aged madness, Bryson attempts the infamous Appalachian Trail. This epic route carves through over two thousand miles of the American landmass, from Georgia to Maine. Along the way they encounter the best and worst of American life, including rogue fortune-tellers, awkward hikers and Bryson’s manic partner, Katz – a man so woefully unprepared for the adventure that he attempts to fight off a curious bear with tweezer.
It may be the funniest book about the outdoors ever written.
The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece may not seem an obvious inclusion in a list of outdoor reading, but few books conjure the majesty and fascination of a long journey like this epic. The hero, Frodo, is every one of us who have looked at the horizon and wondered “what’s over there.”
The beauty of The Lord of the Rings is the sense of continually evolving scale. It begins in the cosy Shire and over a thousand pages builds an entire world, filled with people, creatures and places that, once visited, never leave the mind. Plus, Tolkien’s world is so deeply thought out that you close the cover knowing more about Middle Earth than many real places in other travelogues. Who doesn't want to visit the Misty Mountains?
Mountains of the Mind – Robert McFarlane
Robert McFarlane has made a name for himself as a chronicler of the land, a writer who can switch from scientific data to poetry in a single sentence. Mountains of the Mind is the book that made his name, and it remains a key entry in the modern adventure canon.
McFarlane is obsessed by the duality of mountains as places of both fascination and great danger. The book examines the role that mountains have played in the human imagination, including his own. He bounces seamlessly between abstract reflection, a real-world history of mountain climbing, and his own first-hand experiences. It’s a book unlike any other, one minute making you think, the next making your pulse race. This one will have you salivating to get back out there.
The Ritual – Adam Nevill
In uncertain, anxious times like these (don’t worry, it’ll be ok!) a bit of made-up horror can be just the cure for the soul. Adam Nevill’s first novel is both a realistic portrayal of mates on a hiking trip, and a truly creepy update on the deep, dark woods in all our imaginations.
The premise is simple: friends head into the Swedish wilderness for a few days of R&R following a tragic event at home. Once there though things start to go wrong quickly. Directions start to go awry, they lose their way, injuries occur and they are haunted by the feeling that something is watching from between the shady trees. And that’s before they find a shack holding some exquisitely creepy contents. This is one to read by the fire when the sun goes down!
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Few if any books can be considered more ‘classic’ adventure fiction than Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. First published in 1903, it details the struggles, heroics and tragedies of the North American ‘Gold Rush’. The unique selling point? It’s all told from the perspective of a dog.
When we meet Buck he is a pampered St Bernard, living in city comfort. Following his ‘dog-napping’ he is transported to Seattle and then the Yukon, a journey that hardens him but also brings out his true spirit. When he meets John Thornton, a tough prospector, one of the great man and dog friendships in literature is formed. The Call of the Wild is everything you want from an adventure story - bravery, thrills, tragedy and a scene with a thousand-pound sled that will bring tears to your eyes and then make you punch the air.
If you love this one, check out London’s sort-of sequel, White Fang
and his all-time classic short tale "To Build a Fire".
The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Gerrard
Apsley Cherry-Gerrard was an English explorer and a member of Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica in 1910. The Worst Journey in the World is his memoir from that tortuous three-year journey.
It is a lengthy, dense, powerful work that captures both the magnificence of the Antarctic environment, but also the fortitude of the men who struggled against it. Cherry-Gerrard spares no detail in examining how man continues to function under the worst conditions imaginable. It is a front row seat to a legendary adventure, full of Edwardian grit and an old-fashioned heroism.
Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
For those with kids stuck at home, a good story may be the perfect way to spend an afternoon, either reading with them or getting some peace. Hatchet remains a classic of children’s adventure fiction.
When thirteen year-old Brian’s plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness, he undergoes a grand transformation from terrified child to toughened survivor. As he makes his way back to civilisation he is forced to learn the necessary skills to stay alive, whilst wrangling his own inner emotional turmoil. Hatcher is both a thrilling read and a lesson in self-sufficiency and human spirit. It’s perfect for kids who may be feeling a little worried about the world right now.
Feet in the Clouds – Richard Askwith
This is a fell-runner’s holy book. Feet in the Clouds traces at the history and popularity of fell running and makes an inspiring central claim. Akswith suggests that the fells have produced some of the greatest athletes that the British Isles have ever seen, but in such a humble, underestimated and little understood sport, these giants have gone unrecognised.
Askwith looks at some iconic routes, such as the titanic Bob Graham round, and some incredible figures from the annals of the sport. The author is repeatedly astounded by the abilities of these everyday heroes, such as Billy Teasedale who, in the 1920s frequently ran 20 miles to get to the start of a race. It all comes together in a book that will delight the fell-fanatic and inspire others reading it in their back gardens to looks up and the hills and think “could I?”
Happy adventuring - make sure to read our other Armchair Adventure guide on the best movies to watch, the ultimate outdoors soundtrack, the best outdoors podcasts and the best games to play to keep your adventurous spirit alive. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments - after all, we're all in this together.
Remember, stay in for now. The world is waiting. And everything will be ok.