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Recommended Reads:

Liam Guilar's

Outdoor Adventure List












Best Book Lists


















Recommended Reads:

Liam Guilar's Outdoor Adventure List

Nothing had is ever half as good
As it was in your imagination
And vivid dreams are black and white realities:
Rainbows drawn in shades of gray


    --From the Poet's Confession and Other Poems by Liam Guilar

Liam Guilar is an unusually talented Australian writer, poet, musician and whitewater kayaker.   He has organized a number of river expeditions to far flung places and made the first kayaking forays into Soviet Central Asia.  A lover of the written word, he can be often observed by incredulous kayaking companions, deeply absorbed in a Nineteenth Century novel, or a copy of Beowulf or Paston Letters. 


"In the Road to Oxiana," Liam writes, "Robert Byron semi seriously said he'd like to institute a grant to fund an expedition that would retrace Marco Polo's route.  His stipulation was that the members of the party had to drink a bottle of wine every day and read a set number of books every week.  I would have gladly done it!"


The following is Liam's best (and worst) list of outdoor books. 


(To sample some of Liam's own writing, see his on-line book: Dancing With the Bear.  He has published three books of poems (Poet's Confession and Other Poems, I'll Howl Before You Bury Me, and Lady Godiva and Me).  There's a nice YouTube video of Liam reciting his poems while exploring Lady Godiva's haunts in Coventry, England.  If you watch the video, I'll think you'll agree with me that Liam is, indeed, unusually talented.) 


(Also see Liam Guilar's River Literature and Film List)



Introduction to the List


Speaking as an English teacher type there's an obvious problem with "outdoor books." Some exist as records of great events, and their only claim to the reader's interest lies in that record.  The accounts of the first climb of Everest or some of the early journals of exploration aren't great reading and don't make it to many people's list of favorite books.  Other works stand up to be counted as books and works of literature rather than records and can be reread.  And, some do both. 

The list that follows is a personal one, and was selected using the following criteria: what outdoor books do I need in my library and what books would I take on a journey.

          --Liam Guilar



My Favorite All Time Most Re-read Outdoor Book


The Star Ship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower.


A strange true tale of Freeman and George Dyson, father and son.  One designed star ships and the other lived in a tree house and built a traditional baidarka (giant canoe) using modern materials.  Amazon.com: More Information



Best Book On An Expedition Ever Written


The Worst Journey in the World by Aspley Cherry Garrard.


The section "The Winter Journey" should be compulsory reading before any expedition or extended journey.   No matter how bad you think your trip was, it never gets as bad as this. The image of Bowers lying in the snow singing when the tent blows away on the winter journey is a good one to hold onto.  Amazon.com: More Information



Best Biographies


The Devil Drives  by Fawn M. Brodies.


A biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton, linguist, traveler, translator and all round bad boy. Amazon.com: More Information



Shackleton by Roland Huntford.


Apart from the fact this biography reminds you of the long bits between journeys, Shackleton's determination to bring his team home intact in a situation that would have crushed most people's resolve is a great story.  Another Review | Amazon.com: More Information



Never Turn Back by Ron Watters.


The story of white water pioneer Walt Blackadar, set in the context of the his town and times. This is a rare book, intelligently and honestly written, an entertaining and thought-provoking biography of a hero. Another Review | More Information & Best Source for Purchase:  Great Rift Press.   (Amazon does not stock the book.)



High Mountains and Cold Seas (Honorable Mention).


A biography of Bill Tilman. It's difficult to tell which is more impressive. The achievements or the incredible stoicism and understatement that went with it. 

Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for Used Copies




Not Quite "Outdoor Lit" but "Lit in the Outdoors"


Travels in West Africa by Mary Kingsley..


Kingsley was the daughter, so she had to educate herself. After her father died she traveled to west Africa to collect specimens and study. Kipling, who met her later in life, said: "she must have been afraid of something but no one ever found out what it was." Another Review | Amazon.com: More Information



Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile by John Hanning Speke.


Huge but fascinating insight into the mentality of a Victorian "Explorer." What he left out is almost as interesting as what he put in. Amazon.com: More Information



The River Road to China by Milton Osbourne.


Story of the French attempts to follow the Mekong to China. One of those books that makes you realize the joys of maps, medical kits, and helicopter evacuation. Amazon.com: More Information



The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen .


One of the great travel books: a fine record of a trek and a disquisition on Zen.

Amazon.com: More Information



News From Tartary by Peter Fleming.


Brazilian adventure starts with an ad in the Times newspaper. Soon Fleming was in Brazil looking for the lost colonel Faucet and racing the rest of his team to reach civilisation first. In News from Tartary he crosses China with Ella Maillart and reaches India. Both are examples of British understatement at its best.  Amazon.com: More Information



Travels with a Donkey by RL Stevenson.


Stevenson travels through the mountains with a donkey. Beautifully observed. There's a description of sleeping out in a storm that's worth the price of admission. Another book of his about a journey through the canals of France isn't as good, though it does have the line: "after a good pipe and a good book and a good woman there is nothing half so good as a good river." Amazon.com: More Information



Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.


Captures, in an odd way, the pleasure of journeying in unknown places.

Amazon.com: More Information



The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.


Many kayakers know ratty's bit about messing about in boats, but if you can read "the piper at the gates of dawn" and remain unmoved, well...   Amazon.com: More Information



Coming into the Country by John McPhee.


A description of Alaskan wilderness. Also, by the same author, Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe worth reading not only for the wilderness and canoe stuff but for the story about master canoe craftsman Henri Vaillancourt.  Amazon.com: More Information



Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey .


Abbey was the great iconoclast and his attitude towards  rules regulations and bureaucrats make him the possible patron saint of all those who go to the woods.  The book is also a lovely description of the desert. I've never managed to read Thoreau's Walden but I think his On Civil Disobedience is compulsory reading for all those faced with the rule makers of the wilderness.  Amazon.com: More Information



Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez .


A great mix of history geography biology and speculation. Also his collection "crossing open ground" contains some fine thought provoking pieces. Amazon.com: More Information



Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.


She writes perfectly, and what she observes is the world outside her window. 

Amazon.com: More Information



She by Rider Haggard .


Old fashioned adventure tale. Sexist, chauvensitic, imperialist, but what the hell. 

Amazon.com: More Information



The Collected Poems of Robert Service by Robert Service .

While derided as a poet by the critics, what campfire gathering is not improved by the recital of the "Shooting of Dan McGrew" or the "Cremation of Sam Magee." 

Amazon.com: More Information



The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron.


Not really an outdoor book but ...  Amazon.com: More Information



When Men and Mountains Meet: Explorers of the Himalayas  by  John Keay.


A set of stories about some of the early "explorers" of the Himalayas. And a fine bunch of Loonies and crackpots they were too. (He also wrote Eccentric travelers...a title that speaks for itself.)  Amazon.com: More Information



The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.


Well written piece of journalism that describes a perfect storm and what it did to people out at sea when it hit.  Criticized for not being quite as accurate as it could be but compelling reading.  Amazon.com: More Information




Climbing I'm not a climber but my vote goes to:


The Games Climbers Play.


There are at two articles here that can be used as model of writing in a writing class: "Cumha Duhgal" and "The Ice climber" Amazon.com: More Information



Favourite Climbing Article: "Ravens with the Great Man" by John Barry .


Barry's Eulogy for his friend Peter Boardman, but also a good description of a day in the mountains with a group of mates.




How Not To Run An Expedition Award


The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford .  A great lesson in how not to stuff up, the book contrasts Amundsen's practical approach to reaching the Pole with Scott's amateurish efforts.)  Amazon.com: More Information


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