As we get closer to debuting the “urban and not” edition, we’ve been thinking a lot about the “not urban,” and in particular about the wild spaces and places that inspire or challenge us. Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild (by all accounts excellent) has been getting a lot of attention lately. Strayed’s story about a transformative eleven-hundred-mile hike she undertook at the age of 26, reeling from family tragedy and trying to forge a future for herself, inspired us to seek out some classic memoirs of adventure in the wild. Here are a few suggestions for the reading list.
West With the Night - 1942 memoir by the British aviatrix Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. She wrote, “Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.”
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson is reliably amiable and funny. In this memoir he hikes from Georgia to Maine, encounters American history, ecology, and some interesting characters.
Sunsrise with Seamonsters – Paul Theroux has made a life out of traveling to some of the most isolated and unexpected corners of the earth. Seamonsters brings together a collection of his writings from Mozambique to the Yagntze River.
The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria – Often described as the female T. E. Lawrence, the Victorian archaeologist Gertrude Bell recounts her adventures in the middle east at the beginning of the 20th century.
Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Journey to the Top of Everest - While not a classic itself, Jamling Tensig Norvay’s memoir offers a new perspective on the two definitive Everest narratives – the pioneering ascent of Edmund Hillary and Tensig Norvay (the author’s father) in 1953, and the ill-fated 1996 climb featured in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Jamling Tensig Norvay was a member of the ’96 expedition, and here interweaves his own experiences with those of his father, infused with the Buddhist beliefs of the Sherpas.
Roughing It – Before he was the famous American wit, Mark Twain was a young man traveling extensively across the American west. Roughing It is his account of his time “adrift as a tenderfoot in the Wild West.”