Way Out There 

Mountain culture book reviews for the local on your holiday list

click to flip through (2) PHOTO SUBMITTED - book it Mountain culture books might be a good pick for the local on your Christmas list.
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  • book it Mountain culture books might be a good pick for the local on your Christmas list.

By delivering us to the places we imagine ourselves going, outdoor books keep the dreams alive while we deal with the mundanity of everyday life. Some of the best from recent times:

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan, Penguin Books

After growing up on a surfboard, a college grad sets off to travel the surf world. Finnegan's journey through Oceania, Indonesia and South Africa doesn't just sate a need for watery thrills, it supplies the grist to transform his self-certain vocation as writer into a career. Though the surf skills follow him through life, he's equally proficient as a journalist, so much so that this long-awaited autobiography won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Returning to his life's essential scaffolding, Finnegan channels each experience as if it were only just occurring, describing every wave with effervescence, none so evocatively as a famed paradisical peeler in Tavarua, Fiji. "The wave had a thousand moods... Its roaring, sparkling depths and vaulted ceiling like some kind of recurring miracle."

The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains, by Barry Blanchard, Patagonia Books

Noted for pushing the standards of highly technical, high-risk climbing in the 1980s, Barry "Bubba" Blanchard employs free-wheeling style, heart-pounding description, and razor-sharp recollection to chronicle his ascent from poor Prairie kid on the wrong side of the tracks to one of the world's most accomplished alpinists. Early climbs that rely on little but teenage cojones morph to calculated ambition and the inevitable steps into more isolated ranges with a cast of notable partners. Each expedition delivers the kind of lessons only nature and endeavour can teach. As a portrait of climbing culture in the days of punk rock, the rhythms of adrenaline and youthful arrogance make the book's accompanying playlist entirely appropriate.

Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka, by Bernadette McDonald, Rocky Mountain Books

Winner of the 2017 Banff Mountain Book Award for Non-Fiction Mountain Literature and the 2017 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, this book cements McDonald's place as Canada's sharpest chronicler of climbing history and culture. Rendered with both élan and consummate understanding, no one seems better equipped to write a biography of the world's most reclusive but remarkable climber, a fact even the fiercely furtive, famously cerebral, notoriously interview-shy Kurtyka accepted in entrusting her to lay bare his life. In capturing Kurtyka's history, successes, failures, complicated relationships and unbridled joys, McDonald has crafted a masterpiece biography of a little-understood but visionary climber.

Inner Ranges, by Geoff Powter, Rocky Mountain Books

For over 30 years, writer and climber Geoff Powter has covered the mountain beat in magazines and newspapers around the globe, with stints editing the Canadian Alpine Journal and Polar Circus. This rarified path has allowed him to train his keen eye and even keener pen on the lives and obsessions of those who are drawn to the heights. This insightful anthology, stretching back to the beginning of his career, distills his best work while creating a natural extension of his own evolution as a writer.

This is the first in a series of mountain culture book reviews Pique is running leading up to the holidays.



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