Put These Adventure Reads on Your List Right Now
On a recent weekend away a friend noted that I was reading Barbarian Days, William Finnegan’s surfing memoir. “I’m reading that too,” he said. A third friend piped up and said that he was also reading it. A fourth friend had just received it as a gift. For the fellas gathered, it seemed to be the book of the moment, which makes sense: Barbarian Days has an undeniable masculine appeal. Saying it’s about surfing is like saying that Into Thin Air is about a hike. Really, such books are about adventure, obsession, and the restless yearnings that seem to overtake men of a certain age (by which I mean pretty much every age).
This neat alignment of our reading material that weekend got me thinking about what other books fall under this umbrella. To paraphrase the infamous Secret deodorant tagline, what other stories were strong enough for a woman, but made for a man? In the end I found three books filled with peril, intrigue, and wisdom to spare. They are books that every guy should read, but not every guy might know about. Presenting, three adventure reads for the modern man:
Education of Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour
Louis L’Amour was a literary giant, publishing 89 novels and 14 short story collections over his lifetime (1908-1988). These novels were mostly Westerns, and I have read none of them (though we’ve all seen some of the movie adaptations). But I did read L’Amour’s memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, and found it full of colorful exploits and a devotion to books that, as someone devoted to books, I found heartening.
L’Amour left home while still in high school, on the verge of the Great Depression. He spent much of the next decade on the road, sleeping in train cars, doing odd jobs, boxing, or working as a merchant seaman on ships that brought him around the globe. His memoir describes these travels, and the education he attained during this period by reading anything and everything he could get his hands on. He is grateful for the written word, and, in an endearingly crotchety way, often repeats his belief that books are the foremost treasures of civilization. In a time when we are inundated by all manner of media, it might be wise to heed his advice and hole up with a good book. Like this one, perhaps.
Choice Sample: “I have read my books by many lights, hoarding their beauty, their wit or wisdom against the dark days when I would have no book, nor a place to read. I have known hunger of the belly kind many times over, but I have known a worse hunger: the need to know and to learn.”
My War Gone By I Miss it So, by Anthony Loyd
Loyd’s memoir is not for the faint of heart. It s a grisly, first-person account of the horrors of war. What sets it apart is the introspection Loyd provides, for it is also about what draws us to those horrors, hence the title.
Loyd, who grew up in England, came from a family of soldiers. And yet his own experiences in the Gulf War were disheartening. Unhinged and adrift back home, Loyd turned to drugs before wandering to Bosnia in 1993, seeking real war experience under the alleged intention of reporting on it. In war, Loyd finds peace from his heroin addiction, but uncovers atrocities that both attract and threaten to destroy him.
In taking this more personal approach to war reportage, Loyd not only provides a compelling and informative narrative about the Bosnian conflict (and later in the book, Chechnya), but examines why it is that people seek out darkness and brutality, and what can be learned from plumbing the depths. In reading about the carnage of war, it is hard not to feel appreciative for the peace we currently have. Given the rising global tension, a book like this helps us recognize that such peace is worth preserving at all costs, for all people, and that bluster is often the language of the frightened.
Choice Sample: “War and smack: I always hope for some kind of epiphany in each to lead me out but it never happens. You think you have hit the bottom many times then always find something else to lose, till after a while what once seemed like the bottom is an altitude that you are trying to scramble back to. Even in my deepest moments of fear, retreating or withdrawing it’s all the same, when I see those flashes of hope and swear never again, promise I’ll keep away the front or stay clean tonight, I know they are just illusions, flotsam in the river I pull myself up onto just so I can catch enough breath to last me for the next dive down.”
The Wind, Sand, and Stars, by Antoine Saint-Exupery
Saint-Exupery is best known for The Little Prince, the classic tale of a boy exploring the universe. However if you stop your Saint-Ex reading curriculum there, you are doing yourself a disservice, because the man lived an extraordinary and daring life.
These days, to fly is essentially to commute, a flavorless waiting experience. But that is because of the bravery of men like Saint-Exupery, who paved the way along with his companions in the near-suicidal profession of airmail carrier in the 1920s and 30s. He intersperses incredible accounts of flight and its accompanying joys and dangers with meditations on friendship, the desert, manhood, freedom, and war. His harrowing plane crashes are up there with any escapades I’ve read about, but it is his tender insights into what makes life worth living that truly set this book apart. Saint-Ex eventually disappeared on a flight mission during World War II, but his words live on.
Choice Sample: “To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems to be unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one’s comrades. It is to feel, when setting one’s stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.”
These three books won’t necessarily make you more responsible, daring, or intelligent. But they will helps satisfy that worst kind of hunger: the need to know and to learn. And at the very least, they might impress your friends during your next weekend away.
Featured image by Bart Heird via Flickr.