Over the holiday I read two classic mountaineering books. As I had time in between Christmas activities I have reviewed them both. Now, I know writers like Pete Boardman and Chris Bonington don’t need reviews, but I am mindful (as an author myself) of the value to potential readers of a considered view. So, if you like a book you have read, do share a review – on Amazon, Good Reads, or on your blog or via social media.
Sacred Summits covers three very different Boardman expeditions, to Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea, Kangchenjunga and Gauri Sankar. The book includes very well written accounts of the trips, but more interestingly for me a very frank discourse on the dilemmas facing climbers. This covers the selfish motives they have, and the toll on friends and especially family. The author also considers whether climbers should even go to the summits of such very scared mountains. In fact, on Kangchenjunga they leave ‘the final few yards untrodden in deference to the inhabiting deity’. Boardman is good at illuminating the shifting inter-personal relationships on such expeditions, and also makes good use of the diaries and thoughts of other expedition members to counter-point his own views. He explains his ethical stance on climbing, but also notes that desperate situations call these ethics into focus. He records that to surmount one obstacle they had to:
stand on five rocks piled on each other. This would be seen as cheating on British rock, but I was too tired for ethics.
I have no idea if the conversations he details are real or made-up, but they do nicely draw you in to the atmosphere of the occasion. There were two disappointments for me with this edition of the book. There were a significant number of typos, particularly noticeable in the foreword. Secondly, the photos included were poorly reproduced at the end of the book. This may well be because it is a reprint of book first published many years ago (Boardman died in 1982). Overall though a great read, which is much more than a description of three climbing trips. I was particularly touched by Boardman’s moving account of his father’s death shortly after he came home from Gauri Sankar.
The Everest Years is Part III of a series of autobiographical books by Chris Bonington. It is a very honest and human account of the period of his life that culminated in him finally summiting Everest at the age of 50, back in 1985. It also covers the details of the deaths of several close friends on climbs, which is always a hard read. He has chosen to have a reflective approach, as some of the expeditions have already had their own books written by him, and here he shows how the expeditions related to each other, and he to the participants on them. In the book Bonington admits his style of leadership is not to everyone’s liking, and he is good at highlighting the highs and lows of the inter-personal relationships, particularly on his smaller teams. This is a reprint, under a different imprint, of a book first published in 1986. It does unfortunately suffer from a number of typos, and hyphenations that do not survive different line lengths in the new setting. It is also disappointing that Bonington’s excellent photography is poorly reproduced in this edition. On the plus side it is great to have maps of expeditions, and some route overlays on some of the photos. Overall it is an excellent read, detailing some of the ground-breaking expeditions he led (or took part in, as he was not always the leader) in a period when he was arguably the highest profile mountaineer of his time.
As FRA members await the arrival of the Winter 2018 Fellrunner magazine I will just give a reminder of a piece I wrote for the Spring issue, entitled ‘I wasn’t the best by any means, but I was a tryer’. It is a report of an evening event organised by Due North Events in which Billy Bland and I shared a stage to take questions from a full house in the Skiddaw Hotel.
It was a fascinating evening and the four page report, in full, can be downloaded [PDF file].
Xmas present(s) still needed? Splashmaps have a personalised map offer, which can be taken up until 6pm on 16th December, to be delivered in the UK by Christmas, and with a 10% discount code, due to work I have done with them (on their Bob Graham Round map).
Click the linked image and then use the code steve8 to claim 10% discount.
Personalised SplashMaps are
• Centred anywhere (world wide!)
• Given a personal title
• Printed on weatherproof washable fabric
• Stuffable/ virtually indestructible
It is coming to the end of the year and I noticed that I had read 10 running-related books this year. So here are short reviews of them all, taken from my Good Reads website. It is NOT my top ten running books published in 2018, just some thoughts on those I have read this year. In fact only four are from 2018. There is always catching up to do!
The figures after the author are the grade (1-5) given by me, and the year of publication.
I hope it might inspire some readers to pick up something ‘new’ to read.
Armistice Runner, by Tom Palmer (5, 2018)
This was something of a surprise. I am a sucker for running books anyway, and this was a delight. Although ostensibly written for the younger reader, the themes were very adult. It caught my emotions as the story unfolded, both the war detail and that of the gran’s Alzheimer’s. Subsequently found that the author is doing a lot for literacy in schools, which is brilliant.
The Mountains Are Calling, by Jonny Muir (5, 2018)
The first point to make about Jonny Muir’s book is the clarity and quality of his writing. The book’s subject is ‘running in the high places of Scotland’ which gives him a huge scope, range and landscape to cover. It is significant that he lives in this environment, and runs in it, for pleasure and competition. But it is the people that he meets and their stories that give such a great counterpoint to his own experiences that fascinated me most. Muir considers the origins of running in the hills, the beauty of it, and also the recent commercialisation of the sport (which definitely grates with him and some with whom he speaks). Running through the narrative, but not dominating it, is the Charlie Ramsay Round, which he seems fated to attempt – and finally does. The storyline does jump about a bit, and visits Scottish mountains some readers may not know so well, but his writing is so crisp and engaging that it draws you on and into what may be the unknown. His chapter titles are well chosen and three will suffice to give both a feel for the subject (Mountain Madness) and yet Muir’s feeling for hill running (Beautiful Madness; and Epiphany). Read and be inspired.
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, by Scott Jurek (4, 2018)
I warmed to Jurek as I read this. He certainly put himself into a deep place in his AT endeavours. He describes the journey well and I liked his discursive writing but found the sections where his partner Jenny’s gives her thoughts rather less satisfactory. Looking back thought, it is a fascinating insight into the challenge that something like chasing a 50-mile a day FKT on the Appalachian Trail entails.
A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington (4, 2012)
This is a well written biography of a great athlete containing a nice balance between her personal and her sporting challenges and achievements. I particularly liked the frankness of the ‘issues’ that are talked of – pooing and relationships, etc. The constant reference back to the coach with a past and his influence are an intriguing narrative running throughout the book.
The Pants of Perspective, by Anna McNuff (4, 2017)
A very enjoyable read, easy, informative, and sometimes funny. In travel books like this I always like to see at least a simple map of the route taken, but to no avail.
The best part, as perhaps it should be, are the people met on the way. Overall, a very enjoyable book.
This Mum Runs, by Jo Pavey (3, 2016)
I chose this book as a light read after a major operation. It was fascinating to hear about Jo’s early success, injury years, and slightly left-field fightback. She is certainly a role model for athletes seeking a long career, and describes her achievements in a modest and appealing way.
Twin Tracks: The Autobiography, by Roger Bannister (3, 2014)
I know it is the twin tracks of his life, but the first half on his running was very good but the second was rather tedious, as it wound its way through his medical and sports administration work. A good book about an amazing athlete, who was also an outstanding and very special human being.
Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine, by Tom Jordan (3, 1977)
A great insight into a great runner. He comes across as tough and hard working, with a bloody mindedness that rubbed some up the wrong way. To beat him you had to run hard and fast, none of this sprint out at the end stuff. Sadly he died very young in a car crash. Although a good read, I still could have done with more of the man and less of the races.
Running the Red Line, by Julie Carter (3, 2018)
Mixed feelings on this one. The author is a doctor/psychologist and tries to analyse herself and also explore the physiology and psychology that comes into play when we push ourselves (the ‘red zone’). It had some interesting stuff on resilience and motivation.
Run or Die, by Kilian Jornet (2, 2011)
Unquestionably an amazing athlete and something of a free-spirit, Jornet certainly seems passionate about his sport and the environment it takes place in. The book is part diary, part personal philosophy, with just a little on technique and nutrition. It is written like a blog which makes it quite disjointed. An entertaining read, despite his high-blown language at times, which may have lost something in the translation.
For a further list of 20 books that I feel show something of the range and depth of the running book genre, see my earlier blog:
Good reads : running books.
And if you are looking for presents to give, look no further than:
Books: ideal Christmas pressies!