Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Reading: Yet Another Exercise in Wretched Excess

In the photograph are the books I returned home with after my very long road trip. By “very long” I mean to be deliberately vague—many days, many miles. The whole question of how many books one should take on a trip is now a little bit complicated by the weight limits at airline baggage counters. Obviously minimalism is a sound practice. However, this trip only started by air; I ended on the road.

There’s also the general question of reading while you travel. It’s a little odd, since traveling and reading shared some commonalities. Reading is already a form of travel, after all. As I have previously admitted here, and as everyone who knows me knows, I have “book issues.” They are central to my life. Here’s what I ended up with on this excursion:

Top shelf: I packed these in my luggage.

1. I’d been waiting all summer to read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet, by David Mitchell. He’s one of that small handful of writers whose books I buy as soon as they are published. Reading it, on the coast of Oregon, local hand-crafted IPA in hand, was a sublime experience.

2. I had to bring Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, by Sean Dougherty for the last leg of the trip. Also: one of my very favorite dream guidebooks.

3. Banff Area Rock Climbs, Murray Toft is a small paperback that came out in 1981. I find it useful. Also, it’s kind of rare and unknown, so using it I feel like I have secret knowledge.

Next Shelf: I began acquiring these along the way.

4. McMenamin’s Edgefield: a History of the Multnomah County Poor Farm, by Sharon Nesbit. Had to have this. Edgefield is the site of a large McMenamin’s hotel/brewery/distillery/concert grounds, with a heavy Jerry Garcia theme throughout. Once a proverbial poorhouse, we stayed here after our hike at Three Cornered Rock. This is the proverbial poorhouse that my parents warned me about. Now, the poorhouse is no more. Instead we have the homeless.

5. Paris Review. This one has the David Mitchell interview. Most impressive are his drawings and outlinings—a nice companion piece to the novel, as if, the novels themselves are not evidence enough of his genius.

6. Tapping the Source, by Kem Nunn. I bought this, the British paperback edition, for my son Macklin to read, but I read it first even though I’ve already read it two or three times before. Still one of the most amazing first novels ever. Macklin liked it too. Now I can steal my first edition back from him. The British edition, by the way, had a wildly inappropriate cover, yet had thick creamy paper.

7. My friend Bernie Wood, bibliophile and esquire, and who we visited in Astoria (Oregon) gave me a couple climbing books: Terris Moore’s Mt McKinley: The Pioneer Climbs—which is interesting because Moore made the first ascent of Mt Sanford in the Wrangells with Bradford Washburn and I had just begun to be interested in that climb; and 8) My Life of High Adventure by Grant H. Pearson, a little known book about another early McKinley climb. I think at least one other book has that exact same title and it’s the invisible subtitle to a couple hundred others. Bernie watches out for me when he haunts the bookshops and yard sales. Glad to have both books.

Third Shelf (by the way these are arranged roughly chronologically, as I acquired them):

9) In Chicago, Jeff Schiff highly recommended Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, so I picked it up at Union Station buried amid the stacks of Steig Larson. I probably didn’t like it as much as Jeff (a native New Yorker--and that's central here) or as much as the National Book Award Committee who selected it. Lots to admire, though.

Visiting Tama Baldwin and John Mann in Iowa City, I spied a copy of 10) Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link in the Haunted Bookstore—now relocated to Linn St. I loved her Stranger Things Happen and I really love her story “Stone Animals,” collected in this one. It’s a pristine hardcover, inscribed by Link herself. On the downside, the house in which it had been unread was inhabited by heavy smokers.

Tama put two books in my hand as I left: 11) Orphans, by Charles D’Ambrosio. These are essays and they are incredible. Also, a gorgeous book published by a probably short-lived subscription press, Clear- Cut Press. No one writes essays like D’Ambrosio. As it turns out this is a rare book and I’ll have to send Tama a reciprocal tome. Also, she gave me an extra copy of 12) Per Patterson’s Out Stealing Horses. I’m sure it’s fine—many reliable persons have recommended it.

14) Bozeman Rock Climbs, by Bill Dockins. Peter Cole had a copy of this and lent it to me. We used it in Hyalite Canyon on the nicest weather day of the whole road trip, a day of rock climbing in the sun, on which Macklin had carried his guitar up the approach. I left my camera in the car that day. We finished the afternoon at the hot springs and later with bottles of Fat Tire.

So that’s it, 14 books. Unless movies count. Macklin picked up a copy of Snatch on the theory that a man should never travel without a Guy Ritchie movie. I also picked up a map of the Banff area, which cost the same as a book. Oh yeah, and a couple Canadian magazines at Mac’s Fireweed Bookstore in Whitehorse, a great shop. Whew.

And if you have the space you can stop by your old house, 4,500 miles from your new house, to find that the strangers who live there have taken down a cupboard of the wall. So you grab the cupboard, put the books in it and drive it back home to Anchorage.