Great books give our senses a workout. They make us laugh, cry and expand our emotional horizons, provide us with new perspectives, teach us about different realities, free us from feeling tranquillised with trivialities, and above all make us feel gloriously alive! Just in case your left-brain needs convincing—did you know that reading also keeps you mentally sharp, can chill you out and relieve stress, and can even increase your capacity for empathy...
‘I already love books’, we hear you cry out. ‘But there are so many... I just don’t know where to start...’ —Ah ha! That is precisely why we have reached out to a few of our good friends with impeccable taste, and with their help, have compiled a short-list of thirteen somewhat under-appreciated but remarkable gems written in the last hundred years that deserve a place on your bookshelf for 2014.
1 | The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman
Suggested by Mike Sowden—Head Bloke at Fevered Mutterings
“A parody, a tragedy, a farce and a sheer delight from start to finish, The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a spoof novel that has become just as popular within mountaineering circles as the real-life adventures it lampoons. It’s the story of what happens if you assemble the wrong men in the wrong place at the wrong time, of the consequences of having an expedition leader with the social IQ of Mr Bean, a route-finder with no sense of direction, a physician who is always ill, and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge deliberately put in the same tent together because they’d ‘have a lot to talk about’. Bill Bryson writes the foreword in the latest edition; it’s one of his favourite books.”
—Mike Sowden (@mikeachim)
Find the Ascent of Rum Doodle here.
2 | Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Suggested by Tim Ferriss—Four Hour Renaissance Man
“Starting in 2004, I traveled the world for roughly 18 months. The lessons learned formed the basis for much of The 4-Hour Workweek. On my journey—from the back alleys of Berlin to the hidden lakes of Patagonia—I had next to nothing: one suitcase, one backpack, and only two books. One of those books was Walden by Henry David Thoreau (naturally), and the other was Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. Vagabonding easily remains in my top-10 list for life-changing books. Why? Because one incredible trip, especially a long-term trip, can change your life forever.
Vagabonding teaches you how to travel (and think), not for one trip, but for the rest of your life. In my own dog-eared copy, I have notes, underlines, and highlights on practically every page, ranging from the tactical (how to pack intelligently, what to bring, what not to bring, where to go, etc.) to the philosophical (the Upanishads, how to slow down after a lifetime of rushing and caffeine, etc.) Using the Rolf’s tips, I was able to explore many of them for 2-3 months at a time at my own pace, unrushed and unworried. It was a dream come true.”
—Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)
Check out the video trailer for Vagabonding below:
3 | As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
Suggested by Alastair Humphreys—Explorer, author and passionate microadventurer.
“This is the adventure I have wanted to do all my life. To be so footloose and carefree, living by your wits (busking in this case), and walking slowly across a landscape. Not only is it a great journey, it is also beautifully told.”
—Al Humphreys (@Al_Humphreys)
Find As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning here.
4 | Cold by Bill Streever
Suggested by Duncan Geere—Freelance journalist and Wired contributor
“It’s not easy to write poetically about science, but Bill Streever manages it wonderfully in Cold. The book is split into twelve chapters, named after the months of the year, and in each he explores a different facet of the world’s coldest places, peppered with personal anecdotes, historical references and scientific facts. The dark accounts of the deaths of early Arctic explorers are balanced out by the tales he tells of communities and wildlife that thrive in places you’d never expect to be able to support life. It’s a little Alaska-heavy, but highly recommended for anyone fascinated by the polar regions.”
—Duncan Geere (@duncangeere)
Find Cold here
5 | Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley
Also suggested by Duncan Geere, as he couldn't quite resist a double recommend!
“We’re very familiar with the concepts of cities and countryside, but what happens in between? The answer can be found in Edgelands, by poets Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley. The pair journey into what they call “England’s true wilderness”—the forgotten places on the peripheries of cities that most people ignore as they whiz through in trains, buses and cars, where nature encroaches on the man-made. What’s particularly compelling about Edgelands is how the authors compile and rework other writers’ thoughts on the boundaries between humanity and the natural world, from Wordsworth to Mabey. It’s a well-researched, fascinating window on the places that your parents warned you not to go.”
—Duncan Geere (@duncangeere)
Find Edgelands here.
6 | Macroscope by Piers Anthony
Suggested by Alex Berger—Chief Virtual Wayfarer
“My dad introduced me to Macroscope when I was in my teens. The story, which revolves around the use of a space telescope similar to a super powerful version of the Hubble telescope, helped me view the world from above. The book paints a narrative where through the use of the Macroscope the researchers are able to watch and explore the social development of two alien races. Races not dissimilar from our own. This combined with my natural traveler’s curiosity and love of space to send my mind racing; exploring how our nations, religious structures, history, gender relations, and other quirks might be viewed by an alien race. In so doing, it gave me new insights and passion for exploring the subtle differences from person to person, region to region, and culture to culture. It also nurtured my intense curiosity about new cultures, new people, and then of course, what might be out there and as yet undiscovered on one of the countless planets located within the tens of billions of galaxies in the universe. It is also fascinating to think about how much the world has changed since the text was originally written in 1969. We now have the Hubble Space Telescope, things like Google Earth, and other tools that, while far from the power of the Macroscope, offer similar opportunities to explore the universe around us.”
—Alex Berger (@alexberger)
Find Macroscope here.
7 | How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer
Suggested by Audrey Scott—Chief Storyteller at Uncornered Market
“Who knew you could learn so much about globalization, economics and politics from soccer? Franklin Foer uses his love of soccer and journalism background to take the reader around the world examining soccer clubs and their culture and history from Argentina to Ukraine. The depth that he is able to go into to explain socioeconomic and geopolitical shifts connected to globalization through the lens of soccer is remarkable. And, it’s not always pretty—he shows how the soccer culture of a place has contributed to racism, corruption and even violence. Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, you’ll enjoy the stories and learn a lot in the process.”
—Audrey Scott (@umarket)
Find How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization here.
8 | At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig by John Gimlette
Suggested by Jodi Ettenberg—Writer and Soup Expert at LegalNomads
“I love it because it’s a well-written and engaging take on a complicated country and its tragic historical turn, with personal details woven into the chapters.”
—Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads)
Find At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig here.
9 | How to be an Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith
Suggested by Jonny Miller— cofounder here at Maptia
“Keri Smith is convinced that everything in the world is fascinating. She persuades you that even the most mundane objects and places are worthy of your attention, if you are willing to ask the right questions. From attaching places to fictitious stories, to giving seemingly mundane objects superpowers—Keri peppers the book with fresh perspectives that will restore your childlike sense of astonishment for the everyday and leave the wheels of your imagination spinning long after you put it down."
—Jonny Miller (@jonnym1ller)
Find How to be an Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum here.
10 | Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths
Suggested by Dean Fischer—cofounder here at Maptia
“Wild provides a completely unique and enthralling view of our world. Jay Griffiths takes us along on her external and internal journey over seven years to the edges of the ‘civilised’ world, where language is a tool for seeing and where land, water, wind and fire are the anchors to our cultural roots and abounding sources of knowledge. Jay paints our home planet with an unsurpassed eloquence that will awaken the wild side of anybody. Get ready to yearn for wide-open landscapes, for freedom from the ever-encroaching, tainted mindsets of the ‘civilised’ world. Get ready to stand firmly on the side of our fragile, dwindling wildernesses as they burn with what could be their final flame, and fight for their last breath. With unexpected emotional force, the tales of misplaced ideals, misspoken words, and misused knowledge shook me with sadness when contrasted with the complex and emotional depiction of these delicate corners of our planet.”
—Dean Fischer (@deanfischer_)
Find Wild here.
11 | The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
“There is no book—or should I say books—I have read which have captured my imagination, or my heart, more than the six adventurous and gripping tales in the Earth’s Children Series by Jean M. Auel. Set around 30,000 years before the present day, during the dawn of mankind, The Clan of the Cave Bear is the beginning of Ayla’s remarkable story. Set against the backdrop of a wildly beautiful but sparsely populated and treacherous continent, the vivid descriptions of the landscapes Ayla travels through will have you longing to explore the world around you, and to get closer to nature yourself. The scope and scale that the books encompass is almost impossible to comprehend, and for me, the themes and emotions explored in this ancient story offer an unusual and astoundingly thoughtful insight into the fabric of our society today and our cultural roots as the dominant species on planet Earth. No-one can fail to be moved by Ayla’s journey through life, as she travels across what will one day become Europe, experiencing the people and landscapes around her with curiosity, insight—and above all—courage.”
—Dorothy Sanders (@doro1hy)
Find The Clan of the Cave Bear here.
What’s that? You’d like more? Oh alright then, here are a couple of absolutely visually stunning and remarkable books chosen by the Maptia Team...
12 | Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs by Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry has spent more than three decades following his curiosity around the globe. You may have heard that during his various adventures he survived a plane crash in Slovenia, as well as armed robbers and bombings in Afghanistan, but what we feel shines through in his photography is his trademark unquenchable sense of wonder and curiosity for the world around him. Harking back to Al Humphreys sentiments on adventuring, Steve believes that compelling photography doesn’t require exotic travel, but that he simply needed to wander and explore. Talking to Art Space he wrote:
Steve’s photography is uplifting and affecting in equal measure, yet Untold Stories is more than just a visual feast to perch on your coffee table—it is an insightful journey into the life of this remarkable human. To leaf through its pages is to peer behind his world famous lens and dive into the hand scribbled notes and scrapbook-esque momentos from his adventures in every corner of the globe. In Untold Stories you get a sense of the man behind the lens, delving into his philosophies, which we felt were aptly summed up with these timeless words of his:
13 | Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson
Jimmy Nelson traveled to the ends of the earth in the hope of immortalising the world’s least-touched tribes. The results are nothing less than spellbinding—Jimmy is like a modern Doctor Who, who makes inter-dimensional voyages possible via his 4x5 large-plate field camera instead of a TARDIS. There is a strong sense of human purpose behind his project, he writes:
Even if this ethnographic balance can never be fully restored, we admire Jimmy’s resolve to document and witness tribal traditions that are threatened by the forces of globalisation and couldn’t tear our eyes away from his remarkable and compelling visual catalog.
To end on an entertaining note, check out Jimmy’s TEDx Talk and learn why yellow snow and reindeer make for a hilarious consequences at the edge of the world.
Know anyone who might appreciate having a few of these books in their lives? Whatever you do, don’t @mention them in this tweet: “13 Remarkable Reads for 2014” curated by @Maptia and friends
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Which literary or visual gems have we missed? Let us know which books you think we should be putting on our bookshelves for 2014 in the comments below...