In addition to travel guides and maps, travelers can learn about people and places in books, be they natural histories or fiction. Here are a few titles that range from the 100th birthday of our National Park system to books set in local or foreign locales:
"The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks," by Terry Tempest Williams
For years, America's national parks have provided public breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why close to 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now, to honor the centennial of the National Park Service, Terry Tempest Williams writes a literary celebration of our national parks, what they mean to us, and what we mean to them.
Through 12 carefully chosen parks, from Yellowstone in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas, Tempest Williams creates a series of portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, "The Hour of Land" is a meditation and manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America. Our national parks stand at the intersection of humanity and wildness, and there's no one better than Tempest Williams to guide us there. Beautifully illustrated, with evocative black-and-white images by some of our finest photographers, from Lee Friedlander to Sally Mann to Sebastião Salgado.
The National Parks discussed are: Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Acadia, Gettysburg, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Big Bend, Gates of the Arctic, Canyonlands, Alcatraz, Glacier National Park, and the Cesar E. Chavez National.
"Montana Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Offbeat Fun," (2nd Edition) by Ednor Therriault
"Montana Curiosities" brings to the reader with humor and affection—and a healthy dose of attitude—the oddest, quirkiest, and most outlandish places, personalities, events, and phenomena found within the state’s borders and in the chronicles of its history. A fun, accessible read, "Montana Curiosities" is a who's who of unusual and unsung heroes. Now in a second edition with full color photos, this compendium of the state's quirks and characters will amuse Montana’s residents and visitors alike.
"Mortal Fall: A Novel of Suspense," by Christine Carbo
Glacier National Park police officer Monty Harris knows that each summer at least one person — be it a reckless climber or a distracted hiker — will meet tragedy in the park. But Paul “Wolfie” Sedgewick’s fatal fall from the sheer cliffs near Going-To-the-Sun Road is incomprehensible. Wolfie was an experienced and highly regarded wildlife biologist who knew all too well the perils that Glacier’s treacherous terrain presents—and how to avoid them.
Monty discovers that Wolfie’s studies of Glacier’s embattled wolverine population had met resistance from both local and federal organizations. To muddy the waters further, a wilderness facility for rehabilitating troubled teens — one that Monty’s older brother attended — may have a disturbing connection to the case.
And then a second body is found.
"Death in Glacier National Park: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness in the Crown of the Continent," by Randi Minetor
Adventures in the wilderness can be dramatic and deadly. Glacier National Park’s death records date back to January 1913, when a man froze to death while snowshoeing between Cut Bank and St. Mary. All told, as of this book's publication, 264 people had died or were presumed to have died in the park during the first hundred years of its existence. One man fell into a crevasse on East Gunsight Peak while skiing its steep north face, and another died while moonlight biking on the Sun Road. A man left his wife and five children at the Apgar picnic area and disappeared on Lake McDonald. His boat was found halfway up the west shore wedged between rocks with the propeller stuck in gravel. Collected here are some the most gripping accounts in park history of these unfortunate events caused by natural forces or human folly.
"The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey," by Rinker Buck
In 2011, Rinker Buck traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, over the course of four months in a covered wagon. He was accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and a Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, they dodge thunderstorms in Nebraska, chase runaway mules across the Wyoming plains, cross the Rockies, and make desperate 50-mile forced marches for water. The Buck brothers repair so many broken wheels and axles that they nearly reinvent the art of wagon travel itself. They also must reckon with the ghost of their father, an eccentric yet lovable dreamer whose memory inspired their journey across the plains and whose premature death, many years earlier, has haunted them both ever since.
Good reading for armchair traveler’s, historians and those searching for a unique adventure.
"My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth," by Wendy E. Simmons
Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in. Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on Earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border. But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long, she learned the essential conundrum of “tourism” in North Korea: Travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.
"My Holiday in North Korea" takes a humorous and insightful look into life in North Korea. Simmons is a world-traveling photographer and spunky go-getter, who shows a North Korea that is chilling, unusual, and emotionally vulnerable, giving the reader a full tour of a forbidden land.
"Medicine Walk," by Richard Wagamese
Growing up in the care of the “old man” he was entrusted to at birth, Franklin Starlight has never really known his biological father, Eldon. The fleeting moments he shared with the alcoholic man have only ended in disasters that haunt the boy. But when father, coming to the end of his alcohol-ruined life, reaches out to 16-year-old son, their first and last journey together begins. Hesitantly, Franklin obliges his dying father’s wish — to be buried as a warrior — and together they hazard the rugged and dangerous beauty of the backcountry to find an appropriate burial site.
Through the fog of pain, Eldon relates to his son the desolate moments in his life, as well as the times of hope — the family history Franklin has never known. As Father tells the tale, the Son, and the reader, live for the stories, in the hope that they will shed light on the mysteries of a tortured past.
It's the perfect book for an outdoorsy reader, now in a format that's just right for a backpack, a saddle bag, or river trip
"Circling the Sun: A Novel," by Paula McLain
Paula McLain, author of "The Paris Wife," transports us to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. "Circling the Sun" brings to life a fearless and captivating woman — Beryl Markham. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. Beryl becomes caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir "Out of Africa." McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
Enjoy your travels and always remember to take a book!