The other night at one of the book events, someone asked what books inspired me while writing Closer to the Ground. I answered with a few off the top of my head, but have been thinking about it ever since. So here are 10 of my favorites, in no particular order. Read ’em if you can find ’em. Good stuff from great writers.
An Outside Chance by Thomas McGuane Long before he wrote the foreword for Closer to the Ground (What an honor!), McGuane was one of my all time favorite writers. Here he looks at outdoor pursuits from motocross to fishing, horses to hunting, all with his trademark humor, gorgeous prose and sharp eye for detail. The real beauty of McGuane, though, is that he makes subjects you aren’t even interested in fascinating.
Dark Waters by Russell Chatham I read this book at least once a year. Though he’s much better known as a painter, Chatham writes as few can. Dark Waters is a gem. The stories are mostly “about” fishing, hunting and food, but they’re really about life. The first story in the book, The Great Duck Misunderstanding, is perhaps my single favorite outdoor and/or food piece ever written.
Billy Watson’s Croker Sack by Franklin Burroughs A transplanted southerner, Burroughs writes about his day-to-day life as a father in New England while reflecting on childhood memories from the South. This is a thoughtful, beautifully quiet book that examines how we relate to our children and nature. I found a lot of inspiration for my book while reading this one.
The Habit of Rivers by Ted Leeson Best fly fishing book ever. (A two-way tie with McGuane’s Live Water.) The sharp writing and deep thinking in this book led to one reviewer naming Leeson “The Philosopher King of Fly Fishing.” I can’t think of a better description. Leeson really helped shape some of the better parts of Closer to the Ground. At one point, though, I simply gave up and used a direct quote from The Habit of Rivers to close one of my chapters. His thoughts on migrating geese still blow my mind.
Just Before Dark by Jim Harrison Food, travel and sport. Nobody lives or writes about these subjects with more gusto than Harrison. He has a way of looking at things from an unexpected angle that reveals deeper truths and cuts to the bone. From wild tales of Hollywood excess to adventures far off the beaten track, this book is a spectacular read. His acclaimed skills as a poet and novelist bring great life to non-fiction.
The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass A year in the life of the Bass family in a small, isolated Northern Montana valley. I probably borrowed more than I’d like to admit from this book, but I have to recommend it, even at the risk of unflattering comparisons. Bass writes beautifully about the weather, seasons and life as the father of two young daughters. Great book.
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder An epic story that I couldn’t put down. This book alternates chapters between the history of the SS Central America, a ship loaded with California gold that sank in 1857 and the modern day effort to find and recover enough gold to change the world market. Kinder brings it all to life and explains the details of the pioneering deep-ocean recovery effort with remarkable clarity.
Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban Gorgeous book. I envy Raban’s ability to write with poetic beauty about the natural world and personal emotions. This book alternates between Raban’s personal experience sailing solo up the Inside Passage with the cultural history–specifically Captain Vancouver’s explorations–of the Pacific Northwest. The writing and story telling in this book are breathtaking.
Trash Fish: A Life by Greg Keeler At once hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a true “I laughed, I cried” story of Keeler’s life. And what a life! This guy is the Montana Renaissance Man: professor, talented painter, musician (who’s played gigs with Jeff Bridges), angler and writer. I’ve loved his skewed observations in The Flyfish Journal and other publications for years, and this book does not disappoint.
The Measure of a Mountain by Bruce Barcott Part memoir, part natural history, Barcott weaves the story of his own obsession with Mt. Rainier with fascinating facts about our famous volcano. As he does in his book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw and his many great pieces for Outside Magazine, Barcott sucks the reader into learning about a subject with a gripping personal story and sharp, clean prose.
The Collector by Jack Nisbet The story of David Douglas, the young Scottish botanist who explored the Pacific Northwest 25 years after Lewis & Clark, giving his name to our iconic fir tree. Anyone who has spent time outdoors in this region will be blown away by Douglas’ amazing feats of courage, endurance and enterprise. We are wimps in comparison. I thoroughly enjoyed–and learned a lot from–this book.
Okay, so that’s eleven…I just couldn’t help myself. And really, I could keep going. It’s humbling to consider how many great books exist in this arena. In any event, read these books if you can. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.