In my opinion, the best part of a hiking trip is the downtime. Yes, I love the toil and sweat of gritting my teeth and climbing a few thousand feet. The accomplished feeling and satisfaction of looking out over the valley below brings unexplainable exhilaration; an intrinsic mixture of dauntless gall and cerebral bliss. But when the day’s hike is done, the planned miles now a distant memory, a trodden trail; I love nothing more than lying in the dirt with a good book.
I have compiled a list of some good, trail-worthy books. It’s important to remember to not overload yourself because you feel you must have Wolfe’s (no relation) Look Homeward, Angel, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (hellish nightmares) or anything even remotely related to what we classify as “self-help” (nobody wants a hiking partner suggesting sweaty hugs after completing a day’s hike).
Here is a short list I have compiled; I’d love to hear yours:
Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart – Kephart, a retired librarian, went to live in the Southern Appalachians in 1904. For anyone interested in the region, this book offers such valuable insights and anecdotes to life in Appalachia that simply cannot be found anywhere else.
Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims: And Other Speeches by Mark Twain – Get to know one of the most important figures in American literature. Here, you will learn that Twain was a highly sought after public speaker (mainly to pay off debts) throughout his life. As always, the book is full of admirable humor and first-rate wit.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – This book is of ample length for a week’s hike. I read this book sitting up because I don’t laugh well lying down.
True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway – Yes, a strange choice for Hemingway. We could certainly follow the paths of characters such as Nick Adams (The Nick Adams Stories), Santiago (The Old Man and the Sea) or Jake Barnes (The Sun Also Rises). For me, this blend of autobiography and fiction allows for a declarative self-portrait of the great writer and sportsman. It is of proper weight to carry and word count to last several days.
A Painted House by John Grisham – Of proper length (465 pages) and very light (in paperback). The tale of Luke Chandler will keep you entertained and laughing, but could also cause hunger pains when young Luke’s mother and grandmother head into the kitchen for Sunday dinner. The strains of farm life in the Arkansas delta will make you appreciate your freedom on the trail as Grisham proves the storyteller he is.
And last but not least, my personal favorite for the trail:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – I know what you’re thinking, “What kind of sophomoric loony are we dealing with here?” Bilbo Baggins’s journey is an epic one. While most of us are on the pseudo-tame trails of North America, Bilbo is following the direction of Gandalf and thirteen trouble-loving dwarfs, travelling through Rivendell and the Misty Mountains. Tolkien’s writing provides a visual aesthetic that has not found many challengers as the hobbit finds himself in and out of trouble at an incalculable rate.
Most of these books can be found on the Internet for relatively cheap prices. Don’t be afraid to trade books with others along the trail when you’re finished. Sign it and date it. You never know the path you are allowing that book to walk unless you give it a chance.