Gone Reading

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Gone Reading
By Larry Burke

Few genres of writing can match the world of outdoor literature for richness, exuberance, or sheer eclecticism. Whether it's the novels of Herman Melville or the travel epics of Paul Theroux, the Boy Scout Handbook or the non-fiction of Annie Dillard, one could argue that the natural world has provided the raw inspiration for more printed words than any subject this side of love itself. So when we asked Outside book reviewer Miles Harvey to help us compile a list of the finest works in the field of outdoor literature, we knew that it would be a daunting undertaking.

For the past few months we've been combing libraries and bookstores, polling various outdoor cognoscenti, and burning the midnight oil with our own extracurricular reading. The result is "The Outside Canon," a surprising, passionate, and sometimes irreverent compendium that ranges from poetry to adventure tales to manuals and everything in between. Our own choices are enlivened by the recommendations of such writers as Richard Ford, Ian Frazier, Garrison Keillor, and Terry Tempest Williams. Recognizing that our selections represent but a sampling of the true wealth that's out there, we offer our canon not as something handed down from on high, but simply as an enticing work in progress, shared from one friend to another. "The word canon has always filled me with dread," notes Harvey. "Yet these works are a thrill to read, and form a terrific jumping off point for a lifetime of literary adventuring."

Maybe the only thing more pleasurable than reading great books about the natural world is immersing oneself in it. And what more classic form of immersion is there than a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail, the 2,200-mile strand of wilderness that runs along the country's eastern spine? When associate editor Brad Wetzler and photographer Eric O'Connell set out on the AT last summer, they found the granddaddy of American footpaths flourishing with its own culture, its own etiquette, its own heroes and clowns. In his lyrical portrait, "I Hear America Slogging," Wetzler captures the landscape, the lore, and the die-hard spirit of a cast of shaggy characters who, in their guileless hopes and quests for high jinks, are oddly reminiscent of Chaucer's pilgrims.

Elsewhere in this issue: Richard B. Woodward heads off to the savannas of Botswana to meet with Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a team of acclaimed cinematographers whose rapturous documentaries have helped transform the nature film industry from the sentimental early days of Born Free to today's generation of unflinchingly graphic documentaries. Woodward finds the Jouberts living out an African idyll while growing ambivalent about their role in a fast-changing field and the intrusive demands of their new-found celebrity. Correspondent Elizabeth Royte visits Fort Davis, Texas, a town that may well be the least toxic spot in America and that lately has been attracting a curious subculture of human canaries--patients suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities. These panallergic newcomers have forced longtime residents to confront a provocative question: Should the cleanest place in America be even cleaner?

Finally, in this month's cover story, which begins on page 99, we offer a special edition of Bodywork, just in time to whip you into shape for the warm months ahead. In an age when fitness advice seems to be a cacophony of both hype and often contradictory opinions, we asked Mark Jannot to assess the training strategies of six supreme athletes--from beach volleyball legend Karch Kiraly to World Cup sport-climbing titlist Robyn Erbesfield--in order to isolate the six building blocks to total fitness: strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, nutrition, and rest. The result is a training plan that's sophisticated enough to distill the best of these philosophies and yet simple enough that we mere mortals can actually follow it, week after week.

Should this regimen fail to condition you for the summer, then we would politely advise you to go take a hike. How about, say...from Georgia to Maine?

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