When journalist David Walsh, the chief sports writer for the
Sunday Times and the author of From Lance to Landis and LA Confidential, needed
a title for his new book about the 13 years he’s spent trying to expose
Lance Armstrong’s doping, he took to Twitter. “Thinking about title
for this last book on LA, have not come up with anything. So okay it's over to
you - 1 or 2-word title, 3 or 4 max,” he said.
Responses came streaming in. Some were
good. Some made little sense at all. Walsh kept a running tab of his
favorites and responded to them. Here’s a short list, including the tweet announcing the winner, Seven Deadly Sins.
Most river epics take place far away on remote stretches of whitewater, but Idaho guides Jon Barker and Clancy Reece found adventure, and disaster, closer to home. The pair’s exploits running the Salmon River are the subject of the fast-moving Anything Worth Doing ($15, Sundog) by Jo Deurbrouck, another longtime Salmon guide.
The book follows Barker and his late mentor, Reece, on two voyages over the span of 10 years. The first of these is a grueling, 1988 Huck Finn-like trip from the Salmon’s source, high in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, down 900 mostly windy river miles to the mouth of the Columbia. Based on Reece’s journals and Barker’s recollection, it’s a boat-level snapshot of America’s most-dammed waterway two decades before documenting entire river systems came into favor. (Barker was also the first to run the Colorado from source to sea the following year.)
The second trip is a fool’s errand that costs Reece his life. In June 1996, the Salmon crested at nearly 100,000cfs. The two men and a third volunteer set off down the upper Salmon at dusk with it in their heads that they’d break the world record for most river miles traveled in a 24-hour period. That spring, I was 17 and working with Deurbrouck as a swamper, setting camps, washing dishes, and spending my free hours learning to kayak on the same stretch of river. (The previous summer, it had been Deurbrouck who taught me to roll up in an old Perception Dancer; we’ve stayed in touch on and off.)
The accident rocked the small rafting town of Riggins, and Doubrouck retells it with a deep understanding of the way rivers and boats interact. Rowing through the dark, she writes, Reece and Barker “sought the center bead of the current by instinct, and stayed in it by seeking even pressure against each oar blade and that steady, predictable rocking of the boat that only occurs on unconflicted water.” Surprisingly, it wasn't the dark, the old-growth driftwood, or even the swollen rapids that drowned Reece but the beginner's mistake of not dressing for the cold.
The account of Reece’s demise is truly terrifying, but Anything Worth Doing is ultimately a profile of one of Idaho’s last iconoclast boatmen. (The term “raft guide” is treated as a slur among the oldtimers.) Reece comes across as bearish and self-reliant, like a landlocked Thor Heyerdahl or a less militant George Heyduke. He’s “proud but perilously close to extraneous, full of esoteric knowledge the broader world found colorful more than useful.” And like so many of his ilk, he wasn’t a guy who bent to advice after he’d made up his mind.
On Thursday, Banff announced that Fire Seasonwon the Grand Jury Prize in its 2012 book competition. Written by Philip Connors, who quit his job at The Wall Street Journal to work on a fire lookout for eight seasons, the book quickly gained an impressive slate of reviews when it was released earlier this year. In our May issue, Bruce Barcott offered his opinion. "In short, it's one of the best books to come out of a government gig since Ed Abbey turned a ranger's wage into Desert Solitaire," he said.
Banff gave the book its Grand Jury Prize for a number of reasons.
"The winner of the Grand Jury Prize was for all three of us judges the
outstanding book of the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition. Nothing
else came close in terms of literary quality, human oddity, and that
indefinable element of surprise present in all the very best writing. We
loved this book," the judges wrotes. "The persona, the character as it comes through in his
book of the author, his humor and odd sagacity, his sharp and lucid
gift of natural observation, the fascinating perspective he gives on the
ecology of wildfire, charmed and informed us. Also, since he went to
school in Missoula, he can almost be claimed as Canadian, Montana being
more like here than down there. Of all this year’s authors, here’s the
one with whom we felt we’d most like to share a beer."
"His book will surely be accepted into the outdoor and environmental literary canon as one to be ranked with Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and ornery old Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire," they continued. "It’s the account of a former Wall Street Journal writer’s sojourns through several summers at a fire-lookout post in the Gila Wilderness Area of southwest New Mexico: If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is."
If you still need another opinion, consider this one from Outside senior editor Grayson Schaffer: "The gushing, here, over Philip Connors's book is well deserved," he said on Facebook. "Must read."
I've included the other winners below. Click on the award to read feedback from the Banff Mountain Book Competition Jury, and on the title to buy the book.
The 2012 book competition includes 18 finalists in four major categories: adventure travel, mountain and wilderness literature, guidebooks, and mountain image. Roughly 50 readers whittled the entries down over the summer to their favorite books. On November 1, the festival will announce the $1,000 winner in each category and the $2,000 grand prize for the best book of the year.
If you have time on your hands and a little money to burn, the festival takes place in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, from October 27 to November 4. You can pick up copies of the books at the festival and maybe track down a few of the authors. Just in case your schedule doesn't allow for such a jaunt, we've included a list of the finalists below, with links to their books on Amazon. And here's a link to The Whisky Exchange too, just in case you want to read like they do in Banff.