Remember when you bought your copy of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time? You meant to read it, but as it turned out, that book is full of astrophysics and math. Fortunately, that book worked two ways. You could leave it someplace conspicuous but plausible—somewhere a smart person might have been reading it, maybe on a small table by an overstuffed chair, a dish of cashews nearby and a bookmark slotted at page 185, rather than your true stopping point on 28. (This only worked for the original edition. The Illustrated version betrayed you, even if you did actually read it.)
You can admit it. We all did this, or a version of it, and it's okay. That's because books are aspirational. We keep books we've already read and never intend read again, just because looking at them reminds of the ideas and feelings inside. Same with books we've held onto for years, sometimes decades, that we haven't yet opened. We know there's something in those pages that will make us wiser/happier/funnier/skinnier once we get around to them, which will definitely happen.
This is especially true for the category sometimes called lifestyle: Lavishly illustrated cookbooks from exclusive restaurants or books about crafting your own small-batch whiskey. Gardening with moss. There's a certain aesthetic: paper-over-board hardcovers, embellished with simple pen-and-ink illustrations or photos of bearded people living authentically. You can probably find them in certain hip clothing stores, in the same display with exotically scented candles and naughty card games.
This all sounds a bit harsh. Sure, they're a bit twee, but don't judge these books by their covers. The information is often top-notch, and the packaging is only designed to deliver it to readers who might not buy the same book in a less elegant binding. In fact, it's perfect for a growing lifestyle subcategory: Outdoors skills and self-sufficiency. Hikers and campers who often spend winters and rainy weekends in agitated states of claustrophobia can redirect their anxiety by reading up on new skills and destinations, while wannabe explorers will get the push they need to walk into the wild.
Here are just a few examples of this new order of adventure book. And even if you never get around to reading them, they'll still look bomber on your bookshelf.
Forget lighting a fire. If you can't conjure flame like some kind of backcountry Gandalf, you might as well give your mountain man ambitions a hairy kiss good-bye. Fortunately, Daniel Hume delivers, offering seemingly all the ways to start conflagrations not involving a Mini Bic, including fire plow, fire piston, and fire thong. Gandalf in a fire thong, now you're talking.
To be fair, Emma Frisch hasn't written a camp cookbook for deep-wilderness treks. It's unlikely that anyone walking 15 to 20 miles through the mountains—loaded down by a sweaty backpack and sipping filtered lake water from a vinyl bag—is going to end a grueling day with anything but a sack of freeze-dried spaghetti. But if your idea of roughing it includes bocce, why not gather around the table for a rustic repast of "BBQ Tofu with Toasted Coconut" or "Fire-Licked Kale with Maple-Tahini Dressing," washed down with a tumbler of "Golden Milk"? These dishes will attract only the most discerning bears.
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Matt Collins has assembled a collection of backwoods projects you can make with a simple penknife, or more likely, that $250 tactical blade you bought for your Yellowstone car-camp adventure. Everyone knows that there's nothing to do when you go camping anyway (if there's no bocce), so it's the perfect time to whittle a new spoon, whistle, or wooden teeth.
It's not always practical to drop our workaday worries for a trip into the woods, so you might find it worthwhile to bring the "simple pleasures" inside. It's also a lot easier. Fording a stream is dangerous; reading about it from the comfy corner of your three-piece sectional is not. But the Kaufmann Mercantile Guide is not merely an SAS Survival Guide for the craft set: caring for raw denim, soap-making, and gutting fish are just a few of the old-timey skills that'll get you through the artisanal apocalypse.
As a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, Tristan Gooley has sailed solo across the Atlantic, flown small planes the Arctic and Africa, and climbed mountains on three continents, relying on traditional methods to find his way around. And with a name like Tristan Gooley, I am inclined to think he's legit. How to Read Water is less of a how-to than it is how I did it, a collection of water-based navigational challenges he faced around the world and around his neighborhood. Don't stamp another puddle without it.
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- A Field Guide to Rough Beasts
- We're All Gonna Die! (Unless You Read This Post)
- For Those About to Yacht Rock
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