Read: Top Ten Reads

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I’m talking all-time you crazy people. All-time. Top ten. These are the books I reread on a yearly basis. Most of them anyway. Some are behemoths, the literary equivalent of the tar pit. Some of these might be on your list. Some you might dislike. That’s okay. And another thing, the list is fluid, as are most things in life. In no particular order.

  1. The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretal Erhlich. I could put a number of her books on this list but the bar for me starts with Solace. Now, I spent part of my life on a ranch in Wyoming and NOBODY nails this time and this place like Erhlich. I’ve always wanted to meet her, never have.
  2. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. This is so scary good I don’t even know what to write about it. Imagine Apocalypse Now meets Pale Rider. Apparently, a script has been floating around for years but nobody has been able to figure out how to make it. If they screw this up I will personally hold them responsible. This is one book of a three-book trilogy about the border and all three are incredible but Blood Meridian is the standard of which all other books of this genre are gauged. According to lore, he wrote it while living in a trailer behind a grocery store in El Paso.
  3. Rum Diary, Hunter Thompson. His first book. Here is the thing about Thompson. He never gets his due from literary snobs because of his incredible lifestyle and his disregard of the same establishment. Rum Diary was his first book and was the beginnings of what would later become Gonzo Journalism, a perfect blend of fact and fiction. Thompson was unique and has been copied and ripped off by many, many other writers and creatives. The movies about him pale compared to the books. And, if you ever get a chance to read his letters then by all means. He was prolific and sent hundreds and hundreds of letters, sometimes to the same person. And he hated Nixon like no one else.
  4. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E Lawrence. Holy shit. If you think you are an adventurer well then take a month to read this beast and you will realize you are mostly amateur hour. Lawrence, also known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” was the man. Early 1900’s, Arabia and his exploits as a military officer unlike any other.
  5. The Quiet American, Graham Greene. I became a photographer because of seeing the work of Larry Burrows from the Vietnam War. There are a few seminal books about the war and Green’s Quiet Ameican is one of them. Want to know others, hit me up below.
  6. Giving you two-for-one The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer and The Thin Red Line by James Jones. War. It’s in our nature and it’s good for business. We can learn SO much from war if we give ourselves a chance. Most of the time we do not. These two books are long enough for you to feel like you are there, in the trenches.
  7. The Bhagavad Gita. what piqued my interest in the Bhagavad Gita was a reference from Oppenheimer when asked about the atomic bomb test. From there I realized T.S. Eliot, Thoreau, Emerson and Gandhi all referenced this baby, and the combination of those people prompted the purchase. I loved this book and will probably reference it again again. It points to the basics I see around me every single day. It may or may not give meaning depending, well, on you.
  8. Into the Silence, Wade Davis. Everest. Mallory. The summit, not quite. This was an incredible book that led me on a reading voyage that spiraled out in numerous directions.
  9. The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maughn. I read this every year. And I have friends who are equally attached. We have meetings where we just talk about Larry Darrell. This book has influenced me in so many ways I can’t’ tell you.
  10. Okay, lazy wins out. Anything from Terry Tempest Williams and anything from Joan Didion. Oh Hell, and John McPhee. I tried to narrow it down but I can’t. Uber women, Uber man who put it down like nobody else.

I realized after about point number two that this is impossible to do well. I’ve left out all the classics. Dickens, etc. Whatever. This ought to hold you for a few months.

Comments 20

  1. Dan, thanks so much for all these authors. I have some in my “stable” already like Didion, McPhee, Hunter Thompson (I want to read his first book), and of course Cormac McCarthy. I am getting the Razor’s Edge right away and the Bhagavad Gita has been a kind of Bible to me. It is all about taking action and believing in yourself. That I think is what you are all about, such a man of action. Thank you. Janet

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      Razor is so, so good. I met someone in a parking lot last year, here in Santa Fe. After we go to know each other we were hanging out and we both looked at each other at the same time and said “What does Larry Darrell mean to you,” then started laughing hysterically.

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  2. Great list, Dan… I guess I may as well read while hunkering down during this Coronavirus thing. Agree with you on TTW – I read “The Hour of Land” on your recommendation here and loved it. I am planning a trip to Teddy Roosevelt Nat’l Park this May after reading TTW, that is unless it gets nixed by the continuing CV pandemic. We have already canceled two trips because of CV.

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      I think we are going to have to find adventures in our houses…for a while. Williams is so eloquent. Love her.

  3. a few of these (Solace of Open Spaces, Quiet American, Gita) are already on my shelf. books i would add…

    – anything by paul theroux. my recommendations would be ‘deep south’, ‘happy isles of oceania’, ‘riding the iron rooster’ and ‘mosquito coast’
    – ‘the sheltering sky’ by paul bowles
    – ‘junky’ by william burroughs
    – ‘the master and margarita’ by mikhail bulgakov
    – ‘on trails’ by robert moor
    – ‘the origins of creativity’ by edward o. wilson
    – ‘one day in the life of ivan denisovich’ by alexander solzhenitsyn (currently working my way through the gulag archipelago series)
    – ‘a gentleman in moscow’ by amor towles
    – the expanse series by james s.a. corey (hard sci-fi for when you need a non-fiction break)

    those are just off the top of my head. could probably find some more if i got up to go look at the shelf.

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      Sheltering Sky and ALL Paul Bowles, FOR SURE. Junky is awesome too. Wilson is incredible, all his stuff. Don’t know the rest but will. Thank you!

    2. forgot a couple. all by william finnegan – ‘barbarian days: a surfing life’, ‘crossing the line’ and ‘cold new world’.

      you should get a kick out of barbarian days. such a great read.

  4. Thanks for your list! Judging by the titles I’ve already read (and loved, too) the other ones should be brilliant as well.
    You’re one of the few other people I’ve ever come across who’ve read “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” We had a sort of secret society of history geeks and adventurous souls in college whom I turned on to it. I was as zealous about it as any Bible thumper is about the Good Book. Patti Smith said she modeled her approach to leading her rock n roll band on Lawrence’s book. Not sure exactly what she meant, but it sounds cool.
    And “Blood Meridian”? Unforgettable, scarring, searing, pure genius. (Do you ever see Mr. McCarthy down there in Santa Fe? I’d probably do something stupid if I did — kinda like that bus load of women who thought you were Brad Pitt.)
    I’ve read a few translations of the Gita, and really enjoyed Isherwood’s and Barbara Stoller Miller’s.
    And I just re-read “Salvador”, thanks to your post here — sensational.
    Okay, now I gotta grab a book and get on it.

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      I do see him from time to time but he is notoriously reclusive. I’m going to reread “Pillars.” The guy was beyond comprehension. Salvador the movie, which is not based on her book, is also a must see. James Woods was unreal good.

  5. Great list. For a long time I was hoping to get down to 5 kept books. If I wanted to add one, I’d have to give 1 of the 5 away. Wanted to rely more on libraries. I identified the 5 but never got there in terms of ditching all the others. But Razor’s Edge is 1 of the 5, and I can’t imagine it ever being on the chopping block.

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  6. I would humbly suggest that if you’re a person who loves to write then read anything by Ernest Hemingway particularly “The Sun also Rises”.
    Dentro de la gravedad

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      For Whom the Bell Tolls too. I love Hemingway. And I great up hunting and fishing.

  7. I have just finished reading Into the Silence by Wade Davis and wow – what an amazing book. I saw the book on your website a few months ago and being hugely into hiking I had to get it! Knowing what these men had been through prior to the expeditions was just incomprehensible. Do you personally think Mallory and Irvine summited?

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      Hmm, I just don’t know. I’m guessing no but I wouldn’t want to take anything away from what they did. Just the part of the book about surveyors who would leave England, be totally forgotten, then return home a decade later to be received by “Who are you?” “All of the people who assigned you are dead.”

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      Many times. And it’s in my mom’s bookcase as well. She read it a few years ago and loved it as well. The issue is that the world of Abbey is already gone. He knew it in the 1970s. His idea about not letting motorized vehicles in national parks is a good one and makes SO much sense but our population, as evidenced by the last three and a half years, is nowhere near capable of making good decisions. There are a handful of remaining pockets of real nature left but those are all on the chopping block. We are a city-living, screen loving population now.

  8. Hi Dan
    Just scrolling through your mountainous book reading selection, came to the top ten lot, and was stoked to see HST at 3, I have read many of his books, I love his style.
    That man, for the number of drugs he took, has got some great work.
    Journalism in those days, in Puto Rico… I can imagine lol
    Thanks for all your great work
    Regards Craig

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      Think of how many people ripped him off over the years, and are still ripping him off now. Like Peter Beard. So many people tried ripping off his work but nobody really came close. The great doctor will be missed. And his attacks on Nixon were the best.

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