Books to Inspire an Adventurous Life
I love adventure stories.
Tales of grit, risk-taking and overcoming great odds inspire me to live my own life to the fullest.
In case you're still looking for a great summer read, here are some of my adventure favorites. Enjoy!
1. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
One of the most gripping and inspiring survival stories I’ve ever read.
Endurance tells the true story of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 journey from England to Antarctica with his crew of 27 men.
Then, things go badly awry in the approach to Antartica: the ship gets stuck in ice just a day short of its destination. It then drifts for nearly a year before being entirely crushed.
On the ice, the men escape attacks from predatory sea leopards and subsist on a diet of penguin meat (apparently as appetizing as it sounds). Eventually a small crew, led by Shackleton, paddles an open boat across icy waters for 850 miles to the nearest possibility of rescue.
The perils just never stop in this book, and the men ably cope with them all. Their courage and determination push them to miraculous feats that eventually lead to their rescue. Above all, Shackleton is remembered for his leadership skills; under his watch, every member of the Endurance crew survived.
I first read this book on a trip to the Yucatan in Mexico. Imagining frigid Antarctica while sweating under a mosquito net made for a very memorable read!
2. All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot
Here’s a much more pastoral type of adventure. All Creatures Great and Small is the first of a series of semi-autobiographical books by James Herriot, the pen-name of James Alfred "Alf" Wight, an English veterinarian surgeon.
When we first meet Herriot, he's fresh out of school and in his first job in a rural practice in Yorkshire. All Creatures Great and Small is a collection of Herriot's many misadventures as the new country vet.
I've enjoyed these books as both a kid and as an adult. A word of warning: Read it alone as your recurring laughter will likely annoy others around you.
"Are you reading that book about the vet again?” complains my farmer husband. (Apparently there’s a bit of a rivalry between vets and farmers – each thinks they understand animals better than the other.)
3. Voyage of a Summer Sun, by Robin Cody
This book is set in my native home and favorite summertime place: The Pacific Northwest.
Voyage of a Summer Sun is a chronicle of Robin Cody’s self-designed adventure to paddle a canoe the length of the Columbia River, all by himself.
Cody followed the river 1,200 miles from its headwaters in British Columbia, through Washington State to the Oregon border and then finally to the Pacific Ocean. His journey took 82 days.
What I love most about this book is the reminder that we can always do more to learn about where we live. When we create our own adventures near home, we gain an even greater sense of connection and rootedness to the places we love.
Other memorable adventures (alphabetical by author):
Hole in My Life, by Jack Gantos
I was surprised to pick up Jack Ganto's 2002 memoir Hole in My Life and learn that he had such a dicey past. I knew him only as the American children's author who created Rotten Ralph, a not-so-well-behaved red cat.
In Hole in My Life, Gantos candidly tells the story of how he became a successful author after a very hard start.
In 1971, fresh out of high school, living largely without parental supervision and wondering how he'll pay for college, Gantos agrees to help sail a 60-foot yacht with a ton of hash from the Virgin Islands to NYC for $10,000. He gets caught. At 20 years old, he's sentenced to six years in prison.
Gantos' story has it all: restless teenage angst, high seas adventure, jail time, and finally redemption, when he discovers how to finally fulfill his dream of becoming a writer.
Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
By now a classic read for solo women travelers (or aspiring ones)!
Eat Pray Love follows Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision, on the heels of a bitter divorce and the realization that she needs to change her life, to travel to Italy to indulge her senses (eat), to an ashram in India (pray), and to Indonesia where she meets the man who becomes her next husband (love). Gilbert’s story is a very entertaining adventure, although her self-wallowing can be off-putting at times.
Motoring with Mohammed, by Eric Hansen
I first heard about this title from Nancy Pearl, the U.S. librarian who came into the national spotlight with her book, Book Lust. Having worked at a library, I know that librarians are indeed the best people for finding off-the-beaten-path reading treasures. This is no exception.
In 1978, Eric Hansen climbed aboard a private yacht to travel from Maldives to Athens by way of the Red Sea. They shipwrecked on an island off Yemen. Before he’s rescued, Hansen buries seven years of journals on the island with the intention of getting them back some day. Motoring with Mohammed is his story of going back to Yemen to try and do just that. It proves a lot harder than expected, and involves a lot more qat.
The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Okay, I’m sucker for lost-at-sea books. This one stars a tiger which makes it even more fascinating.
For a shorter, true and even more fascinating lost-at-sea story, check out The Castaways by Mark Singer, in The New Yorker.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Maybe if you really had your way, you’d spend a few weeks again at summer camp, running wild with friends, swimming in the lake, eating too much candy, and making misshapen ceramic mugs for your mom. Since that might be difficult to do given all your adult responsibilities, you can always escape to Hogwarts, maybe one of the best "camps" for kids ever conceived. Certainly it's the most magical.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed’s memoir of hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail shows you what it’s really like to backpack all the way through California and Oregon (when you’re a complete novice) and how to take the first steps to turning your life around after hitting rock bottom.
Strayed’s journey, at age 26, helped her heal from the early death of her mother and her divorce from her first husband. I first came across Strayed when I read her amazing personal essay about her mother’s death, “The Love of My Life,” in The Best American Essays of 2003. She’s a powerful writer who doesn’t shy from the hard stuff of life.
Do you have an adventure book to recommend? Add it to the comments below!