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These Books Amp Up The Adrenaline In Summer Reading


So many books, so little time. So tell me, what is worth reading this summer? That's what I've been asking a number of folks lately, each with different interests and backgrounds. And today, I'm looking for adventure - books that are off the beaten path, stories that go beyond the average beach trip or mountain hike. Our guide is Jonah Ogles. He's the associate editor for Outside magazine.

Welcome to the program.

JONAH OGLES: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: So I want to start with one story that is not average in any way. It's called "Crazy For The Storm," and it's a memoir by Norman Ollestad. Tell us a little bit about this book and why you're bringing it to us.

OGLES: Well, you know, Norman has one of those classic survival tales which we love to tell at Outside magazine. He was an 11-year-old boy who had been pushed by his father to be a competitive skier, an expert surfer. And they flying, actually, to pick up a ski trophy in California, in a small four-person plane, and the plane crashed in the San Gabriel Mountains outside of Los Angeles during a blizzard. His father and the pilot were killed instantly and he had to get down from about 8,200 feet to reach safety down the mountain.

CORNISH: As an 11-year-old.

OGLES: As an 11-year-old boy.

CORNISH: And now he's an adult teaching his own son some of these same kind of survival, but also just sort of outdoor skills.

OGLES: Exactly, and that's sort of what he wrestles with in the book. You know, he had a complicated relationship with his father and as a child almost resented him in some ways, but then he recognizes that in fact it's those very skills that saved his life. And so when he has a son of his own - how do you teach your son those skills without building resentment in the relationship?

CORNISH: Another man who felt the pull of extreme adventure was President Theodore Roosevelt. And in the book "River Of Doubt," Candice Millard talks about what happened on Roosevelt's infamous South America expedition, which apparently nearly killed him. I didn't know this.

OGLES: Oh, it did. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Roosevelt has come off of a defeat when he ran for president as a progressive candidate, and he's feeling a little restless, a little defeated. And he thinks, I know, I will make the first descent of a class five-plus river. Class five-plus means about as gnarly whitewater as you're going to encounter - the wild, raging rapids. And it's never been done. So they head up with these heavy canoes - that of course, you know, are smashed to pieces almost immediately - into uncharted Amazon territory. They're followed by indigenous tribes. Roosevelt gets a bad infection, is nearly killed by it, just barely makes it out alive, but is ultimately - in a very Roosevelt way - is sort of bolstered by the experience and finds himself a little bit renewed in spirit if not in body.

CORNISH: A lot of these books straddle the line between adventure and survival. One of them is "The Devil's Highway," and it's by the author Luis Alberto Urrea. And this is about some men who tried to cross the Mexican border into a region known as the Devil's Highway. What happened next?

OGLES: It's a pretty tragic story in addition to being one about survival because these 26 men are trying to cross the border into the United States, and they go through a stretch of the Sonoran Desert called the Devil's Highway which is an old, old route used by the conquistadors. Very, very little water, a very difficult crossing, a place so dangerous that even border patrol agents don't really venture in there, which of course it's why it's used by coyotes smuggling people across. And unfortunately for these men, their coyote wasn't as skilled as he led them to believe and sort of leads them in circles. And they very quickly run out of supplies in a place where it's deadly to do so. And of the 26 who set out, only 12 of the men survive and then only barely. Urrea goes back and traces the lives of these men while exploring the history of the border and what it means for men to be so desperate to be willing to even make this kind of crossing.

CORNISH: There is a long tradition of writing, right, of literature, that is about man being out in nature and - or even if I think back to Thoreau, right, like, kind of people talking about the relationship that we have with the outdoors. Do you still feel like there's that tradition?

OGLES: I do, absolutely. I believe it's alive and well. I think as people become more connected, there's almost an equal push to become disconnected, at least for short bursts of time, you know? People who go out on paddling expeditions for weeks at a time or even who just leave for a long weekend on a vacation where they're out of cell range - that drive and the people pursuing it, it's out there and I think there are actually more of us than ever.

CORNISH: That's Jonah Ogles. He's associate editor for Outside magazine.

Thank you so much for these book suggestions.

OGLES: Thank you for having me, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.