The perfect week-long read...
February 21, 2009 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me find just the right book for a week spent rebuilding the Appalachian trail...

In March, on my spring break, I'm going down to Georgia to help rebuild the Appalachian trail head. It's going to be six days of awesome already, but I would like to have just the right book to seal the deal.

Specifications are: I would like historical fiction, fantasy, travelogue, sci-fi or something similar. I need to be able to finish it in six days (six days with ample time for reading, however, and I read quite fast), so that I'm not blowing off homework for it once school starts again. I'm looking for something tremendously exciting, escapist and engrossing-- bonus points if it makes me think a lot, extra super-bonus points if it's swashbuckling AND makes me think a lot.

I am not looking for: "modern" fiction; any huge series; anything under 250 pages (and preferably 350+); generally speaking 'the classics', unless you mean Dumas and not, say, Proust; non-fiction unless it is an engrossing biography. You get the idea.

Thank you in advance!
posted by WidgetAlley to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson. A great account about him walking part of the Appalachian trail.
posted by kaizen at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2009

Just to forestall the inevitable recommendation of Bryson, I've already read A Walk in the Woods.

On preview: damn! Not quite fast enough!
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:33 AM on February 21, 2009

The Fool's Progress - Ed Abbey

Love of Nature.
Story of returning home to the Appalachians.

I've read it many times and the best times were in the woods.
The super-extra-best times were when I was doing trail maintenance work.
Also good for reading excerpts aloud.
posted by Seamus at 10:40 AM on February 21, 2009

I went on a similar trip to Tennessee my sophomore year of college which led me to find seasonal work with conservation corps. If you find you really enjoy that kind of work, check out this site for more (and paid) opportunities.

Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire is a personal favorite if you want to read something outdoors related. Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums is a quicker read but a great book nonetheless.

You could check off historical fiction and sci fi with Michael Crichton's Timeline. If you have seen the move but not read the book, you should check out the book. It's infinitely better.

Wind, Sand, and Stars by the man who wrote A Little Prince is part travelogue, part historical biography, part adventure story. As you might expect, it's beautifully written.

Have fun out there!
posted by thewestinggame at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2009

My favorite book ever is "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Very engrossing, and I'm thinking it should take you just about six days to finish. Although not really related to what you're doing on the trailhead.
posted by raisingsand at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2009

I very much enjoyed London, by Edward Rutherford, and Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.
posted by HopperFan at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2009

You might enjoy Peter Jenkins' A Walk Across America (a true story written by a guy as he tries to walk across the country with his dog) or The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert, a story about a guy who lives in the mountains and really tries to live as the pioneers or native Americans did. I found both to be thought provoking and engrossing, and perfect for time spent in the outdoors. Finally, The River Why by David James Duncan is one of my most favorite outdoorsy, inspirational, page-turning books of all time.

Also, I second the recommendations of Edward Abbey. His stuff tends to be more about the desert, but his love of nature and his great sense of responsibility towards taking care of it comes through no matter what landscape you find yourself in the midst of.

Good luck, and thank you for helping the trail!
posted by vytae at 2:02 PM on February 21, 2009

I would STRONGLY recommend The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It is six stories forming a more-or-less cohesive whole, and contains six separate writing styles from six separate periods of time. It covers historical fiction and sci-fi and travelogue. It is my absolute favorite book.

Downside: it's a little long. But I blitzed through it in a week, and I am by NO MEANS a fast reader.

Ghostwritten or Black Swan Green, also by David Mitchell, are also great. BSG is faster, but Ghostwritten is more like The Cloud Atlas, and, I think, more what you're looking for.
posted by ansommer at 6:07 PM on February 21, 2009

Memoir From Antproof Case by Mark Helprin. It is really a great book, it is engaging, it is long enough for your needs, it has lots of history wrapped into it, it is funny as hell, and I mean laugh out loud funny. And it is beautiful, the man can write, Helprin can really write; I've got pages folded over and passages underlined all over the book, and I am not the type of reader who does this. I met a woman in my doctors office and asked her what it was that she was reading, and she a reader from what she told me, and she told me that this was her favorite book of any, what a story it was! and I took that recommendation and I am surely glad that I did. I had an extra copy of a book that I really love in my pickup Pluche or the Love of Art which I gave her; I hope she enjoyed it, and I bet she did; I'd recommend this to you for your week long read but it doesn't seem to fit all your criteria, in fact it doesn't even get past your first one, that of being x pages long.

Thanx for helping the trail, I hope you find the right book (quite frankly, I hope that it's Memoir From Antproof Case) and that you enjoy it and that you enjoy your time in the woods.

posted by dancestoblue at 6:10 PM on February 21, 2009

I'm looking for something tremendously exciting, escapist and engrossing-- bonus points if it makes me think a lot, extra super-bonus points if it's swashbuckling AND makes me think a lot.

What you are looking for is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. 900 pages of swashbuckling, 20th-century-spanning, mind-bending fun that goes by in no time at all. Trust me: its perfect.
posted by googly at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2009

posted by JuiceBoxHero at 9:28 PM on February 21, 2009

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin is not swashbuckling, but it meets your other requirements (exciting, escapist, engrossing, and makes you think). It's also in my opinion one of the best scifi books out there, so if you like science fiction and haven't read it your week in the woods might be a good time to give it a try.

Ever read Lonesome Dove? Swashbuckling, exciting, historical fiction, a bit long so good for a week's read, good pacing, and a piece of the American psyche and all. It might be something to consider as well.
posted by frobozz at 10:03 PM on February 21, 2009

Bruce Chatwin's Songlines is a travelogue that I found made me think, but I'd definately read the description to see if it's of interest. It's not particularly swashbuckling.

I'd also second LeGuin (I preferred Dispossessed but Left Hand of Darkness is more well-known.) LeGuin is great, but not necessairly a 'fun' read. If you're looking for that, I'd maybe consider China Melvilla Perdido Street Station. It is a quick read, though.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:57 AM on February 22, 2009

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