My Strategy for Fulfilling Reading in the Year of the Rat

Annapurna 1952 Color-Gravure of Lionel Terray at fixed rope above Camp II.

While I am considering better ways to satisfy my climbing reading interests this year, it’s a funny coincidence that we are in the year of the rat. The year of the rat is about demonstrating inquisitiveness, shrewdness, and resourcefulness. I read a lot in 2019, but I don’t think it was entirely fulfilling; perhaps some rat characteristics will help me.

In 2019, I read 18 books and all four Alpinist issues, which is a book unto itself. That was more books than I read in 2018 or 2017. However, I read far fewer climbing-related books last year, which saddens me because there are a lot of climbing books on my “short list.” In fact, you won’t be surprised that one of my ambitions is to become extremely well-versed in climbing literature.

So isn’t this as simple as just reading more climbing books in 2020? Well, no. Reading more has been my strategy for years, but I rarely look back and feel that the books I read helped me make progress toward my goal. And at times the book, while germane in scope, was not especially moving, though it was unique in its story. In fact, the long-form articles in Alpinist Magazine are more consistently stirring. So now, at the beginning of 2020, I realize that my standards and hopes have risen.

I have read 80 to 100 books (I think) about mountaineering, climbing, the mountains, and skills. However, the quality and enjoyment has been mixed. My strategy has, however, been haphazard. Whatever books I find I acquire for my shelf. I like the process of discovery at used book sales, which can mean many used book sales before finding a gem or even a popular or semi-popular title I do not own or haven’t read.

So what do I need to do in 2020 in order to read more climbing books?

First, I need to make a plan. Or perhaps it’s a list of books. I now have a list of 60 or so titles about climbing subjects along with their authors, and the year the book was first published. I have to consider the books on that list and whittle what I haven’t read and do not own.

Second, I need to change some habits. In previous years, I would read in the evenings, weekend mornings, and several pages scattered during the week after lunch, sitting in waiting rooms, on subways, or while I waited in the car with Wunderking and Schnickelfritz while Natalie ran into the market. Now that I drive (I in Lancaster, PA now sans-subway,) my work is a little more all-encompassing, and the kids are older and less likely to leave me to sit quietly by their side to read a few pages. I think evenings and an occasional weekend morning might be my best steady time slots.

Third, and lastly, I have restructured some of my overall priorities. I have asked after my responsibilities as dad and a housing nonprofit leader, what is the best use of my time? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to nutrition and fitness for overall health followed by my hobbies, and climbing literature is at the top of my list. I grow miserable without my hobbies, and I decline in energy and health if don’t focus on nutrition and fitness. So I will be reading more and training four days a week to be a V6 boulderer that isn’t sloppy or scrappy, rather I want to climb with deliberate movements, and transfer that to some walls.

So here goes with inquisitiveness, shrewdness, and resourcefulness. I am going to share some of the book lists I used to inform my list of classics-plus. I have interests that also extend into Alaska, Western Canada, Baffin Island, Patagonia, and New England and the Adirondacks. And there are also newer books, like Barry Blanchard’s The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains that could be called a modern classic. But we’ll see.

Of course, it’s also ironic that I am thinking of reading and rats. Unless we’re talking about Templeton from Charlotte’s Web, rats don’t read. Of course, Templeton may have only recognized words. Would Templeton have found me a scrap of Climbing Magazine had I asked him, “Mountains, Templeton, mountains!”

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