Do Climbers Read?

A beautiful day in the Brooks Range. (All rights reserved)

In a recent article about the Banff Centre’s role in mountain literature at Gripped.com, Jon Popowich talked about how mountain literature moved him as a young man: “There were many times when I encountered words that were not just of actions, but were of reflections and feelings, as the writers tried to make sense of the landscapes within them.”

As one of my regular readers, you’re here because you enjoy climbing literature, or perhaps you just like reading about adventures in the mountains. You read. However, many of your peers do not. By read, I am referring to narratives and biographies, rather than guidebooks, magazines and digital content.

In the article, Popowich quoted Geoff Powter, who is a climber, author, and editor, about the general lack of readership:

Powter noted there is a general feeling that people are not reading as much now, at least books. “The proportion of people who climb and read is way less. At the gym, I asked people “what’s the last mountain book you read?” Hearing nothing, I then asked “okay…what’s the last book you read?” Not many. People spend a lot of time searching online or reading magazines. So that’s the critical component of the literary side of Banff.”

Jon Popowich, “The Role of the Banff Centre in Mountain Literature,” retrieved from Gripped.com on June 17, 2020.

Even before I started writing this blog (over 10 years now), I met climbers and nonclimbers that did not read anything not on a screen, and that did not include ebooks. They had not heard of Annapurna or No Picnic on Mount Kenya, influential climbing books and arguably classics. This is why I drifted from discussing alpine climbing news and history (which I still do occasionally) to sharing books about climbing and sometimes sharing stories of famous ascents; they had never heard of them.

Publishers of climbing books like Rocky Mountain Books, The Mountaineers Books, and Vertebrate Publishing continue to publish narratives and biographies annually. Margaret McDonald and David Smart have books both being released in the next several weeks. And non climbing-specialist publishers, like Penguin and its imprints, continue to publish quality mountaineering and climbing sagas periodically. They are clearly selling. I wonder whether climbers are the ones actually reading these books?

I also wonder whether the lack of readership among climbers is part of the modern cultural trend with digital content. Consumers want snippets, speed, instant access, and the ability to move on to the next thing swiftly. Books are not sips, they’re gulps. They’re an immersive process, rather than a quickly satisfying espresso, and they are, for most, longer commitments than a day of binge watching a series on Netflix. The trend of lengthy experiences is also in decline in popularity, from long, meandering backpacking trips, needlepoint, nine-inning baseball games, and playing a full eighteen holes of golf. They’re just too long and committing for the modern general audience.

For me, I’ll keep reading and sharing climbing books and passing on a little about my Who’s Who in climbing history as I go along.

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll post here on T.S.M. again for you in a couple of weeks. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Twitter and/or Facebook. Read on!

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  1. […] Do Climbers Read? Andrew Szalay wonders whether the contemporary shortage of good climbing literature is related to modern preferences for short and snappy online media. […]

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