By the Book

Taking something to read

One of my favourite photos in John Rundle’s classic The Tararua Book is of an unshaven tramper sitting in his tent and reading a paperback western. Aside from the man’s general filthiness, there’s little in the photo to show he’s been tramping. And yet there he is, in a book entirely about the Tararua Ranges, proof to me at least that reading a book in your downtime is part of any trip into the hills.

But what book to take on your own trip? It’s a tough one and while ultimately it will be up to taste, I’d make a few suggestions. First of all, I reckon novels are best. You’re tired, maybe cold, you want something you can get lost in. Once, on an early trip before I’d figured this all out, I took a collection of Hemingway’s stories. I thought his tough guy yarns would be just the stuff for a trip into rugged Arthur’s Pass. But what I found was that when night came, I longed for something more escapist, something that didn’t end every few pages and so force me to remember that I lay shivering in unheated Goat Pass hut. For the same reasons, I’d say nothing too dense or difficult. Tramping is probably the time to leave Ulysses at home.

When it comes to subject matter, the big question is whether going bush is a good time to read books about going bush. There’s something to be said for a book that heightens the way you look at your surroundings, and stories of survival stories also have the added benefit of making your own rations taste better. But then again, if you’ve had a tough day, hours in the rain or snow, would you really want to read about someone doing the same?

Don’t take anything too heavy. For all those unread pages of The Infinite Jest or War and Peace you could be packing a beer or a few blocks of chocolate. And, I’d urge against ebooks, as well as their general horribleness, the batteries will run out just as you’re getting interested.

But for all these don’ts, the one thing you must do is take a book. Even serious tramping guides, include this advice, their checklists listing one alongside the thermal underwear and sunscreen. Sitting around a campfire or lying in your bunk listening to the rain on the roof, waiting for sleep to come after a day’s walk, there’s nothing better.