A COVID-19 Reading List


“You have reached the Montana Unemployment Insurance department, due to unforeseen circumstances we are unable to take you call right now. Please try again later…beep beep beep”

It’s been over two weeks since the Grand Targhee Resort suddenly closed and I joined the masses of people trying to apply for unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis to no avail. I’ve been splitboarding as much as possible, trying to do it responsibly, meeting partners at the trailhead instead of carpooling and staying 6 feet apart and keeping objectives super mellow to minimize risk of avalanche or injury; finishing some latent crafting projects; cooking; walking the dog, who is happy he has someone for post-breakfast cuddles; and scrolling my phone… I’m starting to feel the uncontrollable urge to pick fights with friends of friends in ridiculous arguments about face mask use and the coronavirus stimulus package. I think it’s time for #socialmediadistancing. So, here are a few books I’ve read and enjoyed in the past year that I think are relevant to the current situation. (Click the photo of each book for my Amazon affiliate link.)

The Fifth Risk

This 2018 book examining the transition to the Trump Administration after the 2016 election was terrifying when I read it last fall, but now it just seems prescient. The book argued that the biggest problem with the Trump Administration is not just blatant corruption and crony capitalism but how the systematic gutting of the federal administrative agencies is exposing the country to unprecedented risk. With stories of the unsung heroes in the federal bureaucracy whose unsexy and low paying (compared to the private sector) jobs keep everything we take for granted working, Lewis’ book was a Cassandra-esque plea for the importance of government and governance in the face of neo-liberal orthodoxy that “government is the problem, not the solution” and a bunch of cynics who thought it would be better to elect Trump and “burn it all down” rather than vote for Hilary and politics as usual. And here we Americans are: in the middle of a global pandemic with no coherent strategy, lacking basic healthcare supplies, while the President of the United States of America spreads unscientific misinformation and acts like a mob boss. We are now reminded that government is not just the egos of the flip-flopping, power-hungry politicians we all love the hate, but should be a provider of essential services to keep our communities safe and functional.

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein’s book argues that neo-liberal capitalism and market globalization are fundamentally incompatible with taking any serious efforts to address the climate crisis. We need to fundamentally rethink capitalism, shed our growth for growth’s sake mindset and realign our values if we are going to save human civilization (not the planet, folks!) from the climate crisis. She challenges conventional market-based solutions like cap-and-trade, dashes our hopes for a billionaire technologist savior, criticizes big green non-profits for selling out to greenwash major polluters (including oil and gas companies), and argues that environmental issues are social justice issues. For example, what is good for climate is not NGOs in rich countries buying up the Amazon rainforests for cap-and-trade and fencing off the indigenous people from their subsistence way of life, but allowing those people to live their more sustainable lives without pressuring them to join the global economy and burn down the rain forest to farm beef for MacDonald’s hamburgers. A lot of her ideas may have sounded very extreme until a couple weeks ago, but if we are willing to shut down the global economy for COVID-19 when convinced it is a matter of life of death, what if we treated climate change like the matter of life or death which it is? And in the midst of the current economic shut down and sheltering in place, can’t you start to imagine a life not defined by consumption and an identity not defined by your job?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

A funny, entertaining read about a cynical, narcissistic woman who lives a life of extreme social distancing and doesn’t deign to conform to social norms, who discovers what it means to have friends and confront your deepest fears.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

A therapist goes to a therapist. I read this to try to find out “what is talk therapy?”, since I am interested in trying it. We might all need some therapy after this crisis. Also, funny, relatable personal stories will help restore your faith in humanity if your local mutual aid volunteers haven’t already.

An Armchair Adventurer’s Reading List


While I was still chained to my desk bored to death, I started reading a lot of outdoor adventuring books. I made a category on my Kindle titled “Adventuring” that made me happy. Here are the four books that most inspired me. (Click the photo of each book for my Amazon affiliate link.)

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (1968)

Edward Abbey’s angry and irreverent 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang would spawn a generation of eco-terrorists, but if you read Desert Solitaire, a collection of stories/essays reflecting on the two seasons he worked as a ranger in Arches National Monument (now Arches National Park) you will come to understand why Abbey was so angry.  He loves the desert and it’s disappearing, sacrificed in the name of progress and development, what remains tamed and caged up for exploitation by “industrial tourism”. Abbey’s life was full of contradiction and in many ways he’s a problematic person to hold up as a hero, but his poignant descriptions of the desert, its plant, animal and human life, its water, weather and geology are the most beautiful prose I have ever read. I can finish reading this book and then just start reading it again from the beginning. More often I just flip to a random page and start reading. It’s on my Kindle, but I also own a paperback, this last copy I purchased from the information center in the actual Arches National Park when my cousin Eileen took me winter camping in Arches for my birthday because she knew I loved Desert Solitaire. She made fun of me for buying a new copy when I had the book on the Kindle I left back in Salt Lake, but I got to read the first chapter describing his first night in the park by the red light of my headlamp while snuggled into my sleeping bag at Devil’s Garden Campground. An hour or so later, Eileen did the same when she got back from her night hike. So, it was totally worth picking up an extra copy. And since I have a hard copy, maybe I can lend it to you.

Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Carrot Quinn (2015)

Everyone’s heard of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. But I think Carrot’s self-published account of her 2013 thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is better. Wild is more about Strayed’s personal issues, while Carrot’s book is a vivid picture of what trail life is like. Carrot’s book made me think “maybe I can hike the PCT too” and prompted me to set the goal of hiking the JMT this year. This isn’t just another run-of-the-mill trail journal turned self-published book, because you can tell from her writing that she’s one of those people who has always been a writer and has been honing her craft for a long time. You can read more of her stuff here.

Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1700 miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1980)

It’s one thing to embark on an adventure such as hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Te Araroa, or even trekking in Nepal or climbing Mount Everest. People have done it before, you can read about it on the Internet, hire a guide. If you have the right preparation you know you can probably do it.

It’s another thing to decide to camel-pack across the Australian Outback with no one else but your dog, an adventure that requires starting from figuring out how to get your foot in the door with some very unpleasant characters to learn how to work with camels.

Davidson struggles with sexism, racism, feeling like a sell out when she funds her trip by allowing National Geographic to write a story about it, among other things. What I like about the book is she doesn’t really portray herself as a likable person. She’s misanthropic. She went on the trip to be alone and resents National Geographic, even though they are funding her, and feels hounded by media coverage. Her adventure is from an era before social media, but she intensely dislikes how the beautiful photos the cute National Geographic photographer takes of her inevitably change her journey and make it feel less authentic and personal to her.

(There is also a 2014 movie version of Tracks that I have not watched yet. Maybe she’s softened up because the Davidson in the book would be mortified by the idea of having her journey Hollywood-ized.)

The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness by James Campbell (2007)

Journalist by trade, James Campbell writes this loving and sympathetic biography of his cousin Heimo, the last hunter-trapper still living with his wife and two young daughters almost year round in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also an elegy to a certain way of life. If you loved the Little House on the Prairie books and romanticize about how the pioneers were so self-sufficient and could live off the land, this book is about the last American family actually living that way. I sometimes say that my dream is to live in a cabin in Alaska, somewhere inaccessible except by biplane, and this book tells of how hard that kind of life would be.