WSIRN Ep 26: Great adventure books with Tim Gardner

It’s Tuesday, which means a new episode of What Should I Read Next!

Today’s guest is Tim Gardner. Tim’s wife Emily contacted me and asked if I could do a little literary matchmaking for Tim. They’d both realized that a little reading break at the end of the work day made for a smoother transition between work and home, but he wasn’t sure what to read next.  

What Should I Read Next #26: Great adventure books with Tim Gardner

Books discussed in this episode: 

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Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Know When to Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood by John Blase
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougal
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston
The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw by Bob Friel


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  1. Tuija says:

    Dean Karnazes and Born to Run made me think of other runner biographies and sports stories I’ve read. (I’m not much of a runner myself, but my husband runs ultras.) Some of those books are – not sure how to say this – too introspective to be engaging reads… I’d like to suggest Sam Nall’s book “It’s Only a Mountain: Dick and Rick Hoyt, Men of Iron” – it’s a father-son story, the son has cerebral palsy, and they do triathlons together.
    Another non-fiction read I enjoyed and think you might enjoy, too, is Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”. This one might be a bit too close to what you read for work, though? A lot of it is biography, but also a lot about how to think like an astronaut, whether in space or on Earth. So, things like how to be a good team member, etc.

  2. Mary Kate says:

    Can I also recommend Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods if you’d like a wilderness book that will make you cry with laughter?

    Also Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild if you want a wilderness book that will make you just plain cry.

    (And I know both are movies; haven’t seen the first movie, but the second was amazing.)

  3. Mary T says:

    Oh, Anne, your suggestions to Tim sound so good! May I humbly suggest two or three… Or four?
    Tim, you may enjoy Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. It is the story of a man who was a runner before WW2. He actually was in the Olympics and ran in the presence of Hitler. It is indeed a story of resilience and redemption. Books by David McCullough are also fascinating….I would not think his topics would interest me but he draws you in. I just read his biography of Truman! Wonderful! Reading history can be better than fiction. I also read a book I had given my father, now deceased, years ago. I wasn’t always in agreement with this author’s politics but this book is so good: Wisdom of Our Fathers from Daughters and Sons by Tim Russert. Homer Hickam books are good (rockets) and I am currently into Count of Monte Cristo. A great book. Read the unabridged 1000+ pages translated by Robin Buss. Huge but a chapter a day is worth it! Treasures, pirates, intrigue, history, soap opera and morality!

    • I’ve wanted to read Count of Monte Cristo ever since a previous WSIRN guest raved about it.

      Tim and I are road-tripping with the kids to my brother’s wedding in the Fall. Maybe the audio version wouId be good in the car?

      • Mary says:

        Emily, your family is lovely. I enjoyed the interview with Tim so much.
        I have never listened to an audio! I would imagine it would be fun because the book is like a serial that can be picked up at intermissions. In fact, the book was originally written as a serial for a news publication. It was my mother’s favorite book and I have her childhood copy from 1936. I never had read it until now. Shame on me. I realized her copy was abridged so I stopped and got the unabridged. It is even better and fills in so much! (My mother’s book is old and I hesitated to use it but I wanted my eyes to read the book she had read. It did start wearing from my use so, really, stopping to start over with the unabridged was a good thing.) Another runner book I thought of when I listened to Tim’s broadcast is Chariot’s of Fire, although I have never read the book, just seen the movie. Have you read it?

        • Mary, you’re making me want to read that book more and more! I’m not sure I could get Tim to commit to such a long book unless it was audio, but I’d really like to read a paper copy. We used to have one of those really small Barnes and Noble editions in the car when I was growing up but the print was so small it was off putting every time I picked it up.

          I didn’t realize CHariots of Fire was a book! I’ll have to check that out. Thank you for all the great recommendations.

        • I can’t reply to your last comment, so commenting up here again 🙂

          I could recognize the music to Chariots of Fire but don’t really know anything about the story. It looks fascinating. I think both Tim and I would really enjoy reading that one!

      • I was actually just about to recommend Unbroken as well. I think that would be a fabulous audiobook (that’s actually how I read it!) both for the book’s content and the narrator–the late Edward Hermann (for me, of Gilmore Girls fame).

      • Karen says:

        I would recommend the CraftLit podcast version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Heather does a great job of Book Talk – clarifying word meanings and political background that is assumed – and the reader is quite good.

  4. Gretchen says:

    Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf is an older book, but still holds up as quite entertaining (and is a terrific audio book as well).

    For African adventure books, you might consider Whatever You Do, Don’t Run and Don’t Look Behind You!, both by Peter Allison and The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. These books are funny and adventuresome and great on audio — my guess is that they all evolved out of campfire stories.

    And finally Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen might be a good choice also.

  5. Anne,
    I can hardly wait a week between episodes. Your podcast is terrific! I tell all my friends about it and have tried to capture your attention to be interviewed, though I’m sure your list of future people is a mile long. I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor, part time professor, and author who mostly reads self help and memoir.

    As you were interviewing Tim, I immediately thought of Born to Run. So glad you recommended it.

    I also loved Wild and struggle to understand why so many people didn’t love it. Some people think Cheryl should have sucked it up and not made such bad choices, but my guess is they’ve never lost their only attachment figure at such an early age. She’s lucky she found a way to cope and survive.

    Tim, I think you’d really enjoy Jewel’s memoir Never Broken. I’m not a huge Jewel fan, but an award winning author and college English professor claimed it as one of the best books she’s ever read, so I picked it up. If you know anything about her, you know she was raised in Alaska so she has many adventures. She also has a desserting, stealing, narcissistic mother, and an absentee father. It’s incredible how she finds a way to not only survive but thrive (This is one of myfavorite topics…I’ve spent the last three years studying and writing about which kinds of people grow after trauma and which ones do not. It’s my second book and it’s finished but I don’t have a publisher for it, yet.) I agreed with your pick of John Blase’s book “Know When to Hold ’em.” Blessedly, I know John in real life and he really is a poet, isn’t he?

  6. Cheryl Scaccio says:

    I am a fan of adventure and survival stories, but when I considered that Tim is drawn to inspirational athletes, one book above all others came to mind. Swimming to Antarctica is a memoir by the phenomenal long-distance swimmer Lynn Cox, who set the world record for swimming the English channel by age 16. It describes her incredible adventures around the world, including swimming between the US and Russia across the Bering Strait during the cold war. I think it’s safe to say she is one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time.

    This is my first time listening to the podcast and I’m already hooked! It will be fun thinking of the perfect book for every guest.

  7. Vanessa says:

    I agree with Gretchen regarding Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, it was my all time favorite book in high school. It was so funny, I remember reading it in math class and laughing out loud, much to the interest of my math-mates.

  8. Lorraine says:

    Another excellent book is The Boys in the Boat about the 1936 US Olympic Rowing team and their quest for gold in Berlin. WWII is an important part of the background of this story. Edward Herrmann does an amazing job with the narration. And congrats Anne on your fantastic shout-out from Ann Kingman on today’s Books on the Nightstand podcast!! Go listen if you haven’t already 🙂 It’s toward the end when they are giving podcast recs.

  9. Sommer says:

    I loved this episode! I thought a lot of these picks would be great for my husband. As I described each book to him I could tell my hunch was right. I want to suggest Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller as another pick for Tim. This is non-fiction narrative (or maybe collection of narratives would be more accurate) about Don’s trip across the country with his best friend in a camper van. Don is witty and spiritual and his writing has always felt so accessible and engaging to me. I think it might be right up Tim’s alley!

  10. Mary says:

    This is not a book so it really doesn’t belong here (wink) but, Tim and Emily, have you seen the movie “McFarland, USA?” Stars Kevin Costner. Based on true story: Track coach Jim White’s search for work leads him to a high school in California’s Central Valley with a largely Latino student body. After White and his determined athletes establish a bond of trust, remarkable achievements are on the horizon.

  11. Megan says:

    So…this wasn’t the way Tim’s books-I-love picks were going, but I’m going to suggest a whole genre that hits with the youth pastor role that would still be fun to read. I’ve got young boys (4 years old and 5 years old), but am totally reading young adult fiction with a different lense now that I am a parent. My pastor is formerly an English teacher and before becoming the head pastor was a youth pastor and he still uses tons of literary references in his sermons, which I just love. Anyhow – a few that come to mind that are good stories where the authors just seem to understand the way a kid’s/teenager’s mind works – To Kill a Mockingbird (I think everyone should reread this once a decade), The Wednesday Wars (Gary Schmidt), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (Fredrik Backman), The Bronze Bow (Elizabeth George Speare), The Fault in Our Stars (John Green). And can I just say that Anne is pretty much the reason I am reading as much as I currently am? I loved to read since learning to read thru high school, but fell off of pleasure reading in college and never got back to it except for the random beach read. Once I discovered you, Anne (about a year or so ago), I have so many books I now want to read! I am absolutely loving it! Thank you!

  12. Torrie says:

    I was so glad that Born to Run was one of the recommendations because that was definitely the first book that came to mind when I started listening to this episode. Other books that I think Tim would enjoy are Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run and maybe even possibly Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, which would take him into fiction.

    I hope Tim goes on a follow-up episode of what he actually did read next since it sounds like he’ll pick up Born to Run next–I’m a runner too, and that book changed my mentality about the sport forever.

    Great podcast!

  13. Jocelyn says:

    I love ‘A Walk in the Woods’ by Bill Bryson. I have read it at least a dozen times and it never stops being funny. And it’s a view of trying something physical by non-athletes which might be an interesting perspective for someone who is a runner. And I definitely recommend ‘Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod’ by Gary Paulsen, again a true story of some one who is not an athlete attempting to do something that takes enormous courage, grit, endurance and athleticism. Plus it has dogs (big bonus for me). And Alaska. I found Paulsen through his famous children’s book ‘Hatchet’ which is awesome and I think someone who is a youth pastor might love this.

  14. Diane Christine Matson says:

    You might also like “A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York” by Liz Robbins. I’m not a runner, but I loved it! It follows several real-life stories of people’s journeys to the race, and to the end, and explores the history of marathons. It’s fascinating. My book club liked it, and none of us is athletic.

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