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Claire Can Read: Books I read on my NOLS course and how I felt about them!


This spring I took a semester off from college to do something *different* and by different I mean a NOLS course. The focus of NOLS is outdoor leadership which we learned in very hands-on experiential ways from navigating the Sonoran desert with only maps and compasses to teaching classes on Leave No Trace Principles. One key element is that we had absolutely no technology or connection to the outside world. In three months the only word I heard back home was that the Bucks won the super bowl and if you know me you know that that is the opposite of what I care about. It was amazing to be unplugged and it really changed the way I spent my free time. One way was that I became a very avid reader, I mean I liked reading before but I have never been very fast or had time to read more than a couple of books a year outside of school. In the field everyone on the trip was constantly trading the books we brought and several books ended up in my hand that I would not have otherwise picked for myself.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I brought this book on trail honestly just because I found it at my grandpa's house and it was pretty lightweight. I saw the gold seal on the cover that indicated that it had won the Pulitzer, a good sign right? This book was funny because it was extremely well written and witty but also the plot traveled in a very unusual way. It tells the story of a middle aged gay man amidst midlife crisis triggered by love life and career. He pretty much does what we all wish we could do: spontaneously flee the country and travel for months on end running from our problems. I really enjoyed this book but I honestly do not really feel like I was the demographic for this book, I would be more likely to recommend it to my parents than my peers.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

If you are nostalgic for childhood books like The Penderwicks or Half Magic, this story is like those classics all grown up. The novel follows the coming of age of three siblings who discover their family's history of magic and their own powers. It does have more adult themes which was a fun twist because it reminded me of what I loved when I was a kid without feeling too juvenile. Though this was a really fun read, it was a little overdramatic at times to the point where it sometimes took me out of the story. It actually is a prequel to a book I have not read called Practical Magic which is definitely now on my list.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

When it comes to books, movies, and TV adventure is never really my style, but we had two copies of this book among us so it found its way into my hands sooner or later. It tells the true story of the 1996 Everest disaster from the perspective of a survivor. This book was absolutely gripping and made every single one of my dreams about high-intensity mountaineering situations. I particularly liked reading it as an aspiring journalist because it provided an account of an unusual experience Krackaur encountered in his journalistic career. It was also interesting that one of the main characters in the book, Scott Fischer was a NOLS instructor and was friends with one of my instructors.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Anyone who took English with me during Freshman year could tell you that I despised this book when I read it for the first time in class. But four years later I was willing to give it a second shot. The book is simple and short and I read it over the course of 2 days which made it far more immersive than the previous time I read it. I loved the simplicity of the story and because I was on my own adventure I could relate to a lot of the topics of personal legend and destiny that the book focuses on. I really recommend picking this one up again if you previously disliked it.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

I grew up going to all public schools in California, and though I believe I received a decent education there is one thing that was terribly amiss: an utter lack of holocaust education. It was not until I was in high school that I ever remember discussing any details of the holocaust and even then the content was limited. In my AP history classes, we ran through material far too quickly to ever truly learn about more than surface-level details. I have been meaning to make a point into educating myself on this horrific event beyond what I had learned in school and this book was a great place to start. It is split into two parts, the first being the author's personal account from Auschwitz and the second being a description of the psychological method he developed afterward. This is both an informative and interesting read.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

This book was very much hyped up to me by the people who read it before me on the trip so the expectations were high. The story is about a family who moves to Alaska in the 1970's and the struggles they face. I loved the premise and it was fascinating to read about the stunning yet harsh Alaskan environment. The downfall of this book for me was that it would get to the point where it was so cheesy or dramatic that it took me out of the story. However, it is 500 pages and I read it in just about a week which is possibly the fastest I have ever read anything and I attribute that to its gripping narrative.

Emma by Jane Austin

This was the final book I read in the field and I still have about a third to go but I wanted to include it because it has exceeded my expectations! Obviously, it is a classic so I knew it would be good in theory, but I was not sure how much I would enjoy reading it for pleasure. I was pleasantly surprised by how fun this book is and how much it actually makes me laugh. The bonus point is that it has the same plot as my favorite movie, Clueless.


Other books people read on trail that were beloved by my expedition mates but I did not get my hands on were The Four Agreements, Greenlights, Little Women, Log from the Sea of Cortez, and Siddhartha.


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