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The Mountaineer’s Library

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
2 min read
It needs tidying.

Three interests that define my personality are mountaineering, history, and literature. When the three combine the result is wonderful.

For seven years I have been a collector of mountaineering literature. I started small and practical: just the books I needed, which meant climbing guidebooks. My collection of guidebooks is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, because eventually I found it more enjoyable to ignore the guidebook and trust my own instincts in the mountains; however, I am hopelessly addicted to all other forms of mountain literature.

Thankfully mountaineers have, historically, been an artistic and expressive bunch, so there is a vast quantity of literature celebrating and documenting mankind’s greatest adventure (arguably!) I love it all: from the lyrical philosophy of Geoffrey Winthrop Young, to the stirring tales of epic adventure written by W.H. Murray. The Victorians were particularly prolific and I have collected many volumes from that era, by writers such as Whymper, Tyndall, Forbes, and Slingsby. I have not always been able to afford a first edition so have sometimes contented myself with modern reprints, but the words are the same.

Some of my books are very special. I have an 1891 Baedeker’s Guide to Switzerland, and an 1892 Badminton Volume of Mountaineering, which is the book Aleister Crowley used to teach himself how to climb. I keep meaning to properly sort and document my collection but never seem to get around to doing it.

I’m always on the lookout for new acquisitions. This week, while on a brief holiday in Suffolk, I found several items which will make worthy additions to my mountaineering library.

Found in the second hand bookshop in Aldeburgh: a great little cave for literature-lovers, and a surprising number of climbing books!

I’ve been looking for a copy of Bell’s Scottish Climbs for quite some time, but the other three are surprises. John Macnab is a novel set in Scotland in 1925; Switzerland is a 1955 guidebook to that country; and Photography is a pre-1914 photography manual. Most of the book actually consists of adverts, but it’s a beautifully printed volume and even the adverts are fascinating! Although this book isn’t directly related to climbing, some pioneering climbers were photographers (including George and Ashley Abraham), so it will be of great use to me as a writer.

The Swiss guidebook is also a very interesting find because, comparing it to my 1891 Baedeker, it is abundantly clear just how much changed in Swiss tourism in the intervening period–and how much stayed the same. The illustrations and maps are, naturally for a post-war book, of lower quality; but it has a far more modern feel and will be invaluable if I ever decide to write a mountaineering novel set in the 1950s…
Notes

Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

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