Books to pack

25th July 1997 at 01:00
If you are on a holiday when everything that can go wrong, does, or if you are just having a bad hair day, there is nothing to restore equilibrium more surely than the knowledge that there's always someone worse off.

Ecstasy, a trilogy of stories by Irvine Welsh, is to be recommended for anyone particularly vulnerable to bad hangovers. Here, Welsh's dysfunctional posse plunge through hallucinogenic and alcoholic anarchy with such scant regard for their tortured innards that you have to admire their application. As this charmless band of psychotics and ne'er-do-wells wages its version of chemical warfare, your body is so pathetically grateful to have escaped with your own amateurish efforts, that the novel is more effective than a month at the Betty Ford Clinic for inducing a sense of pious wholesomeness.

From chemically induced highs, to topological ones. Last year I was smitten by Joe Simpson's Touching the Void, whose tumble down a South American crevasse left me breathless. This year's unforgettable cause of altitude angst is Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. Written in 1953, many years before Gortex and high-factor sun block turned Everest base camp into a Yuppie adventure playground, this account of the first ascent of a 26,000ft peak moved me to tears.

Herzog, a man of rare humanity and dedication, led an expedition up this monstrous mountain in the Himalayas. Against extraordinary odds (time, food, equipment all running out), he counted them all out and he counted them all back. But the cost, not least to himself, was terrible.

Read when feeling unutterably sorry for yourself, or if you thought that endurance was merely something required on public transport.

Janette Wolf is the TES resources editor.

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