Monday, October 10, 2011

'Native Stones' by David Craig - Book Review in Climber

Why do we read climbing literature? Is it to pass the time; be entertained; informed; appalled; to be perched voyeuristically on our armchair while soaking up another knife-edge experience; or to try and tease something out that is actually inside us? Add to that our personal views and experience, what we’ve read before, and even how our day has been. There’s a whole lot going on that influences how we feel about what we read.

I found David Craig’s book ‘Native Stones’ by accident. I’d never heard of it or him, and tripped over a hand-me-down copy of it in a Wanaka second-hand bookshop. The inside cover blurb about Craig said he was an English professor who discovered climbing in his later years. This is how the book begins: ‘The crags act on us as the moon does on the seas, inert mineral masses exerting their force, leading us to their poles. People, birds, goats and sheep – we are drawn along the ledges, up the gullies, out onto the buttresses and pinnacles.’
For me, this is lyrical writing. So often in climbing literature we are bombarded with climbing heroics and stoic fortitude. While certainly page-turning and palm sweating, at times I find myself disappointed with the sameness of it all.

Yet these gentle fumbling of a moderate climber on gently-inclined rock routes in the Midlands showed me that not all climbing writing needs to follow the tried and true. And this highlights another point: do we enjoy more the works of climbers trying to write or writers trying to climb? I would suggest that, while Craig is certainly the later, the genre is loaded with the former. I guess it only matters in the end result, in the quality of the writing. And I’m drawn to Craig’s writing just like he describes being drawn to the crags; because there is something hidden there, some meaning that’s not explained explicitly, but if we stick at it we may at least discover something about ourselves that’s worth knowing.
For me, there are two things that Craig does really well. He gives us a strong sense of place, and he has a distinct voice. For climbers reading about climbing, we need more than the typical reader. We are intimately attached to the interaction between the climber and the environment. It’s natural that we want it explained in detail, so that we can imagine ourselves there, or feel damn lucky that we’re not.

This has turned into a book rave rather than a book review. I make no apologies. I love Craig’s writing. Finding and reading it raised my expectations of future climbing authors that I would seek out.

If there’s one thing I feel that is perhaps missing in Native Stones, it’s a continued narrative. This is more a collection, or recollection of Craig’s musings and experiences. Given that, I find myself rereading passages often, sometimes for inspiration and other times just to realise the wealth of this writer’s talent.


  1. I totally agree with your thoughts about this lovely book Paul. A climbing friend gave me a copy when we visited the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney some years back. A favourite sequence for me is when he plays with the notion that mountains are somehow alive. “How else to convey the sense that they are beings, whose company I need as much as people’s”. Or perhaps as Julie Andrews sang "The hills are alive" (!?)



    1. hello : I studied Creative writing with David in the 80's while he was writing this book. He was an inspirational teacher with no bullshit and i loved his writing....I started climbing, but it took me a couple of years to really savour and enjoy his book, along with 'Gervasutti's climbs', to really start more serious climbing. His book made me want to climb. Thank you, David.