So you saw The Revenant, did you? It’s possible you showed up for latest cocktail-swirling stylings of Leo DiCap (that’s what I call him; he calls me “Krazi K”) only to be walloped by nearly three hours of bear attacks, gushing wounds, head scalpings, guts-extractings, extremity-severings, mud-writhings, snow-freezings, and, you know, whatnot. The Revenant treated you like dirt and you liked it. You loved it. You wish there was a The Revenant 2: Three More Hours of Whimpering and Bleeding.
Well, there’s not. But good news: books are particularly good at brutal wilderness survival stuff. It makes sense. These kinds of stories are about persisting across extended ordeals, and putting you into the shoes (well, the characters don’t always have shoes, or, for that matter, feet) of their stubborn characters. A movie has the advantage of sound and picture and the enveloping experience of a theater (unless you’re watching it in your noisy living room, which you usually are). A book’s advantage is simple: time. It’s going to take you time to get through a book. You, too, are going to have to survive it.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
A family camping trip (who does that?!) goes wrong-er when a little girl named Trisha wanders into the woods and forgets to put down her breadcrumbs. Hunger and pneumonia start to drive her to delusions, which include the certainty that A) Tom Gordon, her favorite baseball player, is watching over her, and B) she is destined to face off with the God of the Lost, an evil being with a face of wasps. This is strong, straightforward, the-Girl-Scouts-told-you-not-do-this survival stuff, all the more poignant for its resourceful young protagonist.
The Terror, by Dan Simmons
In the 1840s, two sea-exploring vessels, Terror and Erebus, become frozen in place while searching for the Northwest Passage. Not for a few weeks, mind you. Try a few years. As the ice slowly scrunches their ships in its unyielding fists, the starving, ever-more-desperate sailors try to navigate across the frozen wasteland, only to be routinely slaughtered by an enormous beast no one can seem to get a good look at. This book makes you feel so cold you might consider setting yourself on fire before trying to read it. Because he’s crazy that way, Simmons also wrote The Abominable (2013), similar in many respects, but set on 1920s Mt. Everest. (While we’re it, don’t forget John Krakauer’s stone-cold [really cold] classic Into Thin Air.)
The Martian, by Andy Weir.
Wait, should I have called this list “Three Books to Read if you Like The Martian“? Because both movies are, after all, currently nominated for Best Picture of 2015. Anyhoo, this might seem like the opposite of The Revenant in a lot of ways. Instead of snow, we got dirt. Instead of clouds, we got sun. Instead of silence, we got constant jabbering. Instead of rocks and twigs, we got cutting-edge technology. But what we do have is one man all alone and forced to achieve the impossible with whatever materials are at hand.