If you’re feeling inspired, it’s better to actually go for a hike, stretch your hamstrings or shoot some hoops than it is to lounge around reading about sports, fitness and the outdoors.
But your life is sure to include a few rainy afternoons and head colds. And certainly there’s at least one healthy, nature-loving type on your gift list this holiday season. So here are some titles worthy of either circumstance.
* “The Mount Diablo Guide,”
The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association (Berkeley Hills Books, $11.95): Learn all about the history, flora and fauna of the East Bay’s inland mountain by picking up “The Mount Diablo Guide.” The petite book fits neatly into a large pocket or a small rucksack, perfect to consult while hiking the hills. Sketches and photographs will help you identify the native trees and flowers you encounter along the way. You’ll also find in-depth descriptions of trails, picnic areas and camp sites including the occasional poison oak warning.
* “Encyclopedia of the Sea,” by Richard Ellis (Alfred A. Knopf, $35): Richard Ellis, also lauded as a marine painter, has boiled down years of his experience of the Earth’s waters to an amazing encyclopedia. More than 450 pieces of his own artwork illustrate the text, covering everything from the abalone to zooxanthellae (protozoans who live in reef corals). Whether the interest lies in creatures, plants, regions or explorers, this earns the label of “indispensable.” Too bad it isn’t waterproof.
* “The Pilates Body,” by Brooke Siler (Broadway Books, $18): So maybe this book isn’t as good as taking a class in Pilates, the workout method designed to strengthen bodies without adding muscle bulk. Then again, “real” Pilates is really expensive especially if your teacher is Brooke Siler, Pilates trainer to the stars. “The Pilates Body” is a safe bet for frugal fitness buffs who are interested in improving core strength and are also motivated enough to work at home. Pilates exercises may be hard to perfect, but the step-by-step explanations make them easy to understand. A nice bonus: The volume flops open nicely, and stays open, so that readers might study the techniques on its pages and attempt to perform them at the same time.
* “Maverick’s: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing,” by Matt Warshaw (Chronicle Books, $24.95): “Maverick’s, a product of the north, has the presence of an ice-sculpted fjord ” And with that Matt Warshaw provides just a glimmer into the giant surging waters, right off the coast of California between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Big-wave surfing is an offshoot of surfing, the antecedents of which usually take place on more the familiar terrain of (Hawaiian) blue tropical waters. Warshaw compares the big-wave surfers who seek the forbidding murky chill of Maverick’s to bullfighters, and the jaw-dropping photos alone clearly show the perilous allure of riding the big one.
* “The Living Bay: The Underwater World of Monterey Bay” by Lovell and Libby Langstroth (UC Press, $29.95): It takes a certain diver to wake up before the sun and submerge into the cold, cold waters of the Monterey Bay. Those who do encounter an ethereal universe with translucent strawberry anemones, pulsing brown coral, curving tube snails and vibrant bat star(fish). As their “retirement” pursuit, the Langstroths took up scuba diving and underwater photography. Their 20 years of expeditions have produced an informative book of biological interactions and marvelous photographs.
* “Points Unknown: A Century of Great Exploration” edited by David Roberts (W.W. Norton, $29.95): Outside Magazine contributing editor David Roberts culls excerpts from the words of the explorers themselves, including Edward Abbey, Tim Cahill, Sebastian Junger and Robert Falcon Scott. The first-person accounts will remind readers of the limits there are to be tested and of the regions left to explore in this highly mechanized world.
* “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $24.95): Lance Armstrong was a champion cyclist. Then he got cancer. He recovered and went on to win the Tour de France. This is his story. “I won’t kid you,” he writes. “There are two Lance Armstrongs, pre-cancer and post. Everybody’s favorite question is How did cancer change you?’ The real question is, how didn’t it change me ? The truth is that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
* “75 Year-Round Hikes in Northern California” by Marc J. Soares (The Mountaineer Books, $16.95): Those seeking direction will find numerous suggestions 75, as the title suggests of various points from Eureka to Monterey. Black-and-white photos give a flavor of the destinations, divided by region. Each hike has a quick reference of distance, difficulty, nearby campgrounds and other such details before it launches into the short description. You might get better maps to supplement the book, but it does provide new routes to seek out.
* “Beyond Power Yoga: 8 Levels of Practice for Body and Soul,” by Beryl Bender Birch (Fireside, $16): The age-old practice of yoga now rivals the popularity of the Backstreet Boys. And that’s disappointing, say some longtime students, who fear that the current emphasis on yoga’s weight-loss and fitness benefits will lead to the erosion of its spiritual teachings. Author Beryl Bender Birch sang the praises of sweaty, athletic practice in her book “Power Yoga.” Her new book, “Beyond Power Yoga,” digs a little deeper. The volume introduces readers to the eight limbs of yoga practice only one of which involves demanding physical poses. Beginners will find easy-to-understand explanations of practices such as pranayama (mindful breathing) and dharana (developing concentration).
* “Sports: The Complete Visual Reference” edited by Francois Fortin (Firefly Books, $39.95): Want to know more about water polo, orienteering or sumo wrestling? You’ll find the techniques, strategies and history behind these sports and more than 100 others in “Sports: The Complete Visual Reference.” This hefty, graphic-rich hardcover is perfect for young athletes and students seeking report fodder. It’s also a great guide for Olympics fans. (Without it, who would ever understand the logic behind curling?)
* “El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes” by Daniel Duane (Chronicle Books, $24.95): El Capitan is a granite magnet, pulling rock climbers to Yosemite Valley to scale 3,000 feet of sheer rock. Daniel Duane speaks to those climbers eccentric, passionate, driven and in the process offers up microcosmic history of the pursuit. The black-and-white photographs aren’t just vertigo-inducing snapshots. They also provide a record of the equipment, the teams and the individuals seeking El Capitan.
* “John Muir: Nature’s Visionary” by Gretel Ehrlich (National Geographic, $35): After seeing the musical and collecting the CD and the postage stamp, the John Muir aficionado needs something to do. There are a few John Muir books out there, and this latest one combines historical images with photographs of the areas that Muir studied, roamed and spent his life protecting.
* “The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball” by John Feinstein (Little, Brown, $24.95): This book is for every sports fan who’s tired of watching spoiled young millionaires jostle for the spotlight. In it, veteran sports reporter John Feinstein, the author of “A Good Walk Spoiled” and several other popular books, sets off in search of players who still play basketball purely for love of the game. He finds these amateur athletes in the Patriot League, one of the NCAA’s smallest Division I conferences. In the Patriot League, players study hard, avoid scandal, expect to lose in the first round of the annual NCAA tournament and play their hearts out, all the same.
* “Sportscape: The Evolution of Sports Photography” presented by Paul Wombell (Phaidon, $49.95): Appropriate for the coffee table but a definite must-have for the true sports fan. The delightful photos showcase Olympic athletes and team legends, as well as ordinary folks stretching, wrestling, race-car driving and even making the beds while doing a useful stretching exercise at the same time. Rare shots include pictures of six out of the 36 women who participated in the 1908 Olympics and the Hitler Youth exercising in the field. The images reveal a clear evolution not only in the photography but the pursuit of physical prowess.
* “California Coastal Byways” by Tony Huegel (Wilderness Press, $18.95): Commuting may have soured the modern-day driver on the tradition of the family road trip. This latest entry into backcountry drives might restore the most disheartened commuter. An excellent layout pairs concise directions (with kind rest stop hints) with a very simple map (maybe too simple if yours is a family that tends to get lost make sure you have a back-up atlas). The few black-and-white photos would have been better off left out (who needs to see pictures of the car?), plus a family should be making its own photographic memories anyway.