Into Thin Air

Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. New York: Anchor Books, 1997.

Reason read: the Mount Everest disaster occurred on May 10th 1996.

Jon Krakauer was given an assignment by Outside Magazine to join a climbing expedition ultimately going to the top of Mount Everest. Being an avid mountaineer he thrilled at the chance to join a professional team to reach the highest summit in the world. What he didn’t anticipate was being witness to one of the worst Everest disasters in the mountain’s history.
As Karakuer takes us to higher elevations he not only gives the reader a play by play of the events unfolding at each camp, he also details the physical and psychological effects wreaking havoc on the climbers, adventurer and Sherpa alike. It’s a grueling quest and Krakauer never lets you forget the danger.
It has been said that the mountaineering community is unique unto themselves. Never before was this more apparent than when Kraukauer described climbers so hellbent on reaching the top that they would push on past half dead individuals lying in the snow, slowly freezing to death. Or step casually over the legs of a half buried dead man…
Despite the dangers of climbing such high elevations, the challenge continues to draw thousands to Everest. It is an industry unto itself, making millions for guides, the sports corporations looking to sponsor them, and the Sherpas looking to lead the way.

I devoured this book. I found it was very easy to lose track of time and read 70-80 pages in one sitting.

Quotes I liked, “I thrilled in the fresh perspective that came from tipping the ordinary plane of existence on end” (p 23) and “Problem was, my inner voice resembled Chicken Little; it was screaming that I was about to die, but it did that almost every time I laced up my climbing boots” (p 101).

Author fact: I think Krakauer is best known for Into the Wild, but I am reading two others, Iceland and Where Men Win Glory.

Book trivia: There are the obligatory black and white photographs of the victims and a few of the mountain. Unlike a book a read recently where every photo was of the author, Jon Krakauer isn’t in a single one.

Nancy said: Krakauer’s book “sets the standard for personal adventure books” (p 8).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Adventure By the Book: Nonfiction” (p 8).


May Has Her Reasons

This is the first month since September that I don’t have some kind of race looming. It feels weird to not worry about the run. I guess I can concentrate on the books:

Fiction:

  • Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute – in honor of the month the movie was released.
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – in honor of Minnesota becoming a state in May (AB).
  • Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez – on honor of the Pan Ramjay festival held in May.
  • Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend – in honor of Mother’s Day.

Nonfiction:

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – in honor of the failed Mount Everest climb in May 1994.

Series continuations:

  • Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
  • Warding of Witch World by Andre Norton – to continue the series started in March to honor the month of Norton’s passing.

Something new! I just discovered archive dot org! They are brilliant! I have been able to find a bunch of the books I have on my Challenge list, including two for this month. That means I will be able to leave the print at home and still read on my lunch break!


Fay

Brown, Larry. Fay. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2000.

Reason reading: December is Southern Literature Month. Fay takes place in Mississippi.

You can’t help but fall in love with Fay…in the beginning. Despite being abused by animals and humans alike beautiful seventeen year old Fay Jones holds out hope she can be friends with either of them. Preferably both at some point in her young life. But for now she is eager to find Biloxi after running away from a potentially dangerous and definitely drunk father. With only the clothes on her back and two dollars hidden in her bra, she is uneducated and generous; thoughtful in a complicated and naive way. She’ll trust anyone who can steer her in the right direction. You’ll find yourself holding your breath as she hitches a ride with three drunk boys back to their trailer deep in the woods. You again become breathless when a cop picks her up and takes her home. Fay’s ignorance makes people want to help her and hurt her all at the same time. I must admit, over time Fay’s willingness (eagerness?) to fall in with some really bad people grew wearisome. She’s either intensely shallow or so stupid she can’t help herself. She doesn’t recognize when someone is taking advantage of her. When she goes from being a blushing virgin to an easy lay in one week’s time I felt myself losing interest in her fate and willing the character I did care about to stay away from her.
Because Brown will make you care about some people. Even Fay.

My biggest pet peeve? Brown is almost too coy, too cute and dare I say, cheesy? about creating reader suspense at times. His first mention of Alesandra elicited an eye roll from me. One inappropriate remark that spoke volumes in a sea of other details and then nothing for pages and pages. It’s the proverbial gun on a table. Sooner or later it has to go off.

The only line I liked, “Then he was standing there with his neatly pressed gray trousers, a blue stripe down each leg, a gun on his hip and a crisp shirt, his nameplate and his shiny brass and all the authority she feared” (p 34).

Author fact: Brown also wrote Joe and Dirty Work. I’m reading both. Here is the crazy thing. For the first time I have started tracking the approximate time certain books will come up on the schedule. According to the master calendar I will be reading Joe in December of 2037 and Dirty Work in October of 2040.

Book trivia: This should be a movie. It has everything. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Strippers, prostitutes and drug dealers. Explosions and violence. And don’t forget beautiful scenery of the Mississippi gulf coast.

Nancy said: Nancy said “any list of grit-lit practitioners worth its whiskey would also include Larry Brown” (p 106). She also said Fay drifts through life “serenely” and “almost untouched” by the violence around her. I don’t know if I would agree. Fay’s traumas haunt her constantly. I would see her more as resilient; trying to push on despite the abuses. She has a steely determination to survive.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very appropriate chapter called “Grit Lit” (p 106).


August ’10 was…

August. The last gasp of summer before everyone starts thinking about back-to-school clothes, back-to-school school supplies and back-to-school attitudes. I know my college has already adopted the attitude now that the athletes and international students have started arriving on campus. August was quiet compared to July’s crazy traveling. But, for books it was:

  • The All-Girl Football Team by Lewis Nordan ~ Nordan is my emotional train wreck.
  • Zarafa: a Giraffes’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris by Michael Allin ~ in honor of Napoleon’s birth month even though Napoleon is a teeny part of the story
  • Zel by Donna Jo Napoli ~ the clever, psychological retelling of Rapunzel.
  • The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ in honor of National Language Month, but I didn’t finish it. Not even close.
  • Undaunted Courage by Simon Winchester ~ a really interesting account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles ~ probably one of my all-time favorite books.

For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I started reading Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. Review coming in September.

For fun I read:

  • fit = female: the perfect fitness and nutrition game plan for your unique body type by geralyn b. coopersmith ~ the cover of the book didn’t use capital letters so neither did i.
  • Nutrition for Life: The no-fad, no-nonsense approach to eating well and researching your healthy weight by Lisa Hark, Phd, RD & Darwin Deen, MD ~ this is a really, really informative book.

The Book of Calamities

Trachtenberg, Peter. The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning. New York: Little, Brown & co., 2008

This was an off-list addition. Glutton for punishment? Maybe. April had already been a hard month and here I am, deciding to add to the drama by deciding to read a book about suffering. It’s perverse but I find comfort in my little, uneventful life when I am reminded of fates worse than mine…much, much worse than mine. It’s the same reason why I watch ugly shows about murder and drug addiction. It’s my constant reminder that anyone, at anytime, can fall from grace. And fall hard.

But, anyway, back to Calamities. I will be honest. I picked up the book after reading a dedication. After researching the recipients I realized I needed to know more. It wasn’t enough to be aware and move on. I wanted knowledge. Who were these people and why did they die? Notice I didn’t say how? That much was obvious. Their tragedy deserved more than two seconds of my time. Which led me to Peter Trachtenberg’s book.

The Book of Calamities covers man-induced sufferings as well as the ones seemingly without explanation. The answer to each catastrophe lies in simple words like religion, nature, sanity, hatred, illness but try explaining those words beyond dictionary etymology and terminology. What exactly IS hatred? What drives two religions to war? How can Mother Nature be so cruel to the ignorant? Who defines mental illness and calls it insanity? These are hard questions but, Trachtenberg asks an even bigger question – why is suffering such a shock to us? It happens all the time. It happens everywhere. Why aren’t we more prepared for catastrophe? Is it a cultural thing? For some reason we, as a society,  have this sense of entitlement to happiness; this sense of denial that bad things always happen to someone, anyone, else but us. Not so.

I didn’t have favorite quotes in this book, but there was one particular event that stood out. Here is the quote: “The first thing they did for me was to make me stop, kindly, with care not to make me feel any more foolish than I already felt, for who feels more foolish than a failed suicide?” (p 95). The reason why this passage stood out to me is this – in my friend’s suicide note he made reference to being embarrassed by possible failure. He understood suffering and didn’t want to make compromises to accommodate that suffering. Here’s the thing – he didn’t need to be embarrassed. He didn’t fail on May 10th, 1993.


Hiding Place

Azzopardi, Trezza. The Hiding Place. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

    I have to start by saying I would love to meet William Gedney just to ask him about the photograph on the cover of The Hiding Place. I guess Francine Kass (who designed the cover) would be more appropriate to ask of these questions. Nevertheless, here are the things I would ask of either:

    1. The girls are in the kitchen obviously paring something (apples? potatoes?). Why do they all have one leg up; why are they standing like storks?
    2. The painting of the Last Supper – was that meant to be symbolic since the girls are standing in a kitchen?
    3. There is a fourth pair of feet and evidence of a little knee behind the child leaning on the refrigerator. Who is she and why isn’t she more visible? I took this to be Dolores, the narrator of The Hiding Place. She is the youngest daughter and paid attention to the least. More symbolism?

    The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi is sad, sad, sad. Dolores Gauci is the youngest of six daughters born to Maltese immigrants Frankie and Mary. Her view on the world is both tragic and innocent. She is at once stoic and childish; solemn and naive. What Dolores sees is a family slowly dismantled by a gambling and always losing father. As her siblings are bartered away Dolores must face a grim childhood with fewer and fewer protections as even her mother’s will to survive slips away. Serving as the backdrop for the Gauci family is the 1960s landscape of Cardiff, Wales, an immigration town populated with citizens hardened enough to do just about anything to survive.

    Favorite lines: “Her fury travels down the spoon and into Luca’s dinner. I am breast-fed: I get rage straight from the source” (p 22), “As with all truth, there is another version” (p 75), and “She’ll be scrubbing the steps again, probably – it’s a job best done in anger” (p 126).

    BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “The Immigrant Experience” (p 123).


    Sorrows of Young Werther

    Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Sorrows of Young Werther. Boston: Frances A. Niccolls & Co., 1902.

    There are so many little facts about this 134 page story that I just loved! First, I find it enticing that this eighteenth-century novel was written anonymously. It was if it really was meant to be autobiographical. There are many similarities between Young Werther and Johann Goethe. Another interesting tidbit about The Sorrows of Young Werther is that the story was both banned and embraced in eighteenth-century Germany.

    To put it simply, Sorrows of Young Werther is about a young, impressionable artist who moves to a new, yet fictional town. He is enamored with his surroundings and shares his new-found joy with his friend, Wilhelm, through enthusiastic, vividly descriptive letters. For the first month the letters contain glorious accounts of the landscape, the sights, the sounds, and the people – everything around him. After that first month though, Werther’s entire focus centers on a young woman he met at a party. It’s obsession at first sight and he can think of nothing else but to be with her constantly. Unfortunately, Werther’s affections are doomed as the object of his affection, Charlotte, is already engaged to be married to a “worthy” gentleman. In an effort to remain near to Charlotte, Werther befriends her husband-to-be. Things becomes complicated (as they also do in this kind of situation). Of course this love triangle cannot last and ultimately ends in tragedy.

    Telling lines: “We should deal with children as God deals with us, – we are happiest under the influence of innocent delusions” (p 35), “…a man under the influence of violent passion loses all power of reflection, and is regarded as intoxicated or insane” (p 47), and “I sometimes cannot understand how she can love another, how she dares love another, when I love nothing in this world so completely, so devotedly, as I love her, when I know only her, and have no other possession” (p 81). In these three quotes we see Young Werther growing more and more obsessed with Charlotte. It can only end badly and as we see on the very last page, it does, “The body was carried by labourers. No priest attended” (p 135).

    BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Epistolary Novels: Take A Letter” (p 79).