Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 368 pages.
Read from June 29, 2018 to July 4, 2018.

Is weird that this novel made me interested in trying climbing? I suppose as an endurance runner there is a weird thrill that comes with the ultimate challenge and fighting through pain and exhaustion. It sounds crazy for many people but it is a rare exhilaration and achievement that can’t be replicated.

I knew little about the 1996 disaster on Everest as I was a child when it happened but this book does its best at giving an honest account of the event. No one will really know with exact precision what happened that day but Krakauer is effective with his research and recollection and in being as genuine as possible, making it easy for the reader to believe his version of events.

In May of 1996 a group of strangers set out to climb Mount Everest on a guided expedition, Krakauer among them with the intention of writing an article he was commissioned to do for Outside magazine on the commercialization of climbing Everest. During this time, climbing Everest had started to become a popular accomplishment for people who had money. With a great guide, the premise was that anyone could climb Everest which demeaned the accomplishment for many seasoned climbers.

“Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable.”

After a gruelling few days of acclimatization to high-altitudes, a few groups set out for the summit but a storm was brewing and it resulted in some groups having to make the ascent back through the brutal storm. Not everyone makes it back alive. Eight people died in that blizzard which contributed the deadliest seasons Everest had ever seen prior the avalanche in 2014.

Functioning at high altitudes with limited oxygen does hard things to a person. Your brain does not function as well and your body is only fueling what it has to in order to survive. If you ever wondered why your guts struggle after being on an airplane for an extended amount of time, just imagine what it’s like trying to scale Everest at those same altitudes.  Add in intense physical exhaustion and cold, along with impaired brain function, it’s a wonder that people make it back at all from these types of excursions. Some people have better genes, like the Sherpas, that are more capable of functioning at higher altitudes but most never know how they will handle this type of extreme situation. Especially when it comes to life or death.

Krakauer has a fuzzy memory about the last time he saw one of his teammates on the descent from Everest as it ended up being the last time he was seen alive. It is a memory that continues to haunt Krakauer as he has tried to clarify and make sense of those final moments for himself and for the family members of his lost teammate. The version of this book includes an additional commentary on a book that was released to counter Krakauer’s. Anatoli Boukreev, a guide on the expedition, found fault with how Krakauer portrayed him and certain events so he published his own book titled, The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest.  A feud between the two men continued until Boukreev’s untimely death on another climbing expedition in which Krakauer gracefully and respectfully comments on as well.

Krakauer is a talented and humble writer. I cannot imagine the pain of living through such a traumatic ordeal and being able to write about with such grace.  His story is gripping and reels you into the niche world of climbing. Krakauer makes you feel like you are right there on Everest with him as he battles to keep his mind, emotions and body in check. Krakauer was criticized for a variety of things following the aftermath of the event and somehow managed to keep his cool. This book offers an extremely unique perspective not found in many other narratives, especially for a non-fiction, so I would highly recommend this book to fellow-thrill seekers, athletes or just those looking for an adventurous and inciteful read.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Straight forward approach, sure, but is the information anything all that revolutionary? And should we be taking advice from someone who has clearly had a pretty charmed life?

2/5 stars.
Paperback,  212 pages.
Read from December 19, 2017 to December 26, 2017.

I decided to give this book a go after reading and enjoying a few of Manson’s articles. However, after enjoying the first few pages the book soon started to unravel and instead of feeling enlightened, I just felt annoyed.

This book has been very successful after having been hailed the anti-self-help novel with Manson’s direct approach and insights intermingled with swearing and a dose of poop jokes, it seems like a self-help book has finally hit the mark in reaching out and understanding the millennial generation. Right? Not exactly. Manson really seemed to enjoy talking about how many girls he use to bang, that he grew up fairly wealthy and about all the great places he has lived abroad. While Manson did put in a ton of work into his writing to be successful, it can’t be denied that he lived a charmed life that does not compare to the average-joe which, is hilarious because while he advocates for people to learn to deal with the trials of life instead of the mantra of “think positively” that many other self-help books advise. It isn’t bad advice in and of itself it’s just entertaining in a way coming from someone who writes about all the great things he has done.

Manson also talks about how social media has changed the meaning of extraordinary to be the new normal, which ends up defeating the purpose of something being extraordinary if everyone can do it. That, I can agree on. I think social media has created a lot of problems for the millennial generation in terms of their self-worth and where they feel they should stack up with others. Issues, that previous generations did not have to face full-blown numerous times a day with no end in sight.

“Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.”

However, Manson then goes on to explain how we should accept our normalcy and that we would be a lot happier if we accepted that we are not going to achieve everything that we dream about. Again, hilarious coming from the guy who has achieved massive success with his writing and in his personal life. Even though the real point he is trying to make is that we should focus our energy on the things that matter and that will bring us more success and happiness. Again, good advice.

“Not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.”

The advice in this book is solid. I can’t deny that, but I would go from agreeing with Manson’s blunt sentiments and thinking about how I could apply to my own life, to rolling my eyes when he alluded to his own life again. I just could not get over feeling annoyed that he was the one giving me this advice. His smug attitude and humour were only amusing for the first twenty pages and there is only so much swearing and joking around that can cover it up.

The book makes reference to some interesting stories and academics and I particularly enjoyed the details Manson included on Willam James, the father of modern psychology. I mean, that is a guy who I would comfortably take life advice from!

Now the irritation that plagued me through this book, is it valid or is it just validating Manson’s points and perspectives on life and is only reflective of my own failures? I am going to say both. It natural to be envious of someone’s success and that can lead to feeling inspired and motivated but the tone of the book is too smug and did nothing but inspired disdain by the time I finished it.

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”

Additionally, Manson made a terrible choice in alluding to false rape accusations in his section on false memories and beliefs. Yeah, seriously… It’s really distasteful and invalidating to rape victims as so many of them do not report their abuse out of fear or not being believed.

If you can separate the man and the ego away from the advice that he is giving than this book won’t be a complete loss to you if you end up reading it. I do think you could find the poignant advice from someone else however if the tone of the book doesn’t sit well with you.

“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.”

Overall, I am glad that Manson has been successful in his life to the point that he feels the need to share it. Good for him. Truly. But he is far from wise and still has a lot to learn, like the rest of us.

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Canada Reads 2018 – Favs and Predictions

Debates kick off next week. Have you read them all yet?

It’s almost time! The debates kick off next week from March 26-29, 2018. In advance of the debates, I have read all five novels and have broken down the five into two lists. One, based on which ones I enjoyed the most and two, based on how the book best fits this year’s theme. Don’t forget to click on the links to read my full reviews on each novel!

Let’s start with the theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. Here is how I think the debates will unfold and which book I think will be the winner.

Predictions:

5) The Marrow Thieves –  Putting a dystopian YA novel in with other quality pieces of literature is always going to be a gamble and while the topic of the treatment of Native Americans is important the execution of this story just didn’t match up with the other contenders. The loose concept of dreams being stuck in bone marrow was a bit of stretch too.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It draws attention to children and families living with disabilities. The writing is lighthearted and humorous but lacks the depth of the other contending novels.

3) Forgiveness – Rife with Canadian history as well lesser-known war details about Canada’s time in Hong Kong during WWII. The author’s grandparents come to terms with the terrible misfortunes that the war has brought them and learn to forgive as their families come together.  The writing can be a bit clunky and did not feel like a finished whole.

2) American War – Another dystopian though catered to a very adult audience. The content of this book is violent and brutal and draws a lot of attention to the realities of war and the politics behind it as well as the people that suffer in its wake.

1) The Boat People – Despite the slow start to this novel, this book takes the cake when it comes to the theme this year. The book is inspired by a real refugee crisis that happened in Canada in 2010 and it really opens your eyes past all the media and politics to the real issue facing refugees.

In terms of the books I enjoyed the most, however, I would rank the novels as such. It was tough this year as I found the difference in genres made it challenging as I enjoyed a few of the stories equally.

Enjoyability:

5) The Marrow Thieves – This book just didn’t click with me. The storytelling tradition aspects of the book are beautiful but the general YA premise just didn’t work for me.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it was the most uplifting of the five. Had the other books not been as poignant it would have been higher up on this list.

3) Forgiveness –  Despite the issues I had with the writing style, the content about Hong Kong and the author’s time in a Japanese POW was absolutely captivating.

2) American War – This book surprised me the most. I was completely drawn into this world and the ending left me gutted.

1) The Boat People – Based on the first quarter of this book, I thought it was going to be on the bottom of this list, thankfully the dry story quickly came together to create something phenomenal and beautiful. This book combines dynamic and visceral characters paired with a memorable and important story that will be sure to tug on anyone’s conscience.

What do you think of my predictions and favourites? Do you agree? Comment and let me know!

Here are a few more details to get you prepped and ready for the debates! The contenders and their chosen books are:

Ali Hassan from CBC’s Laugh Out Loud will host for the second year in a row.

The debates will air on CBC Radio One at 11:05 a.m. ET, CT, MT, PT; 1:05 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will also be live-streamed on CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on CBC Television at 4 p.m. local time.