Sunday, February 7, 2016

Into Thin Air: 35% Complete

Into Thin Air has proven to be an interesting book so far for a number of reasons. I was skeptical with the book after the first chapter or so, due to the defensive nature of the opening portion. As I said in my introduction to the book, there is some controversy regarding who was responsible for the deaths on the mountain in 1996, whether bad judgement was involved and, if so, whose. However, as someone previously unfamiliar with the story, I felt like the opening parts of the book were raw and defensive and not in a good way. I felt like Jon Krakauer was responding to attacks which I was completely unfamiliar with. He admits, in the introduction, that the writing of this book so soon after the traumatic events of 1996 (the book was published in 1997) was a cathartic experience for him and, it seems, a chance to respond to what he felt were unfair attacks on persons involved in the expedition. I'm still unclear as to what these attacks were, although I suspect it will become more clear later in the book. This defensiveness and anxiousness to respond to unexplained criticisms comes across as almost paranoid.

However, once past the opening section (the book starts on Everest, just prior to the storm, and then backtracks to lay down some history on the people involved), it is interesting, if light, reading.
One thing I've enjoyed, rather unexpectedly, is reading about people who were household names when I was growing up, climbers such as Willi Unsoeld, Ed Viesturs and Pete Schoening. My father talked about them enough that I know their names like I know those of distant relatives or long-lost friends of my parents; they are familiar to me, although I was always a bit unclear on who they were, exactly, until now.

The writing in this book is as unexceptional as the story is interesting. It's not bad enough to be distracting, but it certainly pales compared to the one I just finished: Cry, the Beloved Country with it's beautiful prose. The story may be a classic, but so far the book is not one I'd add back on the list. So finding quotes I want to share with you has been difficult. This one was simply astounding to me:

"By 1996 Hall was charging $65,000 a head to guide clients to the top of the world. By any measure this is a lot of money-it equals the mortgage on my Seattle home-and the quoted price did not include airfare to Napal or personal equipment."

Not only was this astonishing because of the cost of climbing Everest (20 years ago) but the fact that his mortgage in Seattle was $65,000! Assuming he means the price of his house when he purchased it, not what he has left to pay on his mortgage, this is mind-boggling to me. For reference, the median home price right now in Seattle according to Zillow is $530, 100 (one of the reasons I moved out of the city!)

Finally, today's vocabulary word is "peripatetic" which means "traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods."

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