Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Epiphany of Purpose

In my life of pleasure reading (which sadly only really exists over summers now because I don’t have time at school) my main genre preferences have been music biography and adventure/expedition narratives, so I assumed that I’d have a solid handle on the books for this course. Having read Into Thin Air, a few of Krakauer’s other books and dozens of others essentially similar to them, I thought I had the pattern figured out. I also thought that about the books for this class, until Jamling gave me an epiphany. Early in the semester I assumed that the common thread linking these expedition stories was their common purpose- to excite readers with tales of extreme environments and human triumph. After reading Jamling, though, I realize that the syllabus has been designed with an altogether different intention. While all of the books do contain the aforementioned elements, the authors all have a fundamentally different purpose, and that’s what makes these books interesting to compare. Touching My Father’s Soul isn’t intended to captivate readers with its epic descriptions of climbing—it spends far more time explaining the historical and cultural context of climbing Everest and Jamling’s personal experience specifically. If not for some of the central common events it would even be hard to identify this climb as the same described by Krakauer, as Jamling spends a significant number of pages describing the unpromising Buddhist rituals that preceded the climb, the lifestyles of the Sherpa and the cultural context of Everest climbing, while Krakauer barely mentions these things. I feel like this book could have existed in a relatively similar form had Jamling climbed Everest a different year and avoided the 1996 disaster, because recounting the disaster isn’t his purpose. Realizing this difference, I thought back to our previous books, and sure enough I discovered a significant range of purposes, from Blum’s argument for women’s equality to Herzog’s mainly exploratory pursuit. Having identified this aspect of the course I’m interested to see what the future authors select as the purpose for writing their own stories.


  1. I'm also intrigued by the variety (already) of purposes behind writing the adventure narratives we've read so far. In contrast to your originally cited reason though, "to excite readers with tales of extreme environments and human triumph," I really only saw this in Herzog's and Bancroft's books. Blum's purpose struck as closer to Krakauer's, which seemed to be giving a journalistic recounting of events. (Although Blum did not do the research that Krakauer did.) I'm surprised that so many of the books you've read in the past followed such a similar structure, and I'd be interested to see a chronological mapping of those books and the ones on our syllabus, to try to determine what style influenced whom.

  2. I agree that it's great that we have the chance to read about a number of different reasons for climbing or exploring. The question of why people embark on such adventures often comes up in class, and I think that the answer is different for each person, and that is reflected in the way that the stories are presented in the narratives. I also think it's interesting that many of the authors we have read so far this semester have known that they were going to be writing something after their expedition. Both Blum and Bancroft mentioned having some sort of book deal for when they returned from the expedition and Krakauer had the Outside article to write. The only author I'm not sure about is Herzog. I wonder what the effect is of knowing that a story is expected to be told after the end of the expedition.
    It also might be interesting to compare narratives written about particular activities. For example, climbing vs. crossing Antarctica. Bancroft talked about the different mentalities of climbers and people who do longer expeditions and so I wonder how the type of expedition influences the narrative.