Monday, March 3, 2014

Joe's a mountaineer, not a writer

We have often been challenged to question what gives mountaineers the authority to write. For the most part, they are not trained authors. Why should they be writing a book? With Joe Simpson, I found myself wondering this...often. I found Joe to be the worst writer in terms of style and quality.  I would go as far to say the book lacked any poetic, prosy, complex, or interesting style that we can at least see in Krakauer. And worse, any attempt Joe did make at a stylistic piece of writing turned out to be cliche and annoying. Just look at the way he ended the book, "Life can deal you an amazing hand. Do you play it steady, bluff like crazy or go all in? I'll never know" (227).

But! I don't mean to be too critical. I think this feature of Joe (or perhaps lack of feature) had an interesting effect. The lack of style, or literary depth, made this story seem very reliable. It was just as though Joe was retelling everything exactly as it happened. With Krakauer, we had to wonder if we were being manipulated by his clever literary ways. With Simpson, I felt the opposite. I felt that I was just being told exactly what had happened on Siula Grande with no fancy/clever writing to get in the way. His addition of Yates' accounts particularly aided in that feeling - the feeling of objectivity in the portrayal of events.

Joe is a mountaineer, not a writer. That was very clear to me. He gained the authority to write due to the tremendously horrendous situation he got himself into. Is that all it takes to gain authority as an author? Sure, because admittedly I liked reading this story. Nevertheless, it makes me feel bad for people who have actual skill and talent but are unable to get published.


  1. Emi, I agree completely. I was eating up everything Joe wrote. I didn’t even realize it until after reading your post, but like you, I did not question any of the facts set forth about the climb like I did with Krakauer. To answer your question about how one gains authority as an author, I think yes, Joe gained authority as a writer due to the situation he got himself in (he doesn’t seem to have any previous literary credentials backing him up), but that’s okay.. We all have authority to write because we all have a voice and a story to tell. What Joe lacks is definitely style, which is what we want as readers in addition to a little drama. At least I find myself becoming absorbed in the novels that stir things up. Is there something to say about our attraction to seemingly fictional adventure narratives with drama and all that jazz? In reading about adventures and going on real life adventures, we want to spark our imagination. If we cannot do that, what’s that point..

  2. In the post script he notes that his life was not changed by the trauma of the climb and disaster, but instead by his subsequent writing and speaking career. I was surprised to read that because for Simpson, trauma and writing seem to be intertwined. Without the crowd-pleasing details of trauma, there likely would not be a place for Simpson in the author's world. I agree with you guys that he feels much more reliable than Krakauer. He also had a more positive spirit, it seemed, than Krakauer which was much more pleasant to read. Simpson's window into the world was much less judgmental and a lot more positive.