Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A New Reading

Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness would be a fantastic addition, I think, to the new curriculum focus for this course. This book is a classic armchair-adventurer-turned-real-adventurer story about the origin and evolution of an unexpected Adirondack hero. This biography is one of my favorites because it feels so transparent. She focuses less on waving a narrative that is gripping and more on conveying the aura of each phase of the story. 
I think that the new title and concept sound fantastic and get at a particularly gripping question that we will all be thinking about very frequently as we venture off the hill. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Extreme fly fishing narrative

I would like to suggest the narrative, A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. This narrative is an excellent work that illustrates the spiritual and coming of age adventures of the protagonist, Norman Maclean, and it also depicts some beautiful fly fishing scenes, one of which, near the end, is actually quite extreme because it involves the brother of the protagonist swimming down the river through rapids with his rod in the air after a fish. Interestingly enough, this narrative also broaches on the conflict between fiction and nonfiction because although this narrative is in essence a true story, many of the details at the end of the novel have actually been altered because of the guilt felt by the author. In this way, this narrative appeals to me and is appropriate to the class because it embodies several kinds of adventure, broaches on the conflict between fiction and nonfiction, and, in one scene, acquires an essence of the extreme.

The Signal by Ron Carlson

I would like to recommend The Signal written by Ron Carlson. I read this book a few years ago and still remember the absolutely astonishing descriptions of the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming. The novel reminds me a lot of the Eiger Sanction although the descriptions are, in my opinion, a lot richer in the Signal. The story describes a six-day trip in the mountain range that Mack and his ex-wife Vonnie undergo. This trip is meant to be their last journey together and symbolizes the end of their relationship. Early on in the narrative, the reader becomes aware that Mack is also undergoing this trip for work and the initially slow narrative turns into a vibrant thriller. The novel is a thriller, romance and a bildungsroman. The Signal presents Mack’s quest for forgiveness and demonstrates perfectly how the River Mountain Range will help him retrieve balance in his life. This hopeful tale could be a great addition to the syllabus and I would highly recommend people to read it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reading for the Future

1. A Walk in the Woods - I was going to suggest this as well. Similar to what Cahill's writing did for me,  I loved the descriptions of both history and the environment that pull me in and are more relatable to my sense of what adventure means. However, I won't harp on this one because I know that other people have put in similar good words.

2. The Things They Carried- I know everyone reading this blog post has read this already because it was our freshman year reading but  I think it would be a good option for classes who have not read it for orientation. This book bring in new angles of adventure- there is travel, packing, gear, but also violence, loneliness, politics. It is a fantastic read and I think could expand upon the adventures people embark on. By choice or not by choice- how we deal with them- what they bring into our lives or take away from it etc. While it departs from the horizontal & vertical themes I think it could be interwoven well into the class. I also think there are interesting parallels between the uglies of war and what it does to humans and the immeasurable dominance of nature and what it does to humans- the mentalities required as well as the psychological journeys that can occur.

I've so enjoyed this class with all of you! I hope you all have the adventures you dream of!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Future Reading

The novel "My Side of the Mountain," written by Jean Craighead George, introduced me to the subject of fictive adventure and has continued to influence me decades later. This story follows the twelve year old protagonist Sam Gribley as he runs away from city life to live self sufficiently in the woods of the Catskill Mountains. Besides being a relatively short and very readable adventure story, "My Side of the Mountain" has innumerable tips regarding how to stay alive and how to sustainably live in New York wilderness with little more than a pocket knife. Furthermore, it offers a context for adventure in a setting that anybody going to Hamilton College can relate to. At times during this semester I felt ostracized from the books we were reading by how outlandish the idea was (for me at least) to be in Antarctica, the middle of an ocean, or the top of a Himalayan mountain. "My Side of the Mountain" transposes the same struggle to survive that we read about all semester into a very relatable context (made more so if you go camping with future classes).  

Monday, May 12, 2014

For the Future

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson (he's hilarious) and "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America" would be a great addition to the syllabus as a change of pace from the typically European and/or Asian adventure novels we've read in the course. His style of writing appeals to armchair adventurers AND the book focuses on the American landscape, something I don't think we were really able to cover this semester. I would, obviously, recommend "A Walk in the Woods," which is entertaining and, perhaps more importantly, a story about the challenges armchair adventurers face when they leave their armchair.

Book Recommendations

I was going to recommend A Walk in the Woods, I see that a few other people had the same idea. Because we covered so many different genres within adventure writing (autobiography, history, spy/suspense, etc.), I thought it might be great to get a taste of humor. There are parts of A Walk in the Woods that had me laughing out loud in public places. I love when he encounters that crazy, clingy lady who keeps popping up. Anyway, I think Bryson has an interesting perspective on adventure writing because he is a writer first, and because he began hiking in order to write about it.

Since discovering everyone else's pull to A Walk in the Woods, I've been trying to think about some other adventure recommendations. I read Miracle in the Andes and really enjoyed it, although I read it in the same era of my life as Into Thin Air, so could be misremembering... I do think brings the interesting perspective of forced adventure. Unlike so many of the adventures that we read through the semester, the men had absolutely no warning that they were in for a test of survival.

It's been a few years, but I also really enjoyed Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. It is a life scattered with adventure, rather than the typical, linear adventures that we have been reading so it may not work.

Tangible adventures

I would recommend adding Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I think it would have been interesting to explore the question of what makes an adventure narrative by looking at a very different, very specific motivation for going on an adventure. I also think it would be interesting to explore adventures that, for many people, might be more tangible than a climb up Everest or an expedition to the Arctic. It would be cool to look at some of the adventures that happen nearby that some of us could feasibly go on.

End of Semester Thoughts.

Over the course of this semester we looked to answer three questions; what is an adventure, why adventure and what does adventure do. I felt we did a very good job of answering the later two questions, but could have done better answering the first question. We looked at two types of adventures, mountain climbing and arctic trekking, but did not consider other adventures.  One book I would have liked to read this semester is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.  This appeals to me for two reasons.  One I like the Appalachian Trail, and two it presents a very different adventure than those we read.  Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not as inherently dangerous as climbing a mountain or crossing the Arctic/Antarctic. This would help to expand our notion of what an adventure is.  Bryson also considers many of the questions we looked to answer. Throughout the book he considers why he is hiking and how his hike is affecting him.  This class has introduced me to many amazing books and I am extremely happy I took it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

For my addition to the syllabus, I would like to recommend Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, an olympic track star who is forced to give up his dream to join the Navy during World War II. While flying over the Pacific Ocean, Louis' plane gets shot down and he is left floating in a severely under-equipped lifeboat with one other person for months a la Earnest Shackleton. Louis eventually drifts all the way to Japan where he is captured and imprisoned as a POW for years. During his time in capture, Louis is beaten to within an inch of his life but perseveres until he is rescued by American forces at the end of the war.

I am recommending this book because I think it will challenge our notion of what an adventure is and bring a different perspective to people's motivations for adventure. In particular, it will let us examine armed combat as a form of extreme adventure. While I don't think this book fits with the current reading list, I do think that it would give a new, but related, perspective to the course. Also, the book is written by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit, and it is absolutely riveting. I would say that the book most closely resembles Endurance, in the type of adversity that Louis must endure, but in a different climate, the South Pacific. I think that Unbroken addresses many of the issues that we have discussed from a different angle and would help guide discussions in class, also its an awesome read.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Team "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" !

I would recommend Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and after this course, I consider it my introduction to adventure literature. It would make a great addition to the syllabus as a fiction adventure story for many of the reasons Bethany touched on in her post about The Hobbit. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe provokes discussion about a whole other type of adventure characterized by talking animals and familial bonds, raising questions like, at what stage of life does adventure begin and end? In what ways do mountaineering teams function as families? I think we could have forgone one of the mountaineering books we read for a work of fantastical fiction to better answer the questions: What makes an adventure? What makes a good adventure narrative? From our lunchtime discussion at Janelle’s, it seems to me that adventure involves more intangible—than tangible—things like connection and emotion. For me, it is partly about gaining perspective and a sense of simplicity, and this novel, with its elements of fantasy, did that for me, so I think it would be interesting to have a discussion about the relationship between adventure and fantasy. This text would also give way to a discussion about how adventure occurs because the children in the text stumble upon their adventure rather than planning it like many great adventurers (must an adventure involve a plan of action?). Finally, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is in part, a story of good versus evil that would enable us to reflect on implicit portrayals of good versus evil in  other adventure narratives on the syllabus. Plus, it’s just fun to read books loved by kids. Going back to the whole simplicity thing, children appear to have a simpler or different perspective on life that is reflected in “children’s” books. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

Although I was a big fan of the texts we read this semester, I felt like we are missing out on a wide variety of potential adventures.  As such, I feel like adding Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson to the syllabus, a book about deep sea diving, would add to our understanding of what makes an adventure narrative.  This is quite a thrilling story about the discovery by a group of divers who stumble upon what seems like a historical impossibility, a German U-boat sunk off the coast of New Jersey.  After the initial discovery, the book covers the following seven years of two of the divers attempts at discovering the identity of the of the boat.  The book's story is gripping not only because it all really happened, but because Kurson does an amazing job of describing each dive these men take.  The dives he describes are not any commercial quality experiences, they are extremely deep dives, around 200 feet deep.  At that depth, the pressure of the ocean causes extreme drumming in your ears and nitrogen bubbles form in your blood at an alarming rate.  At that depth, death is a constant companion, and every choice could be your last.  If that doesn't sound like an adventure, I don't know what is!  Also, as for the two divers the book focuses on, finding the answer to the mystery of the boat's identity becomes an obsession.  Over the years, their undying curiosity and need to push themselves to the limit ultimately costs each of them their marriages and some of the lives of their diving team.  Thus, I believe that this book should be added to the syllabus because not only would it add variety to the type of adventures the class would read, but it also has many of the elements that we have talked about an adventure narrative having.    

A Walk in the Woods

I recommend Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods."  Bill Bryson is a travel writer who begins as an armchair adventurer and, though he is far from a mountain man, earns his granite eyes.  He hikes ~800 miles of the Appalachian Trail, often in the presence of his friend Stephan Katz.  This is a more tangible adventure for the majority of the class.  It's adventure from someone who doesn't know what pack straps are or how far 15 miles truly is.  Bryson does a stellar jog portraying his surrounding, the events that transpire, and the emotions they both evoke.  His hilarity and sass are expertly combined with human and environmental history.  He flirts with the question of why he hikes and why he like and despises it, but doesn't quite spell it out.  It's an adventure narrative that brings adventure geographically close to home with a vernacular and attitude reachable for inexperienced armchair adventurers.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Armchair Spectator

I was impressed by the writing and vivid imagery in “Kayaking Among the Ice Children.” Even the title grabs my attention and makes me think of the writer as someone who is very reflective and has great attention to detail. The title reflects Cahill’s concern for the scene around him and the context behind the scene. He brings past and present together in his narrative, but I wish he ended the narrative on a personal note rather than a note of the past: “In the far distance, there was the faint thunder of Shaw-whad-seet’s children, of the new land being born.” I was more captivated by the first half of the narrative because Cahill introduces some tension with the orcas, who he calls “wolves of the sea,” and builds the tension up, but then he lets it go with his description of the Tlingit Indians that he fleshes out throughout the rest of the narrative. I would have liked Cahill to tie the orca tension into his ending, which suggests I have a desire, as an armchair adventurer, to be handed a pretty wrapped package at the end of the story. Despite my desire for an alternate ending, I got a lot out of this narrative in the sense that the writing was so captivating and telling of the narrator’s inner thoughts and feelings. I don’t think I will forget the line about Cahill calculating his resemblance to a harbor seal because I felt like I was a spectator of his inner thoughts. 

Reading the Fantastic

My suggestion for an addition to this syllabus is The Hobbit (no surprise there!). While I have found all of the books we read very interesting and fun to read, I did think that they were too much all of the same type of adventure (either vertical/mountain climbing or horizontal/sea voyages). I think that reading fantastical fiction such as The Hobbit would open up the question of "what makes adventure?" The Hobbit still addresses that idea of "what man can endure" (as we recently discussed with Pym). Instead of "what do mountains do?" we could ask "what do dragons (or any fantastical monster) do?" Reading this after a book involving a mountain climbing expedition could help develop the answer to this question, as I think the mountains and the dragons actually end up playing quite similar roles.  Also, The Hobbit adds a new dimension to the discussion as it is clearly fiction. Given this, I think that it would also provide an interesting element to the discussion of "fiction" versus "non-fiction." Lastly, it's just a great book, so why not!

Giving Krakauer a Second Try!

If I were to recommend a book for this class, I would suggest Into the Wild by Krakauer. I know we've read a lot by him (and Into Thin Air didn't necessarily go over well with everyone, me included) but Into the Wild presents a different perspective of adventure that we haven't really experienced in class. This novel is a lot like Endurance, it is a nonfiction story retold by an author that is trying to capture the essence of truth in his recreation of the tale. It presents a completely different type of arctic adventure, because it focuses on a solo explorer, whose motivations and reasons are very different than the others that we have been reading in this class. Many of the horizontal narratives we've read are set in the 1800s, and Into the Wild presents a modern version of the arctic expedition tale.  It could create interesting discussion when contrasted with Voyage of the Narwhal or Endurance. Krakauer's portrayal of McCandless and his ideas about the thought processes behind adventure touch on the themes that we discuss in this class, like "why adventure?" and "what does adventure do?" Overall, I think that this could generate some interesting discussions on these topics, and this novel would contrast nicely with the other arctic expeditions that are already a part of this course.

The Use of Aspects of the Adventure Narrative in A Decidedly Unadventurous Short Story

            Although not a typical adventure story, Cahill's "Kayaking Among the Ice Children" was pleasant and at the same time exhilarating to read, especially for avid nature and wildlife enthusiasts like myself, because of the gratuitous detail of the wild and natural setting of Glacier Bay. Images, such as the orcas charging by the Kayaks, the seals lazily floating on the small bergs, and the awesome and sublime calving of the glacier have an almost hypnotic effect on me and deeply entwine my mind in the pages of the story. In reading this text, I find myself racing from page to page for more and I acquire a strong feeling of connection with the speaker and his surroundings, which Cahill has crafted to seem so real. In this way, this story is similar to an adventure narrative, at least for me, because I enjoy reading adventure narratives because I am drawn into the story and hooked by the adventure because of the realism of the events and the experiences of the protagonist. Consequently, it is almost as if Cahill is using the draw that exists in adventure narratives to captivate the reader in a story about the beautiful setting of Glacier Bay, but one that is far from ever being categorized as a typical adventure narrative.

Living, breathing Mama Earth

I loved reading this short story. It wove a brief tale of the thrill of a human being interacting with the extreme outdoors- the pack of killer whales. But it was much more than that. It was also a beautifully written history of Glacier Bay and detailed exploration of the animals and organisms that fill the area.
I liked the focus on the dichotomy of life and death in the natural world. The way that Cahill compared nature to a human body stuck out to me: "The old woman in the ice gives birth to her children-- the great slabs of ice that calve off the tidewater glaciers and thunder into the sea" (253) or "the rising sun...with crimson that suggested a great heart pumping inside the ice" (255). Feeling surrounded by the ups and down of the living and dying of the natural world was beautiful and humbling to read about. Cahills' fleeting fear of resembling a seal provokes a smile but also illuminates how vulnerable we feel when put amidst the hustle and bustle of extreme wilderness.

I liked this story because it reminds me of why I enjoy being outdoors-- seeing an incredible view or a moose up close makes me feel  a sense of "wondrous privilege" (249). This, to me, is such a unique, indescribable feeling, that it felt really wonderful to read the work of someone who found a great way to describe it. I think this short story encompasses a sense of adventure, curiosity, and uncertainty while also accounting for our human vulnerability and the strength and wonder of the wild world.

Whose the main character, again?

This short story portrays an active and dynamic ecosystem to the reader through compelling detail. I felt that the bustling action of the bay, from speeding orcas to plummeting ice, was more present in this narrative than the human onlookers. The kayakers traveled through and received this environment rather passively. The actions of the environment even acted on the observers by evoking powerful emotional responses. The author even describes the systemic changes taking place in this system, which mirrors the evolution and transformation of central character. In many of the books we have read, characters undergo concrete events, like glacier calvings, that generate less evident systemic changes to their character, much like long term glacier recession. This short story feels to me like a perfect final reading for this semester because I felt while reading the short story as if I were getting in touch with the ultimate adventure narrative character, nature itself.

Once again, what makes an adventure narrative?

Reading Kayaking Among the Ice Children I once more found myself asking “what makes an adventure narrative?” Most of what we’ve read over the course of the semester has focused on narratives in which something has gone absurdly wrong and the protagonist is forced to overcome an incredible challenge. We’ve talked about the fact that maybe adventure involves getting as close to death as possible in order to feel truly alive. I think that this chapter is a perfect example of how a narrative can be an adventure narrative without something actually going wrong. For me this chapter was still an adventure narrative because while I was reading I could feel the uncertainty and fear that the kayakers would have felt at the POTENTIAL for something to go wrong. Adventure isn’t necessarily about overcoming adversity. Maybe that closeness to death can be achieved just as well through the possibility of adversity.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Do you have to work/plan for adventure?

In Cahill's story, the real adventure lie in the action associated with the killer whales. In all of the other texts that we have read, the adventure has been intentionally sought after: to climb a mountain, to go to sea. Because they have been longer narratives, we have been able to see the the broader adventure play out, as well as smaller anecdotes within them. The explanation of the adventure has depended on the plan and intention of that adventure, whether it be reaching the summit or exploring the arctic, etc. In 'Kayaking Among Ice Children,' however, the short length allows for the surprise of the orcas to be the focal point of the adventure while the the intention and point description follows. I think that this proves that authors can write a successful adventure narrative in under 10 pages, but perhaps it is more strategic to structure them in a different way. As Cahill shows us, it really grabs the reader to put the excitement right at the beginning of the story.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Life and Death among the seals

I was really struck after reading the last passage in Kayaking Among the Ice Children which stated, "To my left, out in the inlet, I heard the breathing of the killer whales as they moved back down the inlet.  Some seals had surely died, just as the moose might die that night.  In the far distance, there was the faint thunder of Shaw-whad-seet's children, of the new land being born"(pg. 257).  What I found interesting about this passage, as well as this chapter, is the cyclical nature of life and death, and death and rebirth present.  The story begins with Tim and Paul kayaking through Glacier bay when they are set upon by a pod (pack?) of killer whales hunting for seals.  They comment on how they could be mistaken for seals and that some of those seals were probably going to die that night.  Tim then goes into the back story of the native people who lived in the area who say that Shaw-whad-seet sacrificed herself to the ice, and that to this day the new slabs of ice that break of the glacier are her "children" being born (death, rebirth).  He then recounts the rest of their kayaking journey, ending with the above passage which brings it back life and death, such as the seals being hunted, and then they listened to the sound of new ice children being born.  Now the kicker of all this is that I believe that adventure mimics or follows this cycle of life and death.  Adventures such as mountain climbing or kayaking in this case, bring the adventurer close to death, even if they are not consciously aware of it, and then bring them back into relative safety.  This happens with what Tim and Paul encountered with the killer whales; they were initially fearful for their lives as the pod went by them, but after the whales moved on, they could step back (metaphorically) and appreciate what had happened.  Thus, besides recounting an exciting experience, I think that Tim is really trying to get across to the reader is that adventure is like the cycle of life and death, that each moment could be your last, and it makes you appreciate your life all the more once the danger has passed.  I think that is especially true in this last passage.