the contextual life

thoughts without borders

meet the reader :: the non-fiction, adventure maven

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AU performed her own adventurous escape from the world of journalism. when she’s not reading about the travels of others (intentional and unexpected) she enjoys running and spending time with her awesome kids.

do you prefer to read fiction or nonfiction?
I pretty much ONLY read nonfiction, but I don’t like books by journalists. I like books written by people who are actually a part of what they are writing about. So non-fiction accounts of, say, the housing market crash are not my thing. But I like books about plane crashes!

what’s the one thing about reading that makes it impossible to do without?
I would find it so hard to live without the pure escape of good books. More than movies or TV, I find it easy to get ‘lost’ in a book. And during the day, I’m consciously or subconsciously mulling over the book, and the details of the book seem to make life richer. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I realize: “I’m not reading any good books right now.” That is, having a good book makes life livable.

name one book that’s been on your list that you still haven’t gotten around to reading?
Great question. I would say Three Cups of Tea. I think I was given that book three times, and in spite of all those copies, I’ve never read it. Ditto for Eat Pray Love. I guess there’s a moment when a book becomes so over-hyped that there’s no way to read it without impossibly high expectations.

what was the last great book that you read that you recommend to nearly everyone?
Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado. This is an amazing book, and exactly what a memoir should be: a reflection from AFAR on a dramatic event of the past. Nando Parrado was a member of the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes. You probably know this story from the famous book, Alive! Alive is also a good book, but this is much, much better, because Parrado takes you through not just the outward experience of the crash and how they survived, but the inner experience as he wrestles with his injury, the death of his friends and family, and the certainty of their own

death if they don’t escape. What makes this book so great is that nearly 40 years passed before he wrote it. It seems most memoirs these days are written right after the events take place. Some books I would put in this category are: In An Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff (about his being injured in an IED attack in Iraq), and A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides (by kidnapped journalist David Rohde and his wife Kristen Mulvihill. But really, great memoirs need time…. as Katherine Graham wrote in her memoir, Personal History, she could speak frankly about her life because so many of her family and friends were dead! As a result, she wrote very frankly about her own parents, her husband and other aspects of her life. Another memoir written from a distance is Coming out of the Ice by Victor Frankle. It’s an absolutely amazing book, about an American teenager who was sent to the Gulag in Stalin’s Russia. It’s heartbreaking and tragic, yet because he has written the book as an old man, he also looks back philosophically and says, amazingly, he wouldn’t change anything.

last great book someone recommended to you?
My brother told me I should read Robinson Crusoe because I like adventure stories and maritime history. This is an exception to my general rule of not liking fiction. It was awesome. A good adventure story, and surprisingly accessible given how long ago it was written. The best part is the way he uses English, always talking about ‘contrivances’ and ‘vapors’ in his head. But a very good survival story.

is there any genre that you normally don’t read but feel there is one great representative who would be a shame to miss?
I guess I would put Robinson Crusoe in that category. It’s fiction but I actually enjoyed it. That said, I HATED Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. (I thought I would like the survival aspects.) Another exception to my anti-journalist rule is Candice Millard’s River Of Doubt, about Teddy Roosevelt’s journey through the Amazon — of course she did not participate in that event, but she wrote an amazing book. And I also have an exception to my own love of memoirs: Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints felt very charlatan-ish, and I left that book having a lot less respect for her. I also started to read The Only Road North about a young American evangelical traveling in Africa, but it was incredibly poorly written. So not all memoirs are good.

what was one of your favorite childhood books?
No doubt: Gone with the Wind. Not a children’s book, but as a pre-teen, I read my paperback so many times, it feel into pieces, and then I would read it, section by section. Felt the same way at the time about Roots.

what book would you like to see on the middle school or high school curriculum?
I think they should use more recent, straightforward stories, either fiction or nonfiction. For example, I read The Hatchet after someone gave a copy to my son. What a great book! Of course, it’s exactly my genre — survival stories — but it was written in a very modern and straightforward way. I remember reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner in high school, and being completely and utterly baffled. I feel the same way about Catcher in the Rye. If you have to explain why a book is important — rather than having its importance be self-evident — well, i think there’s a problem there.

what book did you read in high school that you’re glad was assigned?
I’m glad I had to read Heart of Darkness. Generally, I don’t understand fiction, but we studied the heck out of that one, so by the end I felt like I had a basic grasp of the themes. It was awesome to make the connection to Apocalypse Now and TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. Generally, unless someone can walk me through a fiction book + tell me why it’s significant, I can’t really get the hang of it.

how do you find the books you read?
Another good question. I usually search via topic area on Audible and sometimes Audible correctly suggests a book I might like. When I worked in journalism, I had access to new titles, so I just picked out the memoirs that interested me. I wish Amazon did a better job of suggesting books I would like. I think my interests are actually pretty narrow, so it wouldn’t be that hard to make the right suggestion!

books and travel, what comes to mind?
One of the best travel books I read recently was Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. Again, this follows the pattern of someone writing about dramatic events that happened to them years ago. She describes traveling to China with a friend in 1980s, while her friend gradually loses her mind. It’s a haunting story, very well told.

what’s up next?
I think I want to read more about Teddy Roosevelt! He’s such a likeable figure from afar, but the more you learn about him, you realize that ‘national heroes’ are actually insufferable people up close!

Written by Gabrielle

February 15, 2011 at 8:47 am

Posted in books, interviews

Tagged with ,

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