Showing posts with label hiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hiking. Show all posts

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review


If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday, What Are YOU Reading?


Happy August, reader friends!  Part of me is sad that it's August, because it means summer is going to be over in a few short weeks.  And the other part of me is not sad at all, because this has been an AWESOME-SAUCE SUMMER.  We have had maximum fun since the weather warmed up, and I'm not sad at all for the coming autumn, because I know we have taken advantage of every minute.  Our boys are at such fun ages, and able to do so much more than last year.  When I think of last summer, it is a psychotic blur of trying to chase a 3-year-old while bottle feeding/diapering/lugging a 7-month-old baby that hated touching grass (seriously?).  This summer, much improved.

For example: this past weekend, we did our first family hiking day at Letchworth State Park in Castile, NY ("The Grand Canyon of the East"!  As all my west-coast friends roll their eyes.)  It was gorgeous, and the boys had a fantastic time.  My husband and I were big hikers before Small Fry was born, but we eased it back once babies arrived, as small infant + mountain climbing did not sound like fun.  However, we are now SUPER excited to share our love of the outdoors with the kiddos as they get older.


Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying these last weeks of summer as much as we are!  Let's talk books!  I'm reading:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I grabbed this one at random.  It's been on my TBR for ages, and landed on my 30 before 35 list as well.  I'm about 60% finished.  At first, I was intrigued, couldn't put it down...then I started to feel weirded out by the entire thing...and now I'm hitting a little bit of a bored lull.  It's quite a ride.  My review should be interesting!

Upcoming reads:

I've got my first book tour in quite a long time coming up, The Invisibles by Cecelia Galante.  Looking forward to this one!  Afterwards, I'm hoping to jump into Katie's Nonfiction Book Club with Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Other-But-Equally-Awesome Katie's Fellowship of the Worms readalong of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

How has your summer been so far?  What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Book Review: At the Mercy of the Mountains by Peter Bronski


Title: At the Mercy of the Mountains: True Stories of Survival and Tragedy in New York's Adirondacks
Author: Peter Bronski
Publisher: Lyons Press
Publication Date: February 26, 2008
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

In the tradition of Eiger Dreams, In the Zone: Epic Survival Stories from the Mountaineering World, and Not Without Peril, comes a new book that examines the thrills and perils of outdoor adventure in the “East’s greatest wilderness,” the Adirondacks.


My Review:

Fun fact: before I was a mom, I climbed MOUNTAINS!
At the summit of Algonquin Peak (second highest in the Adirondacks), September 2006
Yes indeed.  I grew up in Connecticut, which does not have much mountainous terrain to speak of, but after college I moved to New York, and my now-husband introduced me to hiking.  I quickly grew to love it, and before long, the two of us had our sights set on becoming Adirondack 46ers--people who have climbed all 46 of the Adirondack mountains higher than 4,000 feet.  Currently, I am only a 15er (having kids slowed us quite a bit--not my idea of a good time to bring a baby and a preschooler up a trail-less peak), but the other 31 will most definitely be reached one day.

It's easy to fall in love with the Adirondacks.  The landscape is gorgeous--there is nothing like getting to a summit and being treated to a view like this:
View from Cascade Mountain, 2005
It's peaceful.  The air smells cleaner.  It is a true escape from the distractions of every day life.  Not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when you are standing on top of a FRIGGIN' MOUNTAIN.

However, despite my many forays into the Adirondack wilderness, I admit that as a beginning hiker, I took my safety and preparedness for granted.  My husband and I only ever hiked on clear, beautiful summer/fall days, with little risk of a sudden storm...and never in the winter.  (You can also become a Winter 46er if you hike them all in that season!)  My husband always had a ton of what I thought of as "extra" gear with him...water filter, camp stove, head lamp, etc.  Meanwhile, I had water, snacks, my hiking poles, maybe some extra clothes, and that was it.  What else could we possibly need?

Bronski's At the Mercy of the Mountains convinced me that, not only was I extremely naive, but we need ALL THE THINGS the next time we hike.  He has compiled some of the most notorious and dramatic search-and-rescue stories from the Adirondacks, dating from the earliest hikers to the present.  Avalanches, freak snowstorms, and flash floods, while not daily occurrences, are a part of the reality of the Adirondacks.  When you add in an ill-prepared hiker/skiier/canoeist, without extra provisions or proper backcountry navigation skills, disaster could easily strike.

I enjoyed Bronski's collection of misadventures because he does not present them in a fearmongering or alarmist way.  In fact, that would go quite counter to his motives--Bronski loves the Adirondacks himself, and hopes that others will share in that admiration.  But loving the wilderness also means understanding and respecting it.  He brings forth these unfortunate stories to help other outdoorsmen/women gain an understanding of how to proceed into the woods with the right equipment and know-how.  Plus, the book highlights the hard work of Adirondack forest rangers and search-and-rescue volunteers, which is fascinating in itself.

Any reader interested in true-life outdoor adventure stories (Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer comes to mind) will dig this book, though it will, admittedly, appeal the most to lovers of the Adirondacks specifically.  ADK hikers will recognize many of the peaks and landmarks that are described, which adds a nice sense of familiarity while reading.  However, Bronski does a great job illustrating the setting, so readers who have never visited the Adirondacks will also get a lot of enjoyment out of the experience.

So, who wants to buy me a new hiking pack for Christmas?

Any other outdoor enthusiasts out there?  Do you have any backcountry mishaps to share?  Go ahead, don't be shy...maybe we can learn from you, too! :)
 
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