Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
Levison Wood, who was a major in a British parachute regiment, likes a challenge. So why not hike along the banks of the entire Nile River, over 4000 miles? So off he goes, with a guide, occasionally a police escort, and even pack camels in the desert, to find his path through swamps, lakes, villages, cities, and desert. He is very discouraged at times, especially after extremely high temperatures leads to tragedy. Sometimes he can’t remember why he’s making such a challenging journey, such as when dealing with bureaucratic red tape or civil unrest. But the extremely warm welcomes he finds in small villages, and numerous wildlife encounters, including rescuing a baby monkey whose habitat has been burned, enliven the book. Wood doesn’t mention until the acknowledgements at the end that a small film crew shared parts of the journey with him, a curious oversight. I earlier reviewed his second book, Walking the Himalayas, which was more enjoyable for the reader (and probably the explorer), although less suspenseful.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hope is a Norwegian American from Minnesota, daughter of a community college science teacher, who was expected to major in English at the University of Minnesota, but found her calling instead in science. She has been a scientist for over 20 years, and along with her lab manager Bill, has built and run laboratories in Georgia, Maryland, and Hawaii, as well as done fieldwork in Ireland, Norway, and many other places. Her field is geobiology, which seems to be a blend of geology, botany, and the environment. Her passion is for plants and trees, and her story is framed with descriptions of the life cycle of different kinds of plants. The themes of her story are cold, night, silence, sleeplessness, the joy of discovery, and the rewards of persistence and asking questions. Bill is a delightfully quirky, sarcastic character, and I’m glad to know they still work together. Hope struggles as a young woman in a sexist environment, and as one with a bipolar disorder. There is actually plenty of humor here, along with the evident joy she feels in a scientific life of research, discovery, and teaching. Her difficult journey to motherhood is also shared. I was fascinated by Hope’s well-publicized memoir, and found it a very quick and satisfying read.
Connected with our adult summer reading program, Exercise Your Mind, Read! we have some suggestions for what to read this summer. In the library this month, you will find a book display full of Real Life Adventure books, and a booklist to take. Several of the books on the list have been reviewed on this blog, as I enjoy reading them from time to time. What is real life adventure? Typically, these books are memoirs of an individual or group on an adventure, usually traveling somewhere exotic, where hardships are likely, such as mountain climbing, rowing across the ocean, or volunteering around the globe, or where survival is uncertain, such as a plane crash in the 1940s in New Guinea. If you’re looking for something refreshingly different, my lengthy booklist follows.
551.21 Dvo Dvorak, John. The Last Volcano: A Man, a Romance, and the Quest to Understand Nature’s Most Magnificent Fury, 2015.
551.566 Bog Bogard, Paul. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013.
597.33 Cas Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks, 2005.
623.88 Gre Greenlaw, Linda. Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea, 2010.
629.45 Jon Jones, Chris. Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, 2007.
629.45 Nel Nelson, Craig. Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, 2009.
636.7 Rya Ryan, Tom. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, 2011.
796.522 Sim. Simpson, Joe. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, 2004.
796.522 Vie Viesturs, Ed. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks, 2006.
796.525 Tab Tabor, James. Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, 2010.
796.64 Ben Benson, Brian. Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey across America, 2014.
797.123 Bro Brown, Daniel. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 2013.
797.123 Rac Rackley, Adam. Salt, Sweat, Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Ocean, 2014.
797.32 Dix Dixon, Chris. Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth, 2011.
910.4 Fer Fermor, Patrick Leigh. The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, 2014.
910.4 Fri Friedman, Rachel. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, 2011.
910.4 Mal Malusa, Jim. Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents, 2008.
910.4 Mar Marquis, Sarah. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot, 2016.
910.4 Mar Marshall, John. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, 2015.
910.4 Pod Podell, Albert. Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth, 2015.
910.41 Goo Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, 2013.
910.41 Wig Wigge, Michael. How to Travel the World for Free: One Man, 150 Days, Eleven Countries, No Money! 2013.
910.452 Sid Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of the Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, 2014.
910.45 Kur Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015.
910.9 Eva Evans, James. Tudor Adventurers: An Arctic Voyage of Discovery: The Hunt for the Northeast Passage, 2014.
916.2 Mah Mahoney, Rosemary. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, 2007.
916.3 Sha Shah, Tahir. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, 2003.
916.48 Kin King, Dean. Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, 2004.
916.751 Tay Tayler, Jeffery. Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, 2000.
917.3 Web Weber, Bruce. Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, 2014.
917.4 Mil Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, 2011.
917.4 Sil Silva Cruzatt, Judith. The Voyage of Yankee Lady: Circumnavigating New England on a Sailboat, 2013.
917.4 Stu Stutzman, Paul. Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Feedom on the Appalachian Trail, 2012.
917.79 Sto Storey, Gail Donohue. I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.9 Tow Townsend, Chris. Rattlesnakes and Bald Eages: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.94 Alt Alt, Jeff. Four Boots, One Journey: A Story of Survival, Awareness, and Rejuvenation on the John Muir Trail, 2014.
917.94 Rob Roberts, Suzanne. Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, 2012.
918.11 Mil Millard, Candice. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, 2005.
919.4 Hil Hill, Geoff. Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph, 2010.
919.89 Ast Aston, Felicity. Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman to Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice, 2014.
919.89 Fra Francis, Gavin. Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, 2013.
919.89 Rob Roberts, David. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, 2013.
932 Rya Ryan, Donald. Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, 2010.
940.544 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II, 2013.
940.54497 Mur Murphy, Brian. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness, 2015.
940.5451 Kur Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, 2004.
940.54725 Hil Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, 2010.
940.548 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, 2011.
972.81 Car Carlsen, William. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, 2016.
973.93 Cap Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, 2013.
978 Buc Buck, Rinker. The Oregon Trail: A New Journey, 2015.
978.02 Sta Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, 2014.
979.82 Sch Schooler, Lynn. Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart, 2010.
985 37 Ada Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, 2011.
BIO Grylls Grylls, Bear. Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography, 2012.
BIO Strayed Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2012.
Wild by Nature by Sarah Marquis
A short but stunning memoir of the ultimate real life adventure. Sarah Marquis, a National Geographic explorer, spent two years planning a three-year journey trekking across east Asia and Australia, mostly from north to south. She starts in Mongolia, then China, back up to Siberia, then through Laos and Thailand before taking a cargo ship to Darwin, on the north coast of Australia and walking to the south coast. She hikes alone, often disguised as a man, carrying a 40 pound backpack and pushing a 110 pound cart, carrying two weeks worth of food and water. There is a detour for a medical emergency, but she is returned to the evacuation point. Sarah communicates with her expedition leader occasionally by satellite phone, has a contact in each country, and shops for food in tiny villages. Mongolian horsemen harass her by riding around and around her tent at night, but women in the villages help her even when they have no shared language. The weather extremes are often a challenge. She clearly loves being close to nature, and even relishes her time in the deserts. The Swiss explorer is in demand as a motivational speaker, but clearly prefers to be on the move. Learn more and watch her speak on her website.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Historian Helen is shattered by the sudden death of her father, a news photographer. An experienced falconer, she retreats from human society and begins training a young female goshawk, Mabel. Goshawks are bigger and deadlier than other hawks she has handled, and Helen turns to old books on falconry for inspiration, including medieval books and T. H. White’s memoir, The Goshawk. White, the author of The Once and Future King, is a very unhappy person, although an interesting one, and I would have liked more of Helen’s story and less about White. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read this well-reviewed book, because I thought it would mostly be about hunting with a hawk. Later in the book, there are detailed hunting scenes, but the book is much more about grief and getting in touch with nature. Mabel is terrified of her new world and Helen needs to become first invisible and then familiar in order to work with her. At one point, Helen is identifying more with the hawk then with her human friends and family, but thankfully she regains some balance. Finishing a research fellowship at Cambridge, Helen explores the land around the university with Mabel, seeing it from a new perspective. I thought this book was moving, beautifully written, and in parts, a page-turner, as I really wanted to find out what happened with Mabel and Helen.
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
In October, 2009, Ruth, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, was shocked to learn that the publisher was ceasing publication of Gourmet, which debuted in 1941. Even though the December issue was at the printers, and three more issues were planned, no more magazines would be published. Amidst this turmoil, she still has to launch “Adventures with Ruth”, a 10-episode travel and food television show, and go on tour for the brand new Gourmet Today cookbook, which she had edited. In the year that followed, Ruth wrote copy for the Gourmet Cookie Book, and tried to reinvent herself; not easy at 61. With her husband Michael, she spent a very cold and snowy winter at their country house, and decided to sublet their NYC apartment. Used to dining out on an expense account as a food critic, Ruth now has the leisure to visit farmers’ markets and to cook seasonally. Photographs of upstate New York and many recipes add to the appeal of this gorgeous book. Laid up part of the year recovering from an injury, Ruth also begins her first novel, Delicious!, which the Tuesday evening book group is discussing on January 26 at 7:00 p.m. Next I plan to read Garlic and Sapphires, about her life as a food critic, often in disguise.
Wishing you an adventurous year of reading!
If you’re looking for more memoirs, check out our book display called “A Year in the Life: Yearlong Projects, Adventures, and Travels”. Here is the accompanying booklist:
A Year in the Life: Yearlong Projects, Adventures, and Travels
028.8 San Sankovitch, Nina. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. 2011
028.9 Mil Miller, Andy. The Year of Reading Dangerously. 2014
158 Rub Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project. 2009
158.1 Kir Kirshenbaum, Mira. The Gift of a Year. 2000
158.1 Kra Kravitz, Lee. Unfinished Business. 2015
277.3 She Shea, Suzanne Strempek. Sundays in America. 2008
278.95 Ros Roscher, Ellie. How Coffee Saved My Life. 2009
303.483 Bre Brende, Eric. Better Off. 2004
306.3 Bru Bruno, Dave. The 100 Thing Challenge. 2010
330.973 And Anderson, Maggie. Our Black Year. 2012
331.702 Aik Aiken, Sean. The One-Week Job Project. 2010
332.4 Wol Wolman, David. The End of Money. 2012
338.476 Cle Clemens, Paul. Punching Out. 2011
362.18 Kar Karam, J.A. Into the Breach. 2002
362.21 Vin Vincent, Norah. Voluntary Madness. 2008
365.43 Ker Kerman, Piper. Orange is the New Black. 2011
365.6 Smi Smith, Jeff. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison. 2015
371.1 Bro Brown, Dan. The Great Expectations School. 2007
371.1 Dan Danza, Tony. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. 2012
371.1 Foo Foote, Donna. Relentless Pursuit. 2008
382.60951 Bon Bongiorni, Sara. A Year Without “Made in China.” 2007
577.56 Hol Holmes, Hannah. Suburban Safari. 2005
595.78 Pyl Pyle, Robert Michael. Mariposa Road. 2010
598 Kau Kaufman, Kenn. Kingbird Highway. 1997
598.07 Obm Obmascik, Mark. The Big Year. 2004
598.159 Kro Kroodsma, Donald. Birdsong by the Seasons. 2009
599.773 Tha Thayer, Helen. Three Among the Wolves. 2004
610.92 Mcc McCarthy, Matt. The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly. 2015
613.2 Jac Jacobs, A.J. Drop Dead Healthy. 2012
613.2 Law Lawson, Tracey. A Year in the Village of Eternity. 2011
616.83 Spe Spencer-Wendel, Susan. Until I Say Good-Bye. 2013
616.8526 Kuf Kuffel, Frances. Angry Fat Girls. 2010
616.8589 Ell Ellison, Katherine. Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention. 2010
630.092 Kim Kimball, Kristin. The Dirty Life. 2010
630.584 Cha Chaskey, Scott. This Common Ground. 2005
635 Lap Lapp, Laura. An Amish Garden. 2013
635.0484 Bro Brockman, Terra. The Seasons of Henry’s Farm. 2009
636.7 Kat Katz, Jon. A Dog Year. 2002
636.7 Mil Miles, Kathryn. Adventures with Ari. 2009
636.7527 Abr Abramson, Jill. The Puppy Diaries. 2011
640.73 Lev Levine, Judith. Not Buying It. 2006
641.013 Maj Majumdar, Simon. Eat My Globe. 2009
641.3 Gre Greenslate, Christopher. On a Dollar a Day. 2010
641.3 Kin Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 2007
641.5 Erw Erway, Cathy. The Art of Eating In. 2010
641.5 Smi Smith, Alisa. Plenty. 2007
641.552 Mat Mather, Robin. The Feast Nearby. 2011
641.564 Rei Reichl, Ruth. My Kitchen Year. 2015
641.815 Ale Alexander, William. 52 Loaves. 2010
649.1 Wym Wyma, Kay Wills. Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. 2012
664.132 Why Whynott, Douglas. The Sugar Season. 2014
746.432 Mar Martini, Adrienne. Sweater Quest. 2010
788.9 Ree Rees, Jasper. A Devil to Play. 2008
791.43 Rub Rabin, Nathan. My Year of Flops. 2010
795.412 Hol Holden, Anthony. Bigger Deal. 2007
796.352 Fei Feinstein, John. Moment of Glory. 2010
796.357 Sha Shaugnessy, Dan. Senior Year. 2007
796.72 Bec Bechtel, Mark. He Crashed Me, So I Crashed Him Back. 2010
798.2 Hus Husher, Helen. Conversations With a Prince. 2003
798.4 Cho Chong, Kevin. My Year of the Racehorse. 2012
798.4 Smi Smiley, Jane. A Year at the Races. 2004
809 Beh Beha, Christopher. The Whole Five Feet. 2009
818.6 Lan Lancaster, Jen. The Tao of Martha. 2013
910.4 Gil Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love. 2006
956.70443 Ste Stewart, Rory. The Prince of the Marshes. 2006
974.7 Roa Roach, Margaret. And I Shall Have Some Peace There. 2011
BIO Han Hancock, Noelle. My Year with Eleanor. 2011
BIO Hel Heller, Peter. Kook. 2010
BIO Loh Loh, Sandra Tsing. The Madwoman in the Volvo. 2014
BIO Mah Mah, Ann. Mastering the Art of French Eating. 2013
BIO Okr Okrant, Robin. Living Oprah. 2008
BIO Oxe Oxenhandler, Noelle. The Wishing Year. 2008
BIO Per Perry, Michael. Coop. 2009
BIO Rhi Rhimes, Shonda. Year of Yes. 2015
BIO Wal Wallace, Danny. Friends Like These. 2009
Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis
This isn’t the sort of book I usually read in December, but I’m glad I did. Gavin is a young Scottish doctor who is thrilled at the chance to spend 14 months on the Antarctic ice shelf at British research station Halley. He takes passage on a freighter headed there with supplies, via South America. 60 scientists and engineers spend the short Antarctic summer at Halley, along with those there to resupply it and haul away the waste. The station, the fifth at the same location, needs jacking up every summer above the level of the snow. The fourth Halley station is buried under snow, and another eventually fell into the sea. I was interested to learn that a newer Halley station can move horizontally across the snow and ice as needed on skis. Gavis was at Halley from the end of 2002 to the beginning of 2004, as station doctor. Only 14 crew spend the seemingly endless winter together, where time alone on the small station is at a premium and contact with the outside world is rather limited. Gavin is fascinated by emperor penguins, and a colony is wintering nearby. He is also well-informed on the history of Antarctic exploration and shares just enough of this with the reader, allowing more space for observations on the penguins, and on life in the beautiful Antarctic. One of the crew members trades duties to avoid going outside in the frigid winter, but Gavin rather likes shoveling snow into their water tank and watching the stars and the Aurora Australis. I found this to be an absorbing, thoroughly readable memoir.