Friday, October 22, 2010

Death, Insurmountable Odds, Sex with Cannibals...Books of Adventure

My father was a bomber pilot in WWII and was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines. As a child I remember looking at pictures of his time in that area. He then became a member of the Air Force Reserve. And while my sisters and I remained in our little town in central Texas, my dad was flying to England, Hawaii, Taiwan, Goose Bay Labrador, Panama etc. I always envied him his life of travel. Because of him, my mantra in life has always been that if God put it on this earth, I want to see it. So, knowing full well I can’t go everywhere nor can I go back in time, I began reading nonfiction adventure books that, in many cases, would take me where no man has gone before (sorry, I’m a Star Trek fan).  Read more about adventure books:

The largest group of adventure books deals with seafaring. They are not my favorite but I have read some really very good sit on the edge of your seat narratives. Seafaring was the way in which civilizations learned of other civilizations, and when many of those civilizations were discovered, it brought them to their demise. When I go on a trip to someplace that I’ve not been before, I always like to try and read a book about that place. My husband and I decided to go on a cruise to French Polynesia. Now, I know that many of our generation has either seen the Marlon Brando or Mel Gibson movie versions of Mutiny on the Bounty. But I decided I wanted to know the truth as far as you could learn the truth. So, if you’re interested in the entire story of the Bounty, from Fletcher Christian setting Captain Bligh and his non mutinying sailors adrift to the very, very, very end of the saga, read The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander. Another fascination of mine is Captain Cook. So, I read Tony Horowitz’s Blue Latitudes, Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. One chapter is Captain Cook’s diary and the next chapter is Horowitz’s visit and the subsequent change in that area due to Cook’s visit. In other words, like the American Indian, the Maori and the Aborigines came under the thumb of European adventurers and their religions.

If I keep on in this vein, this book review will be 20 pages long. Here is a list of some of my favorite “adventure” books and a short synopsis (and, yes, I’ve read them all):

In the Heart of the Sea by Dick Philbuck: Herman Melville based Moby Dick on this true story. Whalers from Nantucket must sail to the Pacific for whale hunting, only to have their boat capsized by a whale and then endure terrible suffering of dehydration, starvation and cannibalism.

Into Africa: the Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugrad. Want to know what really happened in the deepest and darkest of Africa? Lots of flesh rot, disease, and leeches. I LOVED it!

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann: England’s greatest explorer, Percy Fawcett, goes to the Amazon to find the lost gold city of Z. I hear it’s being made into a movie. Fawcett was one crazy dude. Time after time he goes into the Amazon and returns almost dead and empty handed. But…on his “proclaimed” last trip, does he find the city, does he come out alive….?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: Laugh out loud, slap your knee adventure into the Appalachians with Bryson and the only fool he could find to walk the ENTIRE trail with him, his out of shape, recovering addict buddy. It is hysterical.

The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan by Ben Macintyre: Rudyard Kipling based his short story on Josiah Harlan, an American dumped by his fiancĂ© and instead of burying his head in the sand, decides he is going to be king of an unknown country. And, he does. Harlan lived in the mid to late 1800’s and what’s fascinating is that when he talks about Afghanistan, he could be talking about today.

Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost: He follows his wife, who works for the UN, to the tiny South Pacific island of Kiribati. It is travel writing at its funniest and at its best. He also wrote Getting Stoned with Savages. It’s another good chuckle of a read. Mindless stuff, really, but perfect beach reading…

Others of note: Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder; A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horowitz; Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose; Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux; Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King.

So, I will end with this quote: “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves.”

André Gide

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