You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Bits of books’ category.

2010. We’re here. There’s no denying it and though I’ve stayed clear of new year’s resolutions, I do feeling like posting a bit more this year. There hasn’t been enough random associations as of late. So to start us off:

Top 5 Mountaineering Books

Ever since I first clambered through the Polish Tatra at the tender age of 19, I’ve had a thing for mountains. Perhaps it’s the fact that I grew up in the Netherlands, a country whose very name evokes an utter lack of heights. I hail from the north, which is the flat part of the country, contrary to the hilly south whose highest peak is the downright vertiginous 322m Vaalseberg. So for the fellow armchair mountaineer, here’s my top 5 of dizziness-enducing books:

5. Touching the Void – Joe Simpson (1988)

One of the great controversies of mountaineering (and there’s quite a few of those) is at the heart of this outstanding book. Simon Yates and Joe Simpson are the first to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On the descent things go horribly wrong. Connected to each other by a rope around the waste, Simpson slips and falls over the edge of a precipice. Yates digs in his heels and holds onto the rope. As time passes and Simpson is unable to climb back up, he takes out his knife and cuts the rope. Was he right or not?

As a tale of human persistance in the face of despair there is no equal. The book was made into an award-winning documentary in 2003. Joe Simpson survived to tell the tale and is now a speaker much in demand at corporate events around the world.

4. The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman (1956)

For those who’ve read it all, it doesn’t come more satisfying than the epic ascent of Rum Doodle. Bowman takes every cliche of mountaineering, mulitplies it by ten and ads some absurdity for good measure. The book chronicles a motley crew of dapper adventurers, under the intrepid leadership of Binder, an Englishman of the stiff upper lip type. Their goal? The ascent of the legendary 40,000 foot Rum Doodle. On their way they face more obstacles from their companions than the elements. A navigator who’d get lost in his own living room, an army of porters ¬†who outnumber and outclimb the mountaineers and the faithful cook whose attrocious concoctions form the greatest motivation for the climb upward.

A classic in mountaineering circles, it has given it’s name to a bar in Kathmandu and a peak in South America. Frequently out of print, it’s worthwhile to try and get your hands on a copy. It was recently rereleased with Bill Bryson’s blessing.

3. The Crystal Horizon – Reinhold Messner (1982)

To many Reinhold Messner is the greatest mountaineer of all time. He was the first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders (peaks higher than 8,000m above sea level). Always controversial and headstrong, he advocated the alpine style of climbing, which favors light-weight equipment and quick ascents over the more traditional expedition climbs which use porters and multiple high-altitude camps to assault a summit.

The Crystal Horizon is Messner’s personal account of his solo ascent of Mount Everest from the Tibetan side, generally considered to be the single most daring act of mountaineering. Apart from the hardships and ecstasy of the climb itself, what comes across is Messner’s obsessive personality in which mountains are everything, a place where he can experience a zen-like high, and for which all else, including human relationships, must give way. A fascinating insight into the mind of a master.

2. Annapurna – Maurice Herzog (1956)

Annapurna was the first eight-thousander to be climbed and the book which describes the French expedition that succeeded remains the great classic of moutaineering literature. It has all the elements of an epic adventure story and is irresistible to any man who’s still a boy at heart. A near impossible mission, a long trek through exotic lands, from jungles to white mountain peaks (no helicopter rides in those days). There’s treachourous uncharted routes, ¬†scenes of a brilliant beauty and unimaginable suffering.

At one point Herzog drops his gloves and sees them roll off the mountain side as if in slow-motion, fully aware that he will lose his hands to frostbite. And that’s just the start of his trials. Mallory once said in response to why he wanted to climb Everest, Because it’s there. Read Annapurna and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

1. Into thin air – Jon Krakauer (1996)

At number one is Krakauer’s riveting book on the 1996 Everest tragedy. A page turner if ever there was one, the book relates how Krakauer joins an expedition to write an expose on the increasing commercialisation of the Everest climbing scene. When a storm sweeps in it turns into a blow-by-blow thriller as a large group of climbers are caught out attempting to summit. A scramble begins to get the tourists and their guides safely off the mountain, but the death zone got its name for a reason.

What follows is a tale like no other: heroic, tragic, miraculous and existential as every decision becomes one of life and death. Like any great mountaineering book this one also has its fair share of controversies and several of the climbers present that day in May have published their own, sometimes differing, accounts. Among them are Anatoli Boukreev’s The Climb and Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead. Footage of the events can be seen in the Everest imax movie.

Happy Reading!


doll.jpg“Impressive, eh? To have so much… and do so little with it.”

As quotes go this is a short one. Not so strange though, it being from a comic novel, Doll, a Manga by Mitsukazu Mihara. After my trip to Japan, back in October, I’ve picked up a book or two, mostly Samurai stuff, but Doll is not your standard comic book fare, even though the ingredients look very familiar.

It is set in the near future when technological advances have created androids (the titular Dolls) that are incredibly life-like. They work as personal assistants, housekeepers and lovers.

doll2.jpgNormally in these type of stories, the androids begin to develop thoughts or emotions and make the humans question where life begins and man’s authority over machines ends. See AI or The Matrix for versions of this. In Doll there is no doubt as to the artificiality of the android and that makes it all the more interesting and ultimately tragic. The dolls become vessels for people’s desires, hopes and obessions. In one of the stories, a husband creates a doll in the image of his late wife, but is then tormented by her presence: the woman he loved now a machine that obeys his every command.

Mihara asks some fundamental questions. What if we could give in to our obsessions? What if we could postpone our sorrow and hurt indefinitely with artificial recreations of life? A bittersweet world it would be…


Her work has also had a lasting influence on Japanese fashion, being responsible for ‘Goth Loli‘, a truly bizarre style that tries to recreate the look of Victorian porcelain dolls.

‘I pray they find a place in this world to call home!’

My daily read this week is The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, a cult classic from the Seventies which describes the attempts of a psychiatrist to break free from conventions. He starts using a set of dice to decide every aspect of his life which leads to some hilarious and often very disturbing – utterly immoral – situations. Sending his 10-year-old son on an afternoon stroll through Harlem is just one of many examples.

The quote below is from the start of the novel and sets him off on his mad quest:

“Now the desire to kill oneself and to assassinate, poison, obliterate or rape others is generally considered in the psychiatric profession as ‘unhealthy’. Bad. Evil. More accurately, sin. When you have the desire to kill yourself, you are supposed to see and ‘accept it,’ but not, for Christ’s sake, to kill yourself. Understand yourself, accept yourself, but do not be yourself.”

Now I’m not suggesting that you should just kill others or yourself whenever you feel like it, but he makes an interesting point here. You’re supposed to understand what you want and then do something else anyway.

In spite of the morally ambiguous (and somewhat poorly written) nature of the book, quite a few people tried out Dice Living. Some took the lighthearted way, such as the Discovery Channel show or this Dutch newspaper blog. Others took it a little further and ended up living in Kathmandu, or so they claim. In case you’re interested you can always take a class with Luke at the Maybe Logic Academy.

It happens to me all the time that I’m reading a book and I come across a really great sentence or two that for some reason or other makes complete sense to me at the time and I think, I should remember this. But of course I read on, and I forget and all I can think is that there was a great sentence or two in that book. So here’s a quote from the book I’m reading this week:

“It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

I don’t know why, but this makes perfect sense to me right now. I can’t for the life of me think of a concrete example, though. Puzzling.

(It’s from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance in case you’re wondering.)

%d bloggers like this: