Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Still more great non-fiction (Part 3)

* Tim Cahill: A WOLVERINE IS EATING MY LEG, JAGUARS RIPPED MY FLESH, PECKED TO DEATH BY DUCKS -- Cahill is the master of the hilarious travel-misadventure story. In these collections of essays, Cahill & friends walk across Death Valley, skydive out of perfectly good airplanes, nearly die while exploring caves in Georgia, climb up mountains with whiny sorority debutantes, & other misadventures that will have you laughing out loud. Tim occasionally pauses 4 serious subjects: WOLVERINE includes 1 of the 1st on-the-scene descriptions of the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana. & DUCKS features a 3-pg masterpiece, "Speak Oz," about how Australians communicate, that is the funniest 3 pgs you'll ever read.
* John McPhee: ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA, RISING FROM THE PLAINS, BASIN AND RANGE, COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, THE JOHN MCPHEE READER -- McPhee is the master of the semi-scholarly article with unexpected humor thrown in. The 1st 3 books R part of McPhee's long-running series on the history & geology of the American West. COUNTRY captures the poetry & wildness of Alaska. READER includes Xcellent selections from his 1st dozen books.
* Paul Theroux: THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA -- As with McPhee, when you read Theroux's descriptions of a place, it's almost like you never need 2 go there. This is his best book, the chronicle of his long walk around the island of Great Britain.
* Jon Krakauer: INTO THIN AIR, INTO THE WILD -- THIN AIR is the horrifying story of the deadly 1996 season on Mt. Everest, during which a dozen mountain-climbers died. Vivid, brutal & scary, Krakauer makes mountain climbing seem like such unending drudgery you wonder why any1 would ever want to do it. Sean Penn's movie version of INTO THE WILD is better than the book -- there's more depth 2 the story -- but the book is an involving, moving piece of work, even tho 1 of the best parts of it (Krakauer's youthful adventure on Alaska's Stikine Ice Cap) was told previously in his collection EIGER DREAMS.
* George R. Stewart: ORDEAL BY HUNGER -- Stewart's classic, riveting story of the Donner Party, as intricately detailed, involving & brutal as you'd ever imagined.
* Richard Preston: THE HOT ZONE, THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER -- HOT ZONE, about the discovery of the Ebola virus, is 1 of the scariest books ever written -- & when I 1st read it I swallowed it up in 1 sitting, unable 2 get away. DEMON, about the eradication of smallpox, is nearly as scary.
* Ted Simon: GRAND PRIX YEAR -- Been a car-racing fan since I was 11 years old & saw the Monaco Grand Prix on TV. This book takes me back 2 that year, 1970, a year in Formula 1 racing racked by 3 driver deaths, the crowning of the 1st posthumous world driving champion, & creation of a brand new race car. Like being in the pits all season long & not missing a thing.
* Michael Herr: DISPATCHES -- The best book on the Vietnam War I've ever read, written by a correspondent who was there at the time. As detailed, involving & hallucinatory as any movie about Vietnam that you'll ever see.

...Still trying 2 decide if recent releases like Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES and Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY should be included in the "Music" section of this list. I guess if I'm still browsing thru them 4 fun a year from now, that will mean they should be....

1 comment:

rastronomicals said...

Big fan of Krakauer's books, and especially Into The Wild. I've not seen the movie, but from what I understand, Penn stripped away the ambiguity in Krakauer's characterization of McCandless.

Penn evidently had the need to turn McCandless into some kind of Kaczynski-manifesto type hero, but the only thing that Krakauer makes clear is that McCandless wasn't stupid. Unlike Penn, Krakauer doesn't make judgements about the guy, leaving them to his audience.