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Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years:

A mixed bag of essays from Outside magazine. As with most collections, the interest level and quality (purely subjective on my part) varies.

Some of the essays are just weird. I had previously read Katz's "King of the Ferret Leggers" about a sport(?) which involves seeing how long you can abide having a ferret run up you pants and chew on your testicles. "Call of the Hunt" by Jane Smiley discusses the culture of the fox hunt and her love of riding. But she questions the blood-lust of the riders.

"How is the field different from any other mob except the members are mounted? A significant portion of my subsequent education would invite and even force me to conclude that the pink coats and the high boots, the elaborate costume and ritual and language of foxhunting, the very expense of it is really the merest of respectability, designed to camouflage the mob and to allow it to reassure itself that it is far more civilized than other mobs when it is actually much worse--caught up in the irresponsible and destructive blood-lust, the object of which is not social justice or even retribution for felt wrongs, but the trivial pursuit of unworthy prey I could talk myself into class hatred here."

The essay by David Roberts, "Moments of Doubt" describes his career climbing rocks and mountains., He watched several friends die in mountaineering accidents, the most horrible of which involved Ed, a relatively novice climber who went with Roberts and several of his friends to climb in Alaska. They had successfully summited, and Ed had remarked on top that he wasn't sure the struggle was worth it. On the way down with Roberts, something happened, and Ed fell to his presumed death over a 4,000 foot drop. The body was never recovered. Now that, folks, sucks. Roberts has several periods of doubt, especially after marrying and having children, coming to the realization that his death would affect many people. Yet Roberts blithely goes on to describe the deaths of others and rather coldly, I thought, comes to the conclusion that it is all worth it. Bullshit. Nevertheless, you will keep reading his essay, wondering what horror awaits around the corner.

There's a marvelous essay, "Voyage of the Smithereens," about six friends who embark on a trip to some islands in the Caribbean on a forty-two foot sloop. Sounds marvelous, right? Except that quarters are very small and personalities undergo quite a sea-change, the best friend morphing into Captain Bligh. The bunks are tiny, and soon the roomier accommodations are being fought over. "I've even heard of expeditions hiring psychologists onto their trips to cool hot blood and bandage torn egos.[shades of Blind Descent] Still, it never occurred to me that such contentiousness would overtake this trip in this place. I felt as if I'd traveled to paradise, found a perfect conch, put the shell to my ear, and heard the sound of children arguing over a nickel." I'm sure you're all familiar with Samuel Johnson's comment about traveling at sea. "It's like being in a prison except you can drown." You would never catch me on a cruise ship since they represent just a floating continuation of your current culture, but, except for a dreadful memory of being seasick on the original Queen Elizabeth in 1958 during a super storm (I do wish I had been able to enjoy the magnificence of the gale) I would book myself on a long trip by freighter so I could wile away the hours with books and watching the crew on the bridge. (Caveat: watch the inside of this large container ship being twisted during a storm:

Continuing with the nautical, Jonathan Raban's essay is fun. He describes being on a freighter at the tail end of a hurricane, the deck moving through an arc of 75 degrees. "Bit of a windy day,” remarks the captain, the junior officers trying to smile as they walk uphill to the door of the mess. It being a British ship, s tiff upper lip was de rigueur. He reflects on the case of the Mignonette (a case that Michael Sandel discusses in his course on justice) in which after the ship foundered, four sailors and a cabin boy resorted to cannibalism, the older sailors eating the cabin boy who lost the throw of the dice. The trial when they returned to England was a sensation: they were found guilty, sentenced to hang, but then pardoned. The defense had argued there was no law in an unflagged lifeboat 1000 miles in the middle of the ocean, but the guilty verdict was necessary to hammer home the long reach of British justice. He reflects on his own voyage from Seattle to Juneau in a thirty-foot boat: "Out on the open sea with a breaking swell and the wind a notch too high for comfort, you are the loneliest fool in the world."

You can pick and choose, but the number of fascinating topics and well-written essays is well worth the price.

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