Friday, December 16, 2016

A Review of 'Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster' by Jon Krakauer

"A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that 'suggested that a murderous storm was bear down.'  He was wrong.  The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more-- including Krakauer's-- in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster."

This was a book that was on the summer reading list for my ninth grade students.  I was asked to read as many of the books as I could prior to school starting.  This is one that I read after school started that really took me by surprise.

This is not a typical read for me.  I'm a person who gravitates toward young adult fiction, realistic fiction, memoirs about personal change... this book had some new elements (to me) in it that really challenged me as a reader.

One way that I made it through this very dense book was by using the note-taking methods that I have been teaching my students.  I was able to mark vocabulary, write about my personal connections to parts of the text, etc. and be able to keep track of everything throughout the book.  It definitely slowed me down, but with this book, I think you need to slow down and weigh out each word, making connections and propelling yourself from major point to major point.  It's kind of like mountaineering, in a way.  You have to make sure that you understand everything and that you're secure in your footing and your knowledge before you tackle a more complicated piece of the book.  If you don't, you fall off and will probably die... well, you would if you were climbing Mount Everest.  When you fall off while reading, that's when frustration occurs and you just don't finish.

I think after reading this book I appreciate people who have mountaineering as a hobby (if you can call it that... one does not casually climb a mountain).  It's a terribly risky business and I didn't realize just how technical it is.  It's a skill that engages you both physically and mentally.  No part of you can shut down.

After finishing this book, I also have no desire to climb up Mount Everest.  Even though I knew it is the tallest mountain in the world, I don't think I realized just what would make climbing this mountain so challenging.  I had no idea what it would be like to live on such low amounts of oxygen.  I don't think I realized that timing can play a role in what weather you will experience on your climb and that that will affect your ability to have a strong and effective climb.  It was crazy to read about how Jon Krakauer summited Everest and started his descent, to experience only two hours later, the death of five people on the same climbing team as him.  Had he been a little slower or stayed on the summit much longer, he too could have been killed.  That's absolutely amazing and terrible to me that such a little amount of time can make such a big difference.

I didn't realize that they just leave the bodies of people who die on the mountain.  Some Google searches and some YouTube videos from Caitlin Doughty from Ask a Mortician have told me that there are still about 200 bodies of fallen climbers left on Mount Everest, frozen in time, exactly how they died.  The bodies of the people who died on this very expedition are still up there and apparently if you choose to climb the mountain, you'll likely have to step over their bodies in order to continue climbing.  That's such a haunting thought...

While this book stretched me a reader, I am very glad that I read this book.  I have a new awe for mountaineering and a strange fear of Mount Everest.  I have a new appreciation for people who are able to take such risks and want to challenge themselves in this way.

I give 'Into Thin Air':
Thanks for Reading!


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