Book Review: The White Darkness

Spoiler alert — I talk about how this book ends.  If that bothers you, maybe read the book before reading this.  Overall, I’d give the book 3.5 or 3.75 stars, but the dude the story is about — yeah, I wasn’t really interested in him by the end of the book.

Let me start out by saying: I LOVE Antarctic adventure tales. I love tales of climbing huge mountains. I love stories about people overcoming the adversity of the harshest, coldest conditions on earth, what they felt, the diary entries, what went wrong, and how they survived. That said, I listened to this as an audiobook, and all I could think was — man that dude was a total ass.

From what I’ve gathered from other reviews, this “book” was originally a New Yorker piece that had some pictures added to it and was re-released as a book. When I downloaded the audiobook (PSA, support your public libraries kids! And Libby is a great app to access those resources if it’s available for your local library.) I honestly thought that the file had been corrupted or the download was incomplete — the entire reading only takes about 2 hours. Will Patton is the narrator, and his voice is so wonderful to listen to. So it’s a short investment in your time, and it’s not a bad story.

What I couldn’t get over was the guy who the story is about. He was a descendant of one of the men who explored the Antarctic with Ernest Shackleton, and he became obsessed with the idea of following in his ancestor’s footsteps. Even though he had a successful trip through the polar landscape earlier in his life, he decided to take a solo trip across the continent when he turned 55 and retired from the military. The book points out, I assume from interviews with his wife, that before he started on the trip they were celebrating and planning out what they were going to do now that he retired and wasn’t going to be deployed anywhere in the world anymore. But instead, he went off on what was essentially a publicity stunt. He was going to hike alone across Antarctica, pulling his sled of necessities, without any assistance, to raise money for a fund for injured servicemen. So to be clear: this was a vanity project, with no scientific contributions, and it wasn’t even the first time that someone had solo crossed the Antarctic continent. Sure it raised money, but he could have dedicated the next 10 or 15 years of his life to doing the same thing — I think the book said he ultimately raised about $250000, which is not a lot for a dedicated fundraiser.

So he starts his trip, reaches the South Pole, and is miserable, but chooses NOT to go into the South Pole base to get checked out medically, or get resupplied, or get warm, or even just enjoy the company of other human beings because he was doing this trip “unassisted.” Then, a few days/weeks later (sorry, I don’t have a clear timeline because I was too annoyed at this point to be taking notes), he’s almost done with his trip, but gets dehydrated and sick. His wife wants to call in a rescue team, but some other explorer-type convinces her to let him (her husband) make the call when to give up because he’s got an emergency beacon that would get him a flight team to pick him up. So he spends a few days wallowing in misery because he thought that he would just get picked up and the only thing that would be hurt was his pride. Yeah, no. He ended up having a bacterial infection, had to be flown to Chile for emergency surgery and died anyway.

So this guy (1) has a great life ahead of him with his wife and kids (2) embarks on a vanity project that he thought would make him happy (despite an earlier trip that was supposed to do the same thing) (3) doesn’t succeed and (4) dies anyway. And now, get this, his son wants to follow in his idolized father’s footsteps. I just … can’t. One thing that irritates me is that he did all that, made all those bad decisions, because he apparently thought that he would be easily rescued and his life would just go back to normal if something bad happened. It was all for no good reason, other than he just wanted to do it. I had a friend who used to spend a few months a year in Antarctica doing research, and that place is no joke. If something goes wrong, and you need to be rescued, the people doing the rescuing are risking their OWN lives for you. It’s not just a helicopter flight up and out to take your dumb ass back to civilization. If this guy worshipped Shackleton like it’s said that he did, how did he not know that? How did he not understand the real and true danger to his life that he was taking? How did he not not take into consideration how much his family would be destroyed if something happened to him?

Anyway, if you’re interested, it’s a quick story, well written, and wonderfully narrated in the audiobook version. But the story itself is about a guy who should have really, really made some different life decisions.

New month, new keyboard

My goal this year was to post 2x per week — that didn’t happen last week because of technical difficulties.  I didn’t realize how much I used our laptop until it died last week.  Typing on my phone is impossible!  But the replacement was delivered today, so I’m back, and so happy to have a physical keyboard again.

I finished 3 books last week, so I owe myself reviews on all of them, so I’ll try to post those this week to catch back up.


10 Minutes To Let Your Mind Wander

So I saw this pin on pinterest, and I thought it would be interesting to try here.

Two things that you’ve never done, but would love to try:

  1. Throwing ceramics on a wheel.
  2. Hot yoga.

One thing that might scare others, but does not scare you is:

  1. Public speaking / speaking in front of a crowd.

Two things in your life, or the world around you that are changing:

  1. We, and our friends, are reaching the age where we are becoming caretakers, or planning for future caretaking, of our parents and grandparents.  It’s increasingly common to have discussions with people our age about how we plan to handle (or refuse to handle) what we see happening.
  2. I am really trying to get a handle on my health.  I’ve been working out regularly, working with a nutrition coach, attempting (very irregularly) to meditate, and I have realized I need to sleep more (even though) I haven’t manged to make any progress there yet.  I feel both better and more sore and tired at the same time.

One thing you’re thinking about, but not ready to talk about yet:

  1. A thing which I presume I will eventually inherit from my parents, and whether I actually want it or not, and how it will impact familial relations with various people.

Three things about this time of year:

  1. The gorgeous colors of the sunset silhouetting the bare black tree branches as I leave work in the evening signal that the days are getting longer and the light will return soon.
  2. After the business of fall, the empty white spaces on my calendar from January through March give me a season of rest and lying fallow while the world outside sleeps through the end of winter.
  3. I love the clean “blank slate” feeling of January when it seems like anything is possible in the upcoming year.

Three little things that mean a lot:

  1. Remembering and celebrating someone’s birthday without being prompted by bookface.
  2. Picking up a conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and it’s like there was never any time lapse since you last saw them.
  3. Sitting in silence with a friend, without saying anything at all, and it not being uncomfortable or either one of you feeling neglected.

Where does your mind wander to?



Book review: Heartland

I hadn’t heard about Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh before I ran across it in the new library releases.  It’s written in the same vein as Educated and Hillbilly Elegy — tl;dr, rural/small town/conservative child grows up, gets exposed to the world outside their insular community, realizes through post-secondary education and exposure to the world outside their hometown that American “conservatism” has a heavy hand in keeping them and their families in poverty through messaging, legal policy, and rigid social pressures, then transforms into a liberal/progressive/slightly less blindered conservative.  Taken by itself, it would be a good story; taken in the company of similar published memoirs on the market right now, it’s okay (Educated was better, IMO).  However, it’s interesting to see the parallels between all three books, even though they were written about different geographical areas

  • Small, insular communities will little to no representation in the media
  • RESENTMENT (!!!) that they aren’t financially rewarded for the work that they do, and contempt for people who don’t work physically so hard but are more financially prosperous
  • Lack of access to medical care, either because of financial circumstances or because providers aren’t accessible
  • Communities that are highly religious on the surface
  • No understanding or information about how to navigate higher education or “privileged” society
  • Communities/institutions undercut by corporatization and/or legal policy; big business monopolies/organizations driving small/family businesses out of business due to market manipulation
  • Drug/alcohol abuse and addiction

The only “new” thing I really came away with from this book is the reverence with which her communities holds the idea of being self-made and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  I imagine that that idea is still around (the author was born in 1980), but I have a feeling that the Millenials and iGeneration kids are going to have some feelings about that line.

There were also a few things that bothered me.  Yes, her parents were poor in cash flow, but they owned a house and land, and her grandparents owned a farm.  Keeping that kind of capital investment, even when you have to work hard for it, puts you in a far different category than the urban poor described in Evicted.  Also, she talks about how she was a first-generation college student and didn’t really understand the application and scholarship process, but then says her stepdad had two older children who had started college in the years before her.  She also talks very little about her high school years, when she was in a stable household.

Some parts of the book are very well-written, and some are just … disjointed and non-linear.  She uses a strange affectation of talking to her imaginary child (to be clear, this child never existed and was entirely a mental concept she used to keep herself on the straight and narrow throughout her OWN childhood, which is less weird when you think how her mother and grandmother were both teen mothers) throughout the book.  I listened to the audiobook and it would completely distract me and pull me out of the flow of the story; other online reviewers have said it made the book hard to read because the second-person address was super-confusing.  Also, she would have long stretches of memoir, and then just toss in a bunch of hard economic facts and/or political commentary.  It was good to have the information framing what was happening in her life, but it was a jarring tone change.

Overall, I gave it 3/5 stars — it was a good book and kept me interested in her life, and I think it was an interesting counterpoint in the set of books linked above, but nothing earth-shattering.

Books I have started in 2019:

My goal this year is to ready 40 books (I’m on goodreads, hi! you can search for me as sharah, with my blog email).  That’s the same as last year, but last year I fell into A03 around July and my actual “book” reading got fucked.  I haven’t finished anything yet this year, but since the beginning of the year, I have started:

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (audiobook)
  • Heartland by Sarah Smarsh (audiobook)
  • Vampires by John Steakley
  • L.A. Son by Roy Choi
  • We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

Also, I have Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker that I started back around Thanksgiving but still haven’t finished.

My daughter also brought home Narwhal (Peanut Butter) and Jelly for me from the library, so I HAVE to read that.

One of my goals this year is to read more about Southern food and culture.  It seems strange, since I’ve lived here all my life, but sometimes it takes someone from the outside to point out things you have never actively noticed.  I also want to read through my physical TBR pile; mostly things I’ve bought from the library bookstore for 50¢ after I recognized them from Book Riot or the Bitter Southerner reviews.  To support that, I’ve committed (to myself at least) to write at least 10 reviews of the books I read.  So keep an eye out — hopefully, I’ll finish one of these at some point in the near future and start that series!