Whew! Where did the time go? I know I read books in August, but maybe the upper 90 temperatures slowed my writing down a bit. Fast forward to the end of September, and I am now living on Pinterest finding Fall porch décor ideas.
There was no joy reading by the pool sweltering in the high-humidity levels. So most of my reading time in August was spent indoors, enjoying a good story and modern-day air conditioning.
Sometimes, all you need is that one great book to take your mind off of the elements. So below, you’ll find the reviews for the books I read in August.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anish Anderson
Heather “Anish” Anderson is a badass, although she’d prefer not to get the accolades she deserves. In Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home, Anish details her journey to set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
What’s it about?
Once overweight, a bit of a misfit, and dealing with her divorce aftermath, Anish (her chosen trail name) sets off on the 2,600 miles PCT. With only a few overnight camping trips under her belt, Anish simply puts one foot in front of the other. Along the way, Anish finds relating to real-life issues more comforting and purposeful than back home.
If you’ve read my previous monthly book reviews, you will probably recognize at least one book about a PCT hiker each month. So, I believe I’m qualified to write a review about another PCT trail-related memoir.
What did I think?
I respect that Anish was more prepared than others who have written about finding themselves on the PCT (Key ironically subtle cough, “Cheryl Strayed in Wild”). She prepared, researched and had what she needed to stay out on the PCT for over two months.
I also enjoyed the other hikers she meets on the trail looking for the “Ghost” trying to break the FKT. She often doesn’t admit that it is her, and I admire that humbleness.
Overall, as astounding as it is to beat the FKT, especially for a non-seasoned athlete, the writing was pretty dull. I would have hoped for more exciting details about her struggles to fit in, why she finds answers in the wilderness, or more information on her chase for the FKT. I also know most readers would love more details about going to the bathroom, gross blisters or how a protein bar tastes after you’ve had one every day for 60 days.
Although I admire the humility, I wouldn’t have minded some extra drama to heighten the stakes along this painstaking journey.
Thirst is a great choice for those who find a connection with nature or are interested in the PCT trail, and the FKTs set there.
Anderson was named by National Geographic as Adventurer of the Year for 2019 for hiking the Appalachian, the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest in a year. For more information about Anderson, visit her website at: https://wordsfromthewild.net/about/.
No One Crosses the Wolf: A Memoir by Lisa Nikolidakis
Funny how we all stick with genres we like, despite reading these stories over and over again. Along with outdoor adventure books, I enjoy reading memoirs of horrific upbringings—think The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls or Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. So, in my rush to download a book before a plane trip, I came across one of these stories in One Crosses the Wolf: A Memoir by Lisa Nikolidakis (thank you, Amazon Prime, for the free download).
What’s it about?
In this book, Nikolidakis doesn’t hold back as she tries to battle through her past trauma without facing these truths in a healthy way. Nikolidakis illustrates this in her memoir, filled with making bad decisions to work through the trauma.
For the reader, even if you are not a victim of such a tumultuous and horrific childhood, Nikolidakis makes this book relatable, and the reader can easily empathize with her. For example, Nikolidakis tries to figure out life despite the abuse she suffered from her father. Lost in her mind and living on a limited budget and social support, she drinks heavily and starts sleeping around while trying to attend school without any drive. The story may seem unbelievable, yet for someone struggling with past trauma with no idea how to deal with these events in a healthy manner, it’s certainly truthful.
What did I think?
I enjoyed this book, especially how Nikolidakis took a deep dive into recounting her truth. It’s not only a retelling since a significant event triggers the start of the storyline. Her writing tells a vivid story, and I had no trouble visualizing my version of each setting.
I also liked how she ties the family theme through the end when she experiences life outside of her hometown and discovers truths to put her on the road to recovery.
Even though I liked the story, I know some readers are very sensitive to childhood trauma, abuse, addiction, depression and other tough issues. Therefore, I suggest caution when approaching this book if these themes put you in an uncomfortable space.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life by Sanford D. Greenberg
You may recognize the first part of this book’s title as the first line of Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Sound of Silence.” And the title should be the gold standard for book titles because it perfectly matches the book’s story and themes in just five words. Bravo.
What’s it about?
This memoir/autobiography tells the true story of Sanford Greenberg’s remarkable life. Most of the story focuses on his time as a student at Colombia University. During his first year, Greenberg meets Art Garfunkel. They become best friends and roommates. Greenburg is dating his high school sweetheart (later his wife), Sue. At the same time, he begins to lose his eyesight and goes blind by his junior year. But Greenburg makes it through with the help of Sue and Art, who patiently take him to doctor’s appointments and classes and read his class material.
I hadn’t heard of Sanford Greenberg before my mom recommended the book to me, and the book’s title and introduction written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave me another hint that this book would be worth reading.
What did I think?
Greenberg tells a remarkable story, and it was fascinating that he could remember so many details from the past. His retellings made everyday college life exciting, and I felt I was walking in his shoes when he recounted how and why his eyesight declined. It’s extraordinary that Greenberg made it through college without accepting assistance from the existing social services and aids, such as a guide dog.
I enjoyed most of the book, but Greenberg diverts from his remarkable story to an imaginary scene toward the end. Unfortunately, this diversion didn’t work for me since his actual life is more interesting than what his brain conjured up one day while writing the book.
Beyond his college experience, the rest of the book didn’t do justice to Greenberg’s contributions. The story quickly glosses over his career, leaving me wondering what exactly he did for a living and how he became wealthy enough to own a sports arena and give a fortune to charity. Unfortunately, these mistakes were fatal for me, and I would only recommend listening to the book and not the entire thing. The audio version is narrated by Art Garfunkel, which is not only touching, but his voice is dreamy.
Greenberg’s story is one you will tell your friends about years after you read it and reflects why I enjoy reading memoirs. Remarkable stories about people you may never have heard of make for great reads.
For an interesting video featuring Greenburg, check out this episode from the iConnections Investment Institute iCIO Series: Conversations, Ideas & Opportunities here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3RCu4eH8XY.
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
What’s it about?
Mary Roach is a science writer with a sense of humor. In Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, she takes a sarcastic and fact-based approach to the question of what goes wrong when animals, nature and humans coexist. Some questions she explores in this book are:
- What happens when animals kill humans? Are they charged with murder?
- If monkeys harass humans, do you do anything about it?
- When dead trees fall and cause damage, who’s at fault?
What did I think?
Roach spent two years researching these and other issues on-site, so the reader gets a first-hand account of people dealing with these issues. This personal narration style delivers science to an average person’s level, transforming it from a report to an investigative piece.
The other benefit of this book is Roach’s writing style. Roach has a winning personality, and she brings a lot of sarcastic humor to each situation, which I enjoyed. For example, why wouldn’t bears go after fancy, leftover sushi in open trash cans in posh Aspen, Colorado? Roach’s presence and writing style make the book effective and entertaining. I loved the humor, but this may not be the best choice for you if you are sensitive to foul language.
I also enjoyed the smooth transitions in topics between chapters. These transitions made following the issues easy and alleviated the burden of what could have been heavy-loaded science facts.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a big a-ha moment in the end. Roach presents the facts but doesn’t make a strong action plan for what to do when animals break the law or interrupt human life. However, she did leave readers with a small takeaway—try to respect and live peacefully with nature. For example, she gives tips and resources on humanely dealing with pests such as mice in a house.
What’s the takeaway?
The bottom line is, these issues are complicated, but why do we always see them from our side? Yes, we’ll never fully understand an animal’s point of view. For example, why do we focus on the problem that deer illegally jaywalk and get killed instead of controlling humans’ driving behavior? Since we humans are doing the damage on earth, not the animals, maybe we should try to prevent these issues from our end.
In reality, this book is about how humans misbehave. For example, I’ve been to Aspen several times. Aspen is the setting of one of Fuzz’s first scenes. A few years back, while my husband and I were hiking on the Ute trail, we came across a mother bear and her cub. We quickly turned around and went back up the hill, knowing that adding a few extra yards to our hike was a small price to pay for our lives. However, not everyone else thought this way. Shortly after we turned around, an ATV drove up the trail, and a party of three hiked up behind it. These people actually started following the bears. At that moment, I thought, this only happens to a few dumb tourists who get caught on cell phone footage and then put on the national news, right? But here it was, in front of me. What did they want to get out of this meeting with the bears? I’m still baffled by it. I don’t know what they were trying to achieve. This shows that Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach is timely and appropriately addresses the issues we face today.
Roach has written eight science books, most with clever one-word titles similar to Fuzz.
You can learn more about Mary Roach at her website: https://www.maryroach.net/index.html.
So those are the great, and not-so great books I read in August.
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