"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Lightfooted Quest for Cooler Status

So I checked with a friend in California. Unfortunately, having attended the Gordon Lightfoot concert this past Wednesday does not make me cooler. This is a regrettable setback for my lackluster concert-going career.

By way of background, my quest to become cool by attending concerts began in high school. Trusted buddies Mike and Jeremy invited me to join them at a Harry...excuse me, an Harry Connick Jr. concert at Wolf Trap in Virginia. The show was awesome and I thought for sure I was on my way to being cool.

Sadly, I failed to follow up with more trips to Wolf Trap or other prestigious venues. Once in college I fell into a pop-culture dry spell that lasted several years. Though I attended a slew of Utah Symphony concerts--including all three performances of Gershwin's 'Piano Concerto in F' conducted by Maestro Keith Lockhart--my coolness quotient failed to rise substantially.

Seeing that I was struggling to become a hip music aficionado, my grandma asked me to drive her to a Neil Diamond concert. This was it! Finally, in my mid-twenties, I was on my way to coolness. But the magic didn't last. I soon graduated college and made the fateful decision to accept low-paying work in a field that I give a damn about. Money for concert tickets dried up.

Then Lady Luck made an appearance early last week. Michigan Radio--in the tradition of my grandma--provided this Childe another chance to become a hip concertgoer. The station drew my name at random to attend An Evening with Gordon Lightfoot at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theatre. Frankly, I fail to see how this makes me less than awesome. Not only did I win something, I have joined the ranks of devoted Lightfoot fans, their fathers, and their fathers before them. What's not cool about that?

Seriously though, despite a voice that isn't what it used to be, Mr. Lightfoot and his excellent band put smiles on lots of faces by revisiting the oldies and most-definitely goodies from his storied career. And when he sang one of my favorites, 'If You Could Read My Mind,' I thought to myself, "How cool that I get to hear this song live!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alan Arnette and a Seven Summits Update

For the most current Everest coverage from Alan, visit www.alanarnette.com

Alan Arnette continues his climb of the Seven Summits to raise support for Alzheimer's Research. Having successfully tagged the summit of Mt. Everest, amongst others, he is now climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. Here is one of Alan's posts, from just a few days ago, as he began his ascent of the fabled volcano.

Higher on Kilimanjaro

Vicky Jack's Seven Summit Adventure

The Sky's the Limit: Vicky Jack and Her Quest to Climb the Seven SummitsThe Sky's the Limit: Vicky Jack and Her Quest to Climb the Seven Summits by Vicky Jack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the past year I’ve followed climber Alan Arnette as he seeks to reach the highest summit on each continent--the aptly named “Seven Summits.” (Arnette is doing it to raise support for Alzheimer’s research.) In addition to following his blog, I decided to seek out a book about previous climbers who’ve attempted this feat. My local bookstore happened to have The Sky’s the Limit: The Story of Vicky Jack and Her Quest to Climb the Seven Summits.

More than any other climbing book I’ve read, this retelling of Ms. Jack’s adventure gets a light and life-affirming treatment. This book is highly congratulatory and inspirational, in contrast to other climbing tomes that focus on controversy. For a few chapters, I even worried this book would prove too watered down to be compelling.

In particular, the chapter on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro almost reads like a day trip—and climbing that African summit is no small achievement. So my one literary criticism would be that author Anna Magnusson doesn’t appear to have dug especially deep. However, like the heroine of the story, The Sky’s the Limit won me over. In fact, I read the whole thing in one marathon Saturday session.

As the book progresses, and as Ms. Jack’s climbs grow increasingly risky, the narrative likewise deepens and intensifies. This may not be an exhaustively researched biography, but neither is it skin-deep or forgettable. It is personable and engaging in ways that other climbing books sometimes lack. Plus, it’s quite fun to read. I relished the chance to unabashedly root for someone fulfilling her dream.

I would place The Sky’s the Limit alongside Touching My Father’s Soul, as a book that treats an almost mythical quest in a remarkably personal and life-affirming way. There are doubtless more prestigious accounts of climbing the Seven Summits available. But this book caters especially well to readers like me who aren’t mountain climbers. In particular, if you are looking for an adventure book with a worthy female role-model, The Sky’s the Limit is well worth seeking out.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Cosmos Clearinghouse for September 2011

ISS View of Hurricane Irene

August 22, 2011 image of Irene from the ISS - Photo Credit: NASA
For all the hubbub generated by a perennially dissatisfied citizenry--over whether the government has done too much or not enough--this photo reminds me of how the great labor of scientists and engineers has made hurricanes a remarkably manageable natural disaster. Asteroids and comets may one day hold that distinction as well, if we ever attain the vision and dedication needed to harness resources we already possess.

Now for my Review of a Damn Good Biography

Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard--America's First SpacemanLight This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard--America's First Spaceman by Neal Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Light This Candle is a biography that adopts the swagger of its subject: Alan Shephard. Mixing new interviews with material from earlier records, author Neal Thompson delivers a book that proceeds at a steady, confident clip. As such, Light This Candle achieves a gut-level intensity that seems appropriate given the ambitious man it depicts.

At times, this book feels like a piecemeal eulogy. While the bulk of the narrative recounts Shephard’s storied career, chapters dealing with his youth and post-flight years have a summary quality. Even accounts of memorable flights have a no-frills aspect. And this is generally to the author’s credit. It could be tempting to weigh down descriptions of aerial adventure with extravagant prose. However, Thompson wisely takes a no-nonsense approach to rehearsing Shepard’s past.

Light This Candle falls short of feeling revelatory. But this appraisal is not meant as harsh criticism. As the author remarks, Shephard vigilantly maintained privacy in spite of his fame. Like the many who brushed shoulders with the first American in space, Thompson doesn’t gain full-access to Shephard’s personal life. Readers may even be left with the impression that no one, not even Shephard’s beloved wife Louise, was privy to the real story.

Ultimately, Light This Candle is about taking stock of a man who competed and won often. Shephard’s exploits in and out of the cockpit dominate the pages, as they should. In a broader context, Light This Candle is a worthy tome about the American test pilot. It proves a lively read that can stand shoulder to shoulder with other notable books and films about Shepard and his fellow explorers.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Best of Facebook Status Updates: Volume 4

  • I enjoy how--anywhere I've lived--the locals think they coined the phrase, 'Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes. It'll change.'
  • Having a specific--especially a mystical--muse, seems kinda hokey. It strikes me as an elegant way of admitting you hope your artwork gets you laid.
  • We got trouble!...Right here in Chelsea City!...With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pissed-off pretentious pooches barkin' at people walkin' on the other frickin' side of the street.
  • Important Kitchen Tip: It's a good idea to keep a backup set of twisty ties. You may never need them. But if the twisty tie you just barely removed from a loaf of bread disappears into an alternate universe, you'll be prepared.
  • 7 or 8 finches out on my front step just engaged in what to my ears sounded like a terribly heated argument. I suspect it was about the debt ceiling.
  • I find that when a squirrel is having an existential crisis, it's best to just give him a few minutes and some space to work through it.
  • NPR's Scott Simon just favorited one my tweets. YEAH!!
  • Lunchtime Mission: Okay folks, this photo I took is scoring in the Top 10 search results for 'startled squirrel'. I want to reach the Top 3. Help me out. Please do a Google Image Search for "startled squirrel' and click on this image when you see it. This is why I got into writing. Thanks.
  • Thanks to everyone who has taken the time and clicked the links to help my blog reach 3,000 page views