Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Could Do That

Exhibit A
Following Atticus:  Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan, is the story of an overweight man and a miniature schnauzer (see Exhibit A) who hike all of the 4,000 foot peaks in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.  But that's not enough.  They had to try to hike them all twice, during the 90 day period that constitutes winter proper.

I had some problems with this book that I'm having a hard time explaining.  One issue that I had is that Tom kept saying that there was something unusual about a big guy like him, and a little guy like Atticus hiking these peaks.  However, even while he was telling me that it is normally more fit people who do these things, he made it sound like the hikes were pretty easy, and definitely something that I could do.  I'm not sure that is really the case.  I can't think of the words that Tom could have used to make the expeditions sound as challenging as I logically think that they must have been.  He sometimes talked about coming across young buff groups of men all in premium hiking gear, who may or may not be able to reach the peaks that he and Atticus reach.  That helped me a little, because I could picture those cocky guys, but still, it seemed like hiking a 4,000 foot peak was something that I could do, right now, if I was just there.

I had this same feeling when I read A Walk in the Woods:  Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.  It seemed to me that I too could hike the trail.  I would do it in pieces, over a period of many years, so that I would always be hiking when it was warm out (and sunny, and free of bugs, and with lots of snacks), but I could do it.  Have I mentioned that I have never even gone camping before?  But surely I could hike the Appalachian Trail, and enjoy it.

My other problem with Atticus is that I really couldn't relate to Tom's desire to do all of the hiking in the winter, or to try to do all of the peaks twice.  Why isn't once enough?  Why not set attainable goals, at least the first time around, and then improve on them?  It seemed that Tom's preference for winter hiking had to do with him being less likely to see other people while he was out.  Tom took being anti-social to an extreme, which made me wonder, how sad would his life have been without Atticus? 

My friend, Ann, recommended Atticus  to me after she listened to it on CD.  She felt that the story was so much better when she heard Tom reading it himself.  There have been books that I have listened to the author read on CD, such as The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris,  and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, where I felt that the author reading it made all of the difference in the world.  In this case, however, I wish that Tom could have been more conversational.  I know that he was supposed to read the book to me, and that's what he did, and really, he did it as well as most of the actors who read stories for authors who won't read them themselves.  But there was a distance to his telling that I wish wasn't there.

Could it be that my complaints about Atticus are actually be compliments in disguise?  Could it mean that Tom is really a great and humble story teller, if he is able to tell the story of his journeys in a way that makes me think "Yeah, I could do that too.  I just don't want to right now"?  Could it mean that I really understand what Atticus meant to Tom if I can see him as sort of a jerk who I wouldn't want to hang out with, but as much happier guy because he has Atticus?  Maybe.  The Friends Book Group will be taking about this one next month, and I will look forward to hearing other points of view on Tom, Atticus, and their journeys.

One more down for the Support Your Library Challenge!

Next Up on CD:  Winter's Tale  by Mark Helprin

Still Reading:  March by Geraldine Brooks

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