Memoir of a super tough swimmer

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

3 words: forthright, vigorous, candid

Wow. I mean: seriously.

When I heard about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida, I was impressed. But reading her account of the lifelong journey she took to accomplish this goal… Wow.

I’m not sure what knocked me over more:

  • It took five attempts (over the course of 30+ years) to complete the swim
  • She began training for the Cuba crossing after a 30-year hiatus from swimming
  • Nyad was 64 years old when she successfully finished the swim
  • The effort that went into engineering the swim so it wouldn’t kill her (a series of jellyfish stings nearly ended her life during a 2011 swim)
  • The sheer strength of will she personified

And then there’s her remarkable backstory. After doing several landmark open water swims in her 20s, Nyad left swimming and became a sports reporter.

It was only when she reached age 60 that she realized she needed to do something momentous to get her life out of autopilot. And then she set about doing that thing.

Nyad also addresses the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. And it’s both horrific that she had to experience such abuse, and inspiring to see how she overcame it. It’s an unexpected part of her story that surprised me and nearly broke my heart.

So when she goes on to live a big, bold life that she built with her own strength and with the love and support of her loved ones, it’s powerful stuff.

Nyad reads the audiobook, and I’m also glad she did. She’s a talented broadcaster, and she brings emotion to her reading.

Finally, this book is a remarkable thing because of the team Nyad assembled to help her achieve the Cuba swim. Reading about the way the team worked together–and especially the key role played by her head handler, Bonnie–I’m awed. It’s a beautiful thing, this story. There’s plenty of shadow, yes, but: the light, people! This story is filled with light breaking through the dark.
Give this book a whirl if you like… swimming, extreme sports, strong women, perseverance, stories of abuse survivors, senior power, living a bold life

 

So, folks… Whose stories have you found completely awe-inspiring?

Huge buzz, decent book

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of
the Lusitania
by
Erik Larson
3 words:
immediate, tragic, anecdotal
I’ve
lived my entire life as a Lusitania ignoramus.
If
you’d’ve asked me what I could tell you about it, I’d’ve said “British ship
sunk by the Germans during World War I. Americans on board, so the U.S. entered
the war.”
Yeah,
sort of right. Partial credit. Actually, it took 2 more years for the U.S. to
declare war. (Who knew?!)
So this
is an Erik Larson book, which often means we’re gonna have dual narratives.
This one’s no exception. Except: Wait—there’s more!
Here
we’re on board the Lusitania; on
board the U-boat that sunk the ship; hanging out in the code-breaking room in
England; and eavesdropping on President Wilson, who’s wooing his second wife. And
there are some side trips to shipping offices, too.
But the
main storyline is, as expected, onboard the Lusitania,
which (didn’t know this, either) had an unusually large number of children and
babies aboard during its last voyage. (Sad, guys. This stuff is sad.)
Larson
did some fine research, so we get to hear the story from several of the
survivors. He paints a detailed picture of life on the ship.
Now,
maybe this is just me, but one thing I expected from this book—since it’s
tragedy and it’s true, and I love that stuff—didn’t actually happen. I thought
I’d become slightly obsessed with the topic, Googling and YouTubing and looking
up other books about the Lusitania
But I find that this book is enough. And I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m not
the ideal audience [pretty sure I am] or because Larson’s narrative didn’t completely
pull me in to the story. Unlike every time I’ve read Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, the classic
account of the sinking of the Titanic,
Dead Wake didn’t make me feel like I
was there. I’m beginning to think there’s something about Larson’s style that just doesn’t
jibe with me. 
This is
a fine book in many ways, and I liked it rather much. But I really wanted to
love it.

So *much* not-my-thing

Master and Commander by Patrick
O’Brian
I honestly don’t recall the last time a book made me this darn
annoyed. (Every time I looked at it, I was tempted to snarl. Eventually, I gave
in; this was not pretty.) 
I was railing so much about having to read it that
finally someone said that maybe I could find a summary online
and just stop reading it. I tell you, I was sorely tempted.
The only reason I persevered (sort of) was that this book was
assigned for a genre study. And I agree that it’s the right book to represent
this military/adventure subgenre of historical fiction.
But damn, I hated it.
(hated it, hated it, hated it!!)
And I’m telling you, I’m just plain flummoxed. I have talked with
readers over the years who positively love this book and this series. For
Pete’s sake, Keith Richards loves
this series!
I could barely even read it.
I shall now open the book to a random page and type the first two
sentences upon which my eyes land:
“Merriment, roaring high spirits before this: then some chance
concatenation, or some hidden predilection (or rather inherent bias) working
through, and the main is in the road he cannot leave but must go on, making it
deeper and deeper (a groove, or channel), until he is lost in his mere
character—persona—no longer human, but an accretion of qualities belonging to
this character. James Dillon was a delightful being.” (p. 181)
See?! This is what I’m talking about!
(There are those out there who survived two separate episodes of “I’m now going
to open this book to a random page and read aloud…”)
I tried to skim it, and it’s impossible to skim. But it’s also
impossible to read. (See two-sentence excerpt above.)
In this book, I think there were some battles. And for some reason, at the end,
Jack Aubrey appears to be getting court-martialed, and I have no earthly idea why.
(I know why I don’t know why: because I was skimming
the unskimmable!
)
Patrick O’Brian, we are not going to be spending any more time
together. 
Goodbye, Aubrey and Maturin.
Go and do your thing.
I’m going to go and do mine. (Probably it will involve reading
something plain, stark, and pure. I’m sorely in need of an antidote.)

Two marriages

The Still Point by Amy Sackville
Here’s how we know how big of a liarhead I really am: I say I detest historical fiction because people back then lived in such discomfort, and I Don’t Want To Experience That.
But… I’m nothing but a sucker for the arctic exploration books. Those puppies are filled with suffering, and I mean lots of it.
(image credit: Library of Congress)
This book has that arctic exploration thing happening. And, to add to the suffering… it also has a current-day troubled marriage storyline.
I was entranced.
It doesn’t hurt that the author trots out sentences like this: “She has pegged the washing out on the line, so that the sheets billow fresh white at the edge of her vision like the sails of a ship; she is afloat in the summer morning.” (p. 26 of the eBook)
And, in addition to beautiful sentences, there’s a plot! With two storylines, actually—past and present. Yet the whole story is set up within a single day in the here and now.
The present day has that troubled marriage couple I mentioned: Julia and Simon. She’s the dreamy descendant of a semi-famous failed arctic explorer from the turn of the last century, and she and Simon have moved into her family’s house, which is also home to explorer Edward’s artifacts and journal. Simon’s thinking he just might have an affair.
While he’s contemplating this possibility throughout the day, Julia’s casting back to great-grand-uncle Edward’s life—and his gorgeously romantic marriage to Emily, who waited for his return all her life.
So we get excerpts from Edward’s journal and the story of his ill-fated mission to the Pole, plus the story on the homefront in 1900, as Emily waited.
And deceptions are revealed, and it’s good because you know something’s gonna happen, but you don’t know what. (At least I didn’t.)
And since I love this kind of thing, I’m gonna throw you some read-a-likes:
Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur—has an Antarctic (rather than Arctic) thing going on, but it also features a current-day woman researching a tragically-fated polar expedition. 800+ pages of goodness
The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett—a gorgeous novel about a Victorian Arctic expedition and the women who waited for the explorer’s return. (Love that homefront stuff)
Exiles by Ron Hansen—has a tragedy (a shipwreck) at its heart, but also has the sensitive soul (a poet) who is haunted by it. Has the same sort of emotional pull as The Still Point
On a completely different note, here’s one way the Nook Color may be improving my brain: I actually use the built-in dictionary function (Just touch the word and then touch “dictionary”!) to look up words I don’t know, rather than skimming over them, figuring I’ve picked up enough context clues to get the meaning. In this book, I looked up “nacreous,” “alembic,” and “ambit.” I’m wondering: Am I simply dense not to know those words?

Think: wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald… kind of

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
This book snuck up on me. During the first few pages, I was feeling a little bit iggis, and then the really bad stuff started and I was in.
Here’s the bad stuff: Noah’s elderly father, Olaf, is dying, and so Noah returns to northern Minnesota to be with him during his final days.
More bad stuff: Thirty-some-odd years earlier, Olaf was one of only three survivors of a Lake Superior ship disaster. (Oh, I love reading about the ship wrecks!)
So, while it seems that Olaf—once big and powerful—is now weak due to his age and illness, we learn that he has been a broken man for decades, ever since the ship’s foundering.
And that has meant that Olaf has not been much of a father to Noah, who, as a boy, admired his father, anyway—and who, as an adult, has avoided him due to his instability.
But, during the weeks they spend together, Olaf tells his son the full story of his ship’s sinking, and, without anything getting all treacly or nauseating—and mercifully without actually saying the words—they forgive each other for their failures as father and son. Thank goodness it’s all too raw to be at all heartwarming. (I hate heartwarming.)
I discovered this book via the National Reading Group Month list, and I’m glad I did.