Things are a little chaotic around here, but I think the books below are recent arrivals. So call this a potentially incomplete edition of In the Mail.
In the 1960s an American named John Harlin II changed the face of Alpine climbing. Gutsy and gorgeous — he was known as “the blond god” — Harlin successfully summitted some of the most treacherous mountains in Europe. But it was the north face of the Eiger that became Harlin’s obsession. Living with his wife and two children in Leysin, Switzerland, he spent countless hours planning to climb, waiting to climb, and attempting to climb the massive vertical face. It was the Eiger direct — the direttissima — with which John Harlin was particularly obsessed. He wanted to be the first to complete it, and everyone in the Alpine world knew it.
John Harlin III was nine years old when his father made another attempt on a direct ascent of the notorious Eiger. Harlin had put together a terrific team, and, despite unending storms, he was poised for the summit dash. It was the moment he had long waited for. When Harlin’s rope broke, 2,000 feet from the summit, he plummeted 4,000 feet to his death. In the shadow of tragedy, young John Harlin III came of age possessed with the very same passion for risk that drove his father. But he had also promised his mother, a beautiful and brilliant young widow, that he would not be an Alpine climber.
Harlin moved from Europe to America, and, with an insatiable sense of wanderlust, he reveled in downhill skiing and rock-climbing. For years he successfully denied the clarion call of the mountain that killed his father. But in 2005, John Harlin could resist no longer. With his nine-year-old daughter, Siena — his very age at the time of his father’s death — and with an IMAX Theatre filmmaking crew watching, Harlin set off to slay the Eiger. This is an unforgettable story about fathers and sons, climbers and mountains, and dreamers who dare to challenge the earth.
Useful as an update and adjunct to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life (2001), Sellers’ memoir celebrates the self-conscious, (often) low-tech, deliberately nonmainstream, alternatively distributed (i.e., outside of the major recording companies’ channels) music known as indie rock. Sellers bares his soul from the start–the refreshing opening broadside is titled “I Hate Bob Dylan”–and thoroughly explores what he finds valuable in indie rock and, for that matter, much of life. An accomplished slinger of invective, he provides a rousing evaluation of a phenomenon as ill-defined as its predecessor, alternative rock (alternative to what?), while maintaining the theme of how the mainstream music biz, whenever it’s attracted by indie-rock commercial success, threatens to undercut the qualities of the music that its cultlike following most esteems. Spot-on observations and a willingness to name names and ascribe blame as well as credit make this one of the best resources to date on indie rock, whatever it is.
Set on a fictional South Pacific island inhabited by black bantam pigs and a clan of nearly-naked eccentrics, this excessively zany British import has a raging conscience and a muted heart. Managua, a one-legged tribesman (most of his fellow inhabitants are missing limbs), is obsessed with transcribing Hamlet into island pidgin and finds his unconventional paradise disturbed when William Hardt, a white American lawyer, arrives to arrange reparations for natives whose limbs have been blown off by the landmines left behind years ago by the American military. Hardt soon witnesses a staggering array of peculiarities: the “the shitting beach” where villagers empty their bowels every morning; transvestite men forced into dressing in drag by parents who wanted girls; vision quests brought on by consuming “kassa,” a red hallucinogenic paste. A few years after his departure from the island, Hardt’s successful mission has drastic consequences for the island. Journalist Harding (While the Sun Shines) is an equal opportunity and brutally sharp lampooner, though he sometimes misses (notably in his invocation of 9/11 as a parallel to corporate America’s exploitation of the island). Folly, silliness and cultural sucker punches come at full speed in this ribald, imaginative farce.
Set, like River of Traps, on a small farm in a New Mexican mountain valley that the author has tended since 1977, The Walk explores the illuminating ways in which personal and natural history interweave in a familiar environment. A kind of love story about a landscape, the book consists of three interrelated essays â€” â€œThe Walk,â€ â€œGeranium,â€ and â€œParadiso.â€ These pieces move from a period of strife and conflict in the authorâ€™s life to a place of limbo, to a place of peace â€” or, as the author says â€” from â€œinferno to purgatorio, and finally to paradiso.â€ DeBuys takes the same walk each morning, through the woods near his farm, and arrives at a clarity that comes from observing life carefully from the same vantage point for years. DeBuys, one of the countryâ€™s premier nature writers, is revered for his compassionate, clarifying prose. The Walk only reinforces that reputation.