Monthly Archives: July 2008

Literature: Tana French’s The Likeness

I know. I know. I said in a previous post that I didn’t really understand the whole concept of “beach books.” I live in a landlocked state, and I still think that a good anthology of Victorian poetry would do the trick. It seems that most book people have devoted the month of July to discussing what new books are this summer’s hot books for the beach. I’ve seen more lists crop up in the last few weeks. When I was asked to review a book this month for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, I was told that I’d be given a “thriller” to review for a special “thriller” section. This sounded sort of like beach reading, but not quite. Um. Okay. I tend to read nonfiction, and I lean towards subjects such as nature, biography, and science, so being asked to review a thriller didn’t sound so thrilling—at first. But I ended up getting sent a book that surprised me: Tana French’s The Likeness. The book is a crime tale with a sassy detective named Cassie Maddox as its main character. When Cassie’s former boss discovers a young woman murdered, he calls Cassie to the scene. This murdered girl isn’t just anybody, though. She looks exactly like Cassie, and she has been using the name that Cassie took on during her previous undercover work. In order to crack the case, Cassie takes up the murdered woman’s role and moves into Whitehorn house, a place where four others also live in an eerily tight-knit setting. Any or all of them could be suspects.

So just in case you do live near a beach (and Victorian poetry is not your thing), you might want to check this book out. To read my full review of Tana French’s The Likeness in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, click here. Many other thrillers also featured.

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Life: Getting Weathered

The Long’s Peak area of Rocky Mountain National Park is notorious for its lightning storms. Unfortunately, I can’t say that we escaped this fury of this place, as we only managing to finish two out of four attempted climbs on a recent RMNP jaunt. Lightning and sleet forced us off the others. Climbing high can be tough in the first place, but when you add weather to the mix, it becomes a bazillion times more challenging and stressful. The routes you bail off of will inevitably work you over more than the ones that go smoothly. Mt. Meeker’s Flying Buttress (at right) is an amazing ridge that Cece M., Gina, and I had hoped to climb. But only partway into the first pitch, the clouds started rolling in…

Gina smiles through the sleet here, but we weren’t really having fun at this point. Cece had to prussic back up to get our rope unstuck from an anchor while Gina and I shivered down below. Luckily, there were some boulders we ducked under to wait out the storm once we were back on the ground.

Two days later, Cece and I were back up high, this time attempting the West Ridge of Pagoda Mountain. This was supposed to be the more casual of the two climbing days we had planned, but when we were about two-thirds up the ridge, storms started closing in on both sides.

The clouds moved in quickly, smothering the Keyboard of the Winds (above), and we both started getting super-antsy, watching lightning strike peaks close by. Then the zinging started. Literally, you could hear the lightning in the air. So we bailed. A massive chore, as we had to rappel down the entire Pagoda Mountain face; its lichen-carpeted slaps were too frozen and slippery to downclimb.

Later, we heard that five people got struck by lightning on Long’s Peak that day, so our decision to bail felt even more justifiable. The irony of weather like this is that it sometimes clears as quickly as it comes in. By the time we made it back to camp, we were cooking in the evening sun.

And even though I had been scared enough to want to hike all the way down the valley that night, Cece persuaded me to just sleep it out and see how I felt in the morning. Of course, we both woke up wanting to climb and had a fantastic day out on Spearhead—without any lightning, sleet, or slippery slabs to contend with.

Landscape: Glacier Gorge

Twist my arm very slightly, and I will gladly make the three-hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park from Vail. Landscape-wise, Rocky Mountain National Park is mountainous (being in the Rocky Mountain Region), with elevations ranging from around 8,000ft. in the valleys to 14,259ft. at the summit of Long’s Peak. Climbing, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, and wandering around in the woods: you can do these things in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Continental Divide cuts through the park, and its higher elevations have a true alpine feel with glacier-cut peaks, grassy meadows, and those cool furry carpets with legs (marmots) running around on the rocks. Last week, my pal Cece and I decided to attempt four alpine climbing routes in five days. We got weathered off of two (more on that upcoming), but in the process we were able to take in some spectacular views.

These are all photos from the Glacier Gorge area; a trail goes in about 6.5 miles, and then there are several good rock bivouac sites for sleeping (with a camping permit, of course) near the peaks. Top right is a photo of Spearhead, which we climbed (Sykes Sickle route on the face), and below is a fantastic view of the area’s southernmost peaks from Mills Lake:

Pagoda Mountain (which we attempted climbing but bailed from due to lightning) is the highest peak at the southern end of the basin; it has a little snow/ice runnel on its right side and a nice rock ridge running from west to east.

And…I tend to think that mountains always look better bathed in night light, so the following two are some of my favorite images from this trip. Our bivouac view:

Since we were hiking out late on our last day, we got dusky views like these all the way home.

Literature: Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames

“…these are certainly dark times, both for the burning, and those who would set them alight.”
–David Sedaris, in When You Are Engulfed in Flames

I eagerly awaited the publication of David Sedaris’ new essay collection, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and I read it (devoured it) within a few days after its appearance last month. Even though The New York Times gave it a less than favorable review, it has been on the top of the NYT bestseller list for the past five weeks. People are loving this book…or at least they’re reading it. Why? I can’t speak for everyone, but I find Sedaris to be someone who writes the Truth, even when it’s obvious he’s lying. Sedaris is a humorist, and he exaggerates—stretching the truth like taffy—but what he’s saying generally ends up being right-on. In this book, seemingly random stories about people on airplanes or odd neighbors end up being more about trying to connect with others, and this theme is one with which we can all identify. When You Are Engulfed in Flames goes beyond humor; it is more than an entertaining read. This collection of essays, more than his others (Me Talk Pretty One Day, or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim…), touches on some of the most intimate aspects of human experience such as love, loss, and growing old. Sedaris is definitely not “up in smoke” here (as one NYT critic claims); he’s rather hot, I’d say, at the top of his game.

To read my more formal-type review of this book in the Sacramento News and Review, click here.

A few gems:

“Given enough time, I guess anything can look good. All it has to do is survive.”

“…if I have one fashion rule, it’s this: never change. That said, things change.”

“…Normandy…is basically West Virginia without the possums.”

“Though harsh in other respects, prison would be an excellent place to learn a foreign language—total immersion, and you’d have the new slang before it even hit the streets.”

“…sometimes the sins you haven’t committed are all you have to hold on to.”

“I don’t know why bad ideas spread faster than good ones, but they do.”

Life: Work Hard, Play Harder

“Work Hard, Play Hard” has been my mantra of late. For now, this means putting in 40-plus hours of work in four days and then taking the next three trying to put in just as much time outdoors. Luckily, I have a few good gal pals around who are more into playing than working these days, so I’ve got some willing (climbing, hiking, cycling) partners. Rocky Mountain National Park has proven to be a good stomping ground, with the new-to-me Lumpy Ridge just outside of Estes Park offering infinite climbing opportunities. Conveniently, a friend of a friend is a ranger in the park, so I somehow got invited to an amazing sushi party over the weekend at one of the ranger houses in Wild Basin. At first glance, I thought that the arrangement of homemade rolls was too artful to eat. But then I reconsidered…and dug in. The next day, we climbed at Lumpy’s The Pear with full bellies (Cece, left; Deb, right):

I’m just learning how to place trad climbing gear, and the progress feels tediously slow at times. But the shared moments with friends seem to counteract my frustrations a bit.

Taking in the summit views and giggling down shady rappels makes the effort worthwhile.