Monthly Archives: June 2011

Literature: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

Title: State of Wonder // Author: Ann Patchett // Publisher: Harper // Pub. Date: June 2011 // 368 p.

Ann Patchett’s new novel, State of Wonder, has been #3 on The New York Times bestseller list for the past two weeks…and the NYT Book Review gave it some good buzz last weekend. I’d say that the attention is well deserved for this book and for Patchett, who has also written two books of nonfiction and five other novels, including Bel Canto, which won, basically, a bunch of big awards.

In State of Wonder, medical researcher Marina Singh gets sent into one of the most alive places on earth to uncover an unexplained death. The book opens with news of a death announcement that arrives in Minnesota by way of an Aerogram sent from Brazil. Such startling news immediately sets this book’s plot into motion and begs the question: what in the world happened to Anders Eckman?

Eckman—the deceased—had been sent deep into the Amazonian jungle by his employer, a Minnesota-based pharmaceutical company. But he doesn’t return. Marina Singh, Eckman’s loyal co-worker and friend, seems like the most logical person to uncover the truth about what exactly happened. So…off to the Amazon Marina goes, not knowing where exactly she’ll end up or what details she’ll bring home.

State of Wonder is lush with the details of its vibrant setting in the Amazonian jungle, a place that teems with life: rare birds, poisonous snakes, and a tree whose bark promises a revolutionary change for Western medicine. Bringing together elements of adventure, travel, and mystery, this story sustains itself with a compelling central character and takes an exciting turn at the end.

Click here to read a great interview I found on—author Elizabeth Gilbert (of the whole Eat, Pray, Love craze) chattily interviews Patchett, her “close personal friend.”

Click here to read my upcoming review of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder on the Contemporary Literature website.

Photo credit: Harper.


Life: Climbing 1000′ of Fun

The rock route called “1000’ of Fun” in Utah’s San Rafael Swell lives up to its name, for sure. Good rock, nice features, five pitches of really fun, easy trad. I climbed this one with my friend Tom on Day Two of a multi-day trip to the area. Day One was a bit disappointing due to the crumbly rock on our chosen route, but this route was much more solid. We took turns leading and cruised through the pitches, which ranged from 5.4 to 5.6 climbing. It felt nice to just move up this line from one nice hold to the next. As I’m leading (at right), you can see the big hueco-holds…and also in the photo below.

Since this isn’t splitter-style sandstone, getting in some of the protection was tricky, but it was all there…and it wasn’t scary.

We were up to the top in less than two hours taking in the nice desert views above Three Finger Canyon.

Click here if you want to know more about this route, description, directions, etc. on Mountain Project.

Landscape: San Rafael Swell, Utah

The Sandstone Alps? I didn’t believe it when I heard it, but as I’ve started getting back in summer climbing mode, I went with a friend to climb in an area west of Green River in Utah called San Rafael’s Swell. This area has been dubbed the “Sandstone Alps.” After spending a few days there, I wouldn’t say that San Rafael’s Swell compares to the Alps— but climbing in a desert setting like this one is a good, local alternative.

We wanted to get in some long, easy trad routes—and there were many to choose from…if you’re okay with sandy, slabby rock and long run-outs. The first route we did was on a big rock formation Mountain Project calls “Aguille du Gieant…similar to the French alp of the same name.”

I think Mountain Project’s spelling is a bit off, but we went with it and found our chosen route sort of like climbing a sandy flatiron with no equipped belays or rap anchors. Getting off of the route required us to traverse over to a class IV gully and downclimb some more sandy, slabby rock.

The next day, we went over to Three Finger Canyon…(pictured below…)

…to climb a route called “1000’ of Fun,” and it was indeed much more fun. I’ll post some more photos from this nice climb upcoming.

Three Finger Canyon was a great place to explore. Tom (below) and I came across some good watering holes…

…and petroglyphs.

Despite the so-so climbing, I had a great time just being in the desert landscape. We’d get back to our campsite and hang out in the evenings—cooking, reading…

…and watching the evening clouds cruise across a pastel sky.

Literature: Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me

The New York Times has out its summer reading lists—to read them in last weekend’s Book Review at, click here. I’ve picked out a book for summer reading that didn’t make the cut—the new Chelsea Handler book, Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me. Why didn’t The New York Times put this book on their summer reading list? Maybe because it’s not all that good of a book, to be honest. It’s written by a hodgepodge collection of the comedienne’s friends, family, and co-workers. It contains a lot of cuss words and embarrassingly funny stories. There’s not so much in-depth character analysis, and some of this book’s threads don’t quite come together. But I’d recommend it…because…I mean, who doesn’t need to lighten up? This book is just plain funny. It’s a light, easy read. It’s the type of book you’ll be able to follow on the bus or plane—or devour in one afternoon at the beach. Handler even foreshadows in the book’s introduction what its substance will be, saying: “I have to come to terms with what it is I have to offer the world, and obviously what it is isn’t mind-blowing.”

Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me has been in the top five on the New York Times bestseller list since it was published a few weeks ago. If you don’t already know…Chelsea Handler is the star of her own late-night talk show on E!, Chelsea Lately, and E!’s comedy series, After Lately. At the age of 19, she visited a family member in Los Angeles and didn’t take the plane back home to New Jersey. Instead, she began auditioning for gigs and landed a role on the TV show Girls Behaving Badly. Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me demonstrates that Chelsea Handler’s still behaving badly—but mostly in good fun. Despite this book’s lack of _________*, Handler ultimately succeeds here in doing what she sets out to do: to “Give, give, give, and laugh, laugh, laugh.”

*Here’s where you get to fill in the blank by clicking below to leave a comment. Yes! This is an interactive book review!

Click here to read my longer, nicer review of Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me on’s Contemporary Literature website.

Photo credit: Borderline Amazing Publishing

Life: Spring Skiing in the Backcountry

The ski season might finally be over—though I’m sure some of you out there would like to argue that point. There’s still a ton of good snow up high…but I’ll be traveling for the next two weeks and don’t know what conditions will be like when I return. These past few weeks have been brilliant, however, so this post is dedicated to a few of the good moments in the backcountry.

Buffalo Peak’s Silver Couloir is one of Colorado’s classic skis. This 12,749 peak isn’t super high, but it’s visible from I-70 in Silverthorne, so its one of those I gawk at every time I drive through Summit County. The Silver Couloir is pictured at right—it’s the widest couloir, at lookers right.

Unfortunately, the day we skied the Silver Couloir, the weather conditions weren’t as great as they were on the day I took the blue-sky photo above, a few days later. Skies were overcast, and it was snowing as we skinned in.

After an icy, steep section, we topped out to low visibility and howling winds.

Despite the difficult climb, Marble the Superdog, made it to the summit with us.

The skiing this day had my stomach in knots. Conditions were a little on the sketchy side, and there no escape from the Silver Couloir. It’s tight and steep. We took turns descending safely, not taking a break until we found this nice lunch spot back in the forest:

A week or so later, my friend Tammy met me up at my cabin for a day of exploring in the San Isabel National Forest. I wanted to ski Buckeye Peak because it defines the skyline from my deck—and I had a route in mind. I thought it would be possible to ski a nice loop up one gully, traverse around to the nearby 10th Mountain Division Hut—the Sangree M. Froelicher Hut—and then descend another gully below the hut.

As it turned out, this route was indeed possible—and it was brilliant, especially since it’s literally in my backyard. The view on the top of Buckeye was spectacular—we could see all of the fourteeners in every direction—giving Tammy here a big reason to smile.

This day on and around Buckeye Peak was a good one, mostly because I think it increased my connection to this place. Now I can stand out on my deck and remember being up there with a friend, finding our way through a new area, topping out to see the surrounding peaks, and then coming down to the cabin where I live for hot drinks and snacks.

Yes—I still believe: Adventure Begins in Your Backyard.