Tuesday, January 1, 2013

12 Days of Books Lists, #7

Back in the saddle after a break for the holiday, or, as I'll call it, "Failing to Exercise with Abandon Week!" Grab your gift cards and a coat, and, come to think, sit still for just a few more minutes while I finish what I started here.

On the docket for list #7 are two books about the great unknown, which seems fitting for the first day of the year. Fitting also in the sense that both pertain to what was once the most remote and barren landscape on Earth, outside of West Nebraska, inhospitably unmatched, were it not for the current weather conditions here in St. Paul. Holy $#!+ it's cold! I just got back from Chicago, where, compared to here, you might think about snowbirding this winter, shorts and all. Sure, there's snow, but it's charming; it's cold, I suppose, but you're covered in miles of people, everywhere you go, even museums; and it doesn't get dark till 4:30. I answered the phone this morning on my walk to the store and still can't feel the side of my face that took the call.

The five teams of explorers that competed to be first, not to discover Antarctica, the continent, so much as its South Pole, must also have lost feeling in their heads and hearts alike, insofar as having nothing left to lose, in 1912, including the Pole, which shifted from its spot nearly 10 meters each year. (Incidentally, the Pole is marked each New Year's Day to redetermine where "exactly" x resides.) Desperation, isolation, and perhaps most meaningful to our lives, now more than a century later, a lack too of distraction represent the major themes of 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica, by Chris Turney. As much a history of the various international expeditions as a meditation on the pathos of pursuing the unattainable, Turney documents the labors of all five teams to reach the bottom. And did they ever! When they weren't freezing to death, packed like sardines in between a dead horse and heavily bearded companion, the first men to attempt to lay claim to the ice lost their minds, not to mention their extremities, in the process.

It all sounds vaguely similar to the first time I "discovered" Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels with Salt. But only in the sense that I too curled up like a ball, refused to leave my tent for days, and, inversely, gained 10 lbs, all while swearing to myself that I could stop after "one more." Men like Captain Scott, on the other hand, who lost the contest and his life to Norwegian adventurer, Roald Amundsen, lost weight as well as their dignity, in sticking with tried and true imperial notions of what it means to be an island that had always served them and their native countries well. Scott went so far as to call Amundsen a cheater for relying on check points stocked with resources to see him through the trek, adding, "Your beard is thin, and your name sounds like a girl's." Doing things the hard and "manly" way, unfortunately, turned out to be really, quite difficult.

Lynne Cox, who in addition to being one of the kindest and most spirited authors I've ever met is also a world record breaking, long distance swimmer, seems fixed on the experience of going for the hard to get. Her book South With The Sun, now out in paperback, is as much about Amundsen's quest in particular as the nature of such journeys. You can read our conversation here. And now, for the walk home.

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