Fact or fiction?
Hawley Harvey Crippen, a doctor, and his wife (disguised as his son) board a ship bound for America in the early 20th century.
Crippen’s journey would become linked to wireless technology developed by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi.
One of them had committed one of the most famous murders in English history.
In Thunderstruck, a work of non-fiction, Erik Larson weaves the tale of two men who would never meet, but would be linked in a way neither could have foreseen. Grisly, suspenseful details emerge as the reader is left wondering for most of the book how the stories of doctor and inventor will merge.
Larson has a gift for making fact seem stranger than fiction. This is my third Erik Larson book. In Devil in the White City, he blends a compelling story about the Chicago World’s Fair with a gruesome murder. Dead Wake tells the story of the Lusitania.
For me, life without adventure is not life at all.
As I near my 70th year, I seek even more exhilarating experiences, whether backpacking the long-distance trails of Europe or exploring the trails and bikeways of the USA while traveling in a small travel trailer.
When I can’t get out there, I pursue adventure through reading about others’ experiences. Bicycle Odyssey took me on the trip of a lifetime.
Consider what author Carla Fountain and her husband Dermot accomplished in a year. Planes, trains and buses transported them and their bicycles to the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Kenya, Uganda, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Bali, and many more places. They rode in weather and situations that would keep most of us indoors.
The American couple quit their teaching jobs so they could spend the night in a tent while hippos shook the ground around them. They snorkeled off the Kenyan coast. They survived the dangerous roads of India, where truck drivers honked rather than move over. They confronted their fears with courage.
Fountain uses her journal to recreate the 1991 journey and her story comes from her heart. Her account feels fresh, brought to life through recreated conversations and fascinating details about cultural experiences. Her adventure causes Fountain to re-evaluate her life, including her marriage. She is introspective in a relatable way.
As much as I feel compelled to tackle risky experiences, I doubt I will come close to an adventure like Fountain’s. However, her story inspires me to stretch the boundaries of my life.
Living in her native India, Susan Jagannath fell in love at first sight. She was just 16. But she would have to wait until she was in her 60s to realize her dream, a closeup view of the object of her affection.
In Chasing Himalayan Dreams, Jagannath describes her journey on the Singalila Ridge Trek along the Nepal-India border to Sandakphu, where she gazes across 30 miles of blue sky to Kanchenjunga, the sacred mountain. On the 38-mile guided walk, she travels through villages, soaking up local culture.
The peak she first glimpsed at 16 is not just any mountain. Billed as the world’s tallest until 1852, Kanchenjunga elevation is 28,169 feet. It resides among four of the tallest peaks, including Mt. Everest. And Kanchenjunga has never been summited. By tradition and out of respect for its sacred designation, climbers stop short of its tallest point.
Her book is a quick, easy page-turner. I celebrated when the author, who lives in Australia, climbed to the viewpoint at Sandakphu, at an altitude of 12,100 feet. I had my fingers crossed that clouds would not stand between her and her mountain. If they had, I think Susan Jagannath would not have quit her dream to get a clear look at her first love.
A former roommate’s note sent me back to my UCSB La Cumbre yearbook, where I rediscovered my published essay next to a photograph of me at 20 years old.
Would these words resonate in 2021?
Ideally the University is an institution of higher learning, a place where students expand their horizons into the realms of discipline and intellectualism. To reach this peak, it requires listening attentively to lectures, cramming books into your mind and getting rid of emotion that might make you identifiable with ordinary people.
The University carries on the American capitalistic tradition of instilling the sense of competition in all its subjects in order that the country reach new highs in technological advancement. But what is all this worth in a world filled with hate, fear and hunger?
In my view, the University is an extremely valuable part of our world, but not in these ways. It is a place where we can learn to understand people, not only the type we identify with or like, but also people we might otherwise condemn.
We study different cultures, political systems and individuals and through this we gain an understanding of the world in its present state. This is the basis for revision–we cannot bring about effective change without understanding what we want to change.
But perhaps the most valuable part of life in the University is the constant contact with people and the opportunity for involvement in a variety of experiences. This is the University–a place where books and classes play a secondary role to people meeting and enjoying each other.
My generation, which came of age during the tumultuous late 1960s, vowed to change the world. How did we do?