Monday, February 24, 2014

The Best of Outside: The First Twenty Years, by Outside editors

The editors at Outside magazine present an anthology of inspired writing in The Best of Outside: The First Twenty Years. Confessedly, I picked this one as a way to get Jon Krakauer's original article "Into Thin Air" (which would later be developed into the book of the same title) into my reading, but I found a great collection and some first-rate literature to boot. There's quite a range in this one, from the deeply personal "The Blackfoot Years," by Annick Smith, about her relationship (and a nation's) with a small and beautiful part of Montana, to the tale of a man who sets records by sticking angry ferrets down his pants in Donald Katz's "The King of the Ferret Leggers." The editors do a good job showing the breadth of what Outside can mean, with backyard stories and sports profiles mixed with trips to Peru, Everest, and New Guinea.

Krakauer gets the bulk of his point across in almost a tenth of the space of his book in "Into Thin Air." It's awkward to have read the book before the article, because I can't help but compare one to the other rather than let the article stand on its own merits. It's good writing and compelling, but it's also tough for me to sort out the information and assumptions I've gleaned from the book versus what's here. Though this is quite a long article for a magazine, it's relative brevity means that details are saved for summit day, and much of the rest of the story and gets quick coverage (especially the trek to the mountain, and retreat from the South Col). I'm actually impressed by how much detail overall Krakauer packs into 30-odd pages, defining characters within a paragraph, sorting through multiple teams' logistics, and showing just how complex a modern climb of Everest can be, all the while narrating the hypoxic tragedy that unfolds around him. He doesn't propose many (or any) solutions here, stirring less controversy than his book, and shows, with the death of Bruce Herrod, that few lessons were learned. It's a great read and an important and historic contribution to the Everest literature.

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