February Book Review0
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston; 2.5 stars (out of 5)
This is a remarkable, even unbelievable story. Even knowing it’s his true account of what happened, it’s almost impossible to read this as nonfiction because it’s such an extreme situation. And so difficult to imagine not just doing what he did, but being able to do what he did. So that said, Aron is an incredible person, an inspiration. Not just this story of his, but all of the other ones in this book, show us that he has amazing outdoorsman skills and abilities, and is smart, with a lot of passions and friends. Also that he’s reckless, not as careful as he should be, consistently makes choices that put himself (and sometimes others) in danger because he’s in search of either an adrenaline rush or the thrill of escape or just something more. As he himself says in this book of being stuck and having to cut off his own arm to survive, part of him sought this kind of adventure.
It’s a strange mash-up, this book. He talks about how being stuck in the slot canyon for 5 days (plenty of time to think) helped him understand a friend of his, whose personal philosophy differed from his own, which had always been “you are what you do.” His friend was more of the “you are who you are” side of things, and he says that he started to understand (or maybe I read more into it) that some of his adventuring was proving himself to people and showing them what he can do. So he says that he understands that life isn’t about that, isn’t about being able to tell someone about that last peak you summited. But then the entire book is story after story of accomplishment and example after example of all the risky hikes and climbs and slopes that he survived. Maybe, like the rest of us, he’s working it out (he wasn’t even 30 when the book came out) but it read as a look-at-me series of stories, interspersed with the story of his surviving the slot canyon (which really is incredible) and some philosophy as he tries to make sense of it all.
I feel I’m being a bit hard on him, but I’m not feeling like there was an arc here or that he actually learned much. About himself, sure, he learned that he could probably handle and survive far more than most of us, and frankly, with grace. But overall it’s a story of a guy who’s not much changed by the end; this is just another of his adventure stories he can relay with his climbing buddies. More harrowing than his chased by a bear and stuck in an avalanche stories, but of the same vein.
Like I said, I feel like I’m being hard on him, because I actually think that, while he comes across as wanting attention, part of me feels like he deserves it for all that he does, and he also does seem like a genuinely good guy who wants to do good in the world, and who appreciates good in the world. He is a multi-talented guy (he was a pianist, too) and a pretty good writer (especially for someone who isn’t a writer; parts of this were definitely overwritten but I can forgive that). I’d totally want to hang out with him, but I sure wouldn’t want to go on a hike with him.