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Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Time Event
8:45a
Glad to read somebody else's adventures ...
This is another of the books I scored at the recent Open Books “box sale” and is a bit of a departure from my regular reading. Tim Cahill is a travel/adventure writer, primarily for Outside magazine, as well as Esquire and Rolling Stone, and Jaguars Ripped My Flesh is a collection of 30 of his articles covering a wide range of activities, conditions, and locations. The title is something of an homage to the 1950's “men's adventure” magazines, whose over-the-top use of gore and exclamation points were models that Cahill's publishers were hoping to avoid in the series of pieces they were asking of him, and he admits that there might have been a somewhat subconscious nod in there (via the Rolling Stone offices) to the Frank Zappa album of a similar name (this does not stand alone, by the way, as Cahill has additional collections that go by the equally traumatic titles of Pecked to Death by Ducks and A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg).

Cahill's writing has been compared to that of P.J. O'Rourke, and I think there are common threads of use of language and the ability to make what could be a somewhat monotonous first-person narrative sing with literary textures and masterfully expounded details. However, one must assume that on some level, Mr. Cahill is an adrenaline junkie. He discusses this particular creature (and the plumbing involved) in a section on climbing in Yosemite, but presents it in relation to the other climbers. However, from just this book, he has been in situations that would put off 99% of the population, especially as an on-going lifestyle. I would guess that a mere handful of the adventures and activities detailed in this book would be quite enough for most folks to spice up their life stories, and yet here he is with dozens (and only in one of several books).

As folks who have been reading my reviews over the years will no doubt realize, this sort of “adventure stories” is not one of my habitual genres, although I certainly appreciate the idea, and how it allows me to reflect on my more edgy journeys. However, I'm not sure how to best approach this in a review. It is, after all, a collection of discreet columns written for publication over a series of years in a handful of magazines; there's no unifying “quest”, no political “theme”, no search for any particular “truth”, just situation after situation where the average guy might not have come out alive, presented in brilliantly descriptive prose.

Anyway, in Jaguars Ripped My Flesh there are adventures with park wardens in Rwanda, dealing with Alaskan brown bears, the extended families of Peruvian mechanics, making a never-before-attempted rainy season climb on a 3,000-foot high South American waterfall, exploring uncharted ruins in Peru, attending a festival on an isolated Pacific island with a people fast losing their culture, a fascinating look into an equally fast-disappearing Aboriginal ritual ground in Australia, hunting sea-snakes in the Philippines, lore of the porcupine in the West, filming gorillas in Rwanda, experiencing the butchery of sea turtles (and the political/economic factors around it) in Mexico, parachuting in California, hang-gliding off of a balloon in Montana, climbing sheer walls at Yosemite, taking a “Stormtrackers” flight into a hurricane, crawling through various caves, diving with sharks, Kayaking in Glacier Bay (amid Orcas), visiting ghost towns sucked dry by L.A., and the crowning story here: camping out across from Mt. St. Helens just weeks before it blew (his piece had managed to hit the newsstands just before the fact, and much of what he'd written was very prescient as to the actual events), and then returning immediately after. Again, any one or two of these would be enough “adventure” for most, but here Cahill is over and over in “might get killed” territory, and this is just one of several books!

If this sounds like a fun read (and I'm pretty sure it's more fun to read than to experience!), it appears to still be in print, with the on-line guys having it at about 1/3rd off its cover price, and the new/used vendors having “very good” copies for as little as a penny (plus, of course, the $3.99 shipping). These are fascinating, delightfully well written tales, although they may make your relationship with your couch more complicated, one way or the other.


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