Continuing my trend of being super contemporary and timely, (does doing something twice, poorly, count as a trend?) I’m going to write a review of this book that I read a few months ago, that was released a few years ago, because of a movie that’s coming out soon(ish? Or maybe it’s already out? I could just google the release date, but I’m not gonna).
I love this book. A lot.
I live in a really rainy, dreary, overcast pacific northwest city (ten bonus points and a hug if you can guess which one) that had a record number of rainy, dreary, pacific northwest-y days this winter. I’ve got a high tolerance, and even fondness most of the time, for that kind of thing, but by the end of this winter even I was starting to drag a bit. Worse than that, I’d been in a major reading slump for months, one of the worst I’ve ever had. No matter what I picked up, I just couldn’t really sink into anything. I’d grab something, read a few pages, and pop it back onto the shelf. Even the old tried and true method of action packed and fantasy oriented didn’t work. Eventually I gave up, increased my TV and podcast intake to fill the gaps, and went about my dreary, bookless days.
It was during one of these podcasts (All The Books. It’s great, you should check it out) I was reminded about this book. They’d talked about it a bunch of times before, and one of them even mentioned it was one of her favourite books. I had it sitting on my shelf at home and I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
I was instantly sucked in. I’ve never met David Grann before, he has absolutely no idea who I am, but I can’t help but feel, down in the deepest parts of my bookish lil’ heart, that this was designed specifically to delight me. It has an eccentric, larger than life, Alan Quartermain/Indiana Jones-esque main character, an old school society of adventurers, history facts (my favourite!), more information about the amazon than you could shake a stick at, war, intrigue, murder, aspiring movie stars, hapless wanna-be explorers, and just about anything else you could ask for. Did you know that there was actually a group in England called the Royal Geographical Society that trained “gentleman explorers” to head out and explore the world, mapping it as they went, and that these adventurers, loyal to the Empire, often acted as spies for the crown? How fucking cool is that? (And yes, I am aware that they helped to propogate the British Empire, which was most definitely a bad, one of the baddest bads. But you gotta admit, it’s also crazy interesting). By page two I was intrigued. By page fifty I was considering calling in sick for work.
Even though this story is bananas and chock-full of interesting characters and natural narrative hooks, I don’t think it would’ve been the same if anybody other than Grann had written it. The guy’s got a great eye for what makes a story compelling (I will admit that we seem to share a common love for obsessive types. I think all the most intriguing stories are, in one way or another, born out of obsession), and he writes about the people involved with genuine enthusiasm and empathy. As you’re reading you get the sense that he’s just as invested in getting to the bottom of the story as you are.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I loved this book. I’d recommend it for anybody who loves history or adventure or fun facts or even just a good story well told. And i’d especially recommend it for people who are going through a reading slump or a month-long case of the Mondays. I’m not going to pretend that it completely wiped away my blues, or that it caused the sun to shine or the birds to sing. But, for a few hours, it did make me forget about the rain.
Love you folks,