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Shooting the Boh (thoughts) or How Nonfiction Can Be More Pageturning than Fiction

April 16, 2009

shootingthebohI’m experimenting with more in-depth titles this month…Kim has us focusing on comments for the Blog Improvement Challenge right now. And actually, I’ve unintentionally conducted an experiment wherein I’ve posted frequently but with no actual book reviews since April 5th (I did do Short Story Mondays!), and I’ve learned that writing personal posts, and adding pictures and vlogs, ups your comments. Not that I think it’s sustainable to have a book blog without book reviews: I just find it amusing! :) Anyway, for the rest of the month I’ll be playing around with post titles and trying really hard to remember to include a question for my readers at the end. I don’t pay much attention to my blog stats, but comments are always fun, so it’ll be interesting to see how to convince more of you lurkers to pop out of the woodwork. :p

Now on to the book review!! A couple of nights ago, I was planning a nice, long, relaxing bath (these are important if you have fibro). And of course, besides hot water, the other bath essential is a good book. It has to be light enough that you can hold it for awhile, and I decided Shooting the Boh by Tracy Johnston would be perfect. I’d heard good things about it, and it was a pretty slim (less than three hundred pages) paperback.

Johnston, a journalist, ends up signing up to go on a white water rafting trip with the Sierra adventure company along the Boh (in Indonesia). The catch is, the trip had never been done before, and come to mention it, that particular part of the river hadn’t been travelled. Sierra described it as three full days, and a 3 out of 5 on the adventure scale, so Johnston decided she could handle it.

This is the point in the review when I try really hard not to turn into a gushing, teenybopper fangirl. But seriously guys, I read this book straight through, with only a couple pauses to add more hot water to my bath. I couldn’t put it down, because I had to know what happened next!

I think there are two reasons this book is so awesome: the story itself is pretty insane and Johnston marvelously combines the trip details with more personal passages that make the reader feel connected.

First, the story itself. As you might imagine, the river turns out to be more dangerous than anyone expected. As the trip continues, and the group hits one problem after another, it got to the point where I wondered what could possibly happen next. They’re followed around by swarms of bees, face flash floods, end up on food rations, and so much more that if it was fiction I’d be rolling my eyes! Usually, when I read travel books, I’m super-jealous and want to go to wherever the narrator is. But with this book, as I kept turning the pages, I just kept thanking God that I was safe at home. Also, the group members (as captured by Johnston) are hilariously fascinating: there’s the French former model, a space cadet who doesn’t seem to realise they’re even in a rain forest, a guy passionate about rain forest conservation who loves to wander around with his snake stick, and of course the guides, one of whom happens to look like a Greek god. But even though they’re all definite individuals, Johnston resists the urge to caricature anyone. Even the rain forest, which becomes increasingly menacing as the trip goes on, gets a fair description. The action sequences, when they’re actually in the river (which doesn’t happen that much, given the whole trip was supposed to be on water), are incredibly well done. I found myself holding my breath when Johnston was under water, she had brought the action to life so well. I have a huge fear of white water rafting (I want to go sky diving, but I would cry if I had to go down rapids), which this book definitely confirmed! But I also understood the exhilaration it must bring.

Then there’s Johnston, our stalwart narrator. She’s a trooper, guys: the airlines lose her luggage on the flight out, so during the entire trip she has to beg and borrow necessities from the other group members. And she starts experiencing hot flashes, in the middle of the rain forest, with a gorgeous model one tent over. But she always keeps a sense of humour, which is what makes the book so fun to read. Travelogues are always as much about the private journey of the traveller as the places that they go, and Johnston does a wonderful job capturing this. I’ll definitely be looking into her other writings, as well as the other books by Vintage Departures, the imprint.

I don’t think I’m doing this book justice with my review. All I really want to do is say: OMG!! Go read this right now!! You’ll love it!! And you’ll have to tell her crazy story to all of your friends and family!! It’d be perfect for the read-a-thon!!

But of course, that’s a stylistically questionable approach that employs far too many exclamation points. ;)

Have you read any nonfiction that was so interesting you couldn’t flip the pages fast enough? Or any awesome travel books I could add to my growing list? Or a book you couldn’t stop gushing about to everyone around you? Or better yet, tell me about a crazy adventure/travel story of your own!

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2009 5:21 am

    2 non-fiction books that come to mind are The Horse Boy and The Great Expectations School.

  2. April 16, 2009 5:46 am

    This book is going on my Wishlist, lovely review Eva.

    I read this book called ‘Wisdom of Whores’ by Elizabeth Pisani. The tagline says ‘Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS’. I read about 1/3 of it and then some guest at my house took it away :(

    It has come back to me again and I am planning to read it soon…

  3. April 16, 2009 5:51 am

    Well, I have a hard time believing that you’re not doing the book justice…you just made me incredibly excited to go find it. As in, today! Your enthusiasm would have sold me, even if your description of the book didn’t. In other words, I was doubly sold. :)

    So you may just laugh at me…but the book that popped immediately to mind was Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them by Mark Jerome Walters. I know, it doesn’t sound like it would be one of those gripping kinds of reads, but it really was. For me, anyway. I remember I started reading it on the way to a family reunion, and then I felt so rude while we were there, because all weekend long I carried it around with me and picked it up whenever I thought I could sneak in a few pages.

  4. April 16, 2009 6:08 am

    I haven’t read this one nor have I read much travel nonfiction but I certainly love nonfiction overall. I can’t say any of them have been that engrossing, though. This sounds fantastic! (I don’t have any desire to go white water rafting either. Yikes.)

  5. April 16, 2009 7:23 am

    This sounds awesome! My family did a tame version of white water rafting when I was in high school, and it was actually pretty fun (I had fun anyway… my sister, not so much).

    Two nonfiction books I just recently finished were The Professor and the Madman and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I haven’t written reviews yet, but both held my attention a lot.

  6. Ann permalink
    April 16, 2009 8:07 am

    Thanks for the recommendations. Check out ‘Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History oof Domestic Life in Bloomsbury’ by Alison Light and ‘Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster’ by Jon Krakauer. Both are differently harrowing.

  7. April 16, 2009 10:53 am

    So this is one that I would NEVER add to my list normally, but you’ve made me totally want it…sounds cool. As for a book I would recommend…wholeheartedly and without a doubt, The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson! Just finished it a few days ago and it’s amazing Eva. It’s about a young boy with Autism who’s father takes him to Mongolia to be healed by shamans. Really, you’d love it!

  8. April 16, 2009 1:14 pm

    I like nonfiction, usually. Its the whole ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ thing, I think.

  9. April 16, 2009 1:17 pm

    I’m a big fan of reading about other people’s dangerous adventures, while I’m safe at home on the couch (I don’t have an armchair). Outside magazine is a great place to find these stories; among books, two gripping page-turners about mountain climbing are Touching the Void and Into Thin Air.

  10. April 16, 2009 1:39 pm

    It sounds awesome!! And just highlights why I will never, ever go whitewater rafting.

    I’m not usually a huge non-fiction fan, but have read a few books that I really enjoyed in the last six months or so. One was Into Thin Air, by journalist Jon Krakauer (which has already been mentioned in these comments!) a firsthand account about the May 1996 ascent on Mt Everest when eight climbers were killed because of overcrowding on the mountain. As well as being a rip-roaring read, it leaves you with quite a lot to think about.

  11. April 16, 2009 3:12 pm

    The Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman – great read plus Ewan pics

  12. April 16, 2009 6:22 pm

    Shooting has to be my all time favorite travel book. I read it just as I was moving into mid-life and I couldn’t help imagining myself in the author’s shoes….Eek! There are truly worse things than hitting mid-life.

  13. April 16, 2009 11:16 pm

    BermudaOnion, I remember being intrigued by your review of The Great Expectations School! (I think I put it on hold at the lirbary, alrady.)

    Violet, that definitely sounds like some page-turning nonfiction! I’m glad you got it back. :D

    Debi, thanks! I’m not going to laugh at you (I mean, I checked out a book about statistics), although I think your family reunion story is funny. :) I’ll look into the book!

    Rebecca, isn’t nonfiction great? I think readers who only read fiction are doing themselves a disservice!

    Kim, I think I’d be more with your sister. ;) I love swimming and the ocean and all that, but rapids terrify me. I read The Professor and the Madman years ago, and I remember really enjoying it! I’ve seen several reviews of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down recently: it seems like a very thought-provoking book.

    Ann, thanks!

    Chris, I read your review, so I’m off to see if my library has this one. :D And, its title is quite similar to one of my favourite Narnia books!

    Lorin, yay for another nonfiction fan! :D

    Dave, I don’t have my striped armchair any more either (I had it in college)…when I have a place of my own, I’ll be buying one! Mountain climbing books have always made me nervous, but it seems I’ll have to give Into Thin Air a shot since so many people are recommending it. :)

    Megan, you and me together with the non-whitewater rafting resolution! Into Thin Air sounds so sad, but since so many of you are recommending it, I’ll cave!

    Katrina, my roommate in college was reading this one-I think she enjoyed it! Thanks for reminding meabout it. :)

    Debbie, I can see why it’s your all-time favourite! And how it would definitely make you feel better about hitting middle age. :D

  14. April 17, 2009 4:58 am

    Well, I’m not a big non-fiction reader, but I’ve read a couple of books by Gerald Durrell, and I liked them a lot (I reviewed one here. He is witty, and manages to find something funny even in daily situations. It’s not really like all the other non-fiction you’ve read, or like the books recommended by everyone who commented on this post, but it makes for a fun read

  15. April 17, 2009 1:52 pm

    Oooh this does sound like a captivating read! I’ll have to read this one for sure :) Great review Eva!

  16. April 17, 2009 3:16 pm

    Well, I’ve read this book, so “yes” to both your questions. Another nonfiction book I found it very hard to put down was _A Civil Action_. It read like a John Grisham novel, only better. And I gush about books all the time to people around me. Right now, I’m gushing about _Heidi_, _The Last Unicorn_, and _In the Fall_.

  17. September 17, 2009 10:02 am

    I just bookmooched this and I’m terrifically excited for it to arrive!

Trackbacks

  1. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
  2. Women Unbound: a New Reading Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  3. A Most Particular Compendium: Christy « A Striped Armchair

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