Into Thin Air

I really debated if I even wanted to write anything about reading this book. It almost feels morally wrong to write or review or even comment about this book because there was SO much loss. How do you even say anything about a story that impacted so many lives beyond comprehension? The more I debated that question, the more I wanted to say something because talking about this story really feels like honoring the memory of those lost and honoring the other people who were impacted who still suffer.

Without any more rambling, this is my reflection of reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

I can’t say there was a good reason for choosing this book – I had a free book credit to use through Book of the Month and wanted to pick something a little different than I normally read. Usually, I am not a fan of nonfiction. Honestly, in writing this, I am not really sure what I am a fan of in terms of this book. I guess I chose it because climbing Mount Everest is something I will literally NEVER do in my lifetime. I don’t think I began to even comprehend the story that was about to unfold. Maybe the words didn’t sink in that this story was about the loss of living, breathing, human life… but this book seriously impacted me more than I ever began to imagine.

Told from the point of view of a journalist and climber, you really get a feel for the atmosphere of Everest, the technicalities of climbing, the relationships and backgrounds of the other climbers. I mean Krakauer is in fact a writer so obviously he is going to paint a very vivid picture of what happened – it’s not just someone who tried to write a book who had no previous experience. There were times reading this when I could scarcely breathe because it felt like I was experiencing this with the other climbers.

Reading this narrative made me experience so many emotions. There were so many times where I was mad about what I was reading. I was mad people would risk their lives to do something so arbitrary in the scale of things. I was mad at the mistakes that were made that cost people their lives. I was mad about the fact these people devastated the lives of their family, friends, and readers. I was shocked and admired the resolution of these climbers to defy the odds, to defy the physical limitations of their bodies, to have the will to live. I was emotionally devastated reading of their struggle – there were countless times where I would cry or have to put my book down because I couldn’t handle it. I felt anguish, devastation, frustration, loss. I became attached.

How do you even say anything that impacted so many lives beyond comprehension? I don’t think you can. I could never begin to imagine what these climbers were seeking when they risked their lives to climb Everest. I could never imagine the loss that was felt by each individual. I could never imagine the strength it took to write this book. Krakauer is obviously working through survivor’s remorse in this story and maybe that caused him to be overly critical about decisions made during the climb, but who am I to critique a story like this?

I didn’t want to tell anyone I read this book because it made me feel too much. I hate to imagine this story from the point of view of a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend. But, here I am attempting to make sense of what I just read and finding the only outlet for my emotions is to try to honor the story of the people who experienced such a traumatic event.

This book, although very emotional and painful to read, made me appreciate how people can come together to accomplish something that defies nature. It also made me appreciate that sometimes boundaries shouldn’t be pushed. There are reasons life doesn’t exist in some places – why do we as humans or even as a spec in the biology of life feel the need to conquer everything? I read this story and I wonder why anyone would do what these climbers did, and I realize that there is some innate drive to exist fully within the scope of what we can do and what we cannot do. There is some drive to blur the fine lines that define the limitations of our humanity or of our biology.

These climbers will forever exemplify the risks associated with pushing boundaries but they will also define the bravery and humanity that comes with that struggle as well. Although I can’t say I enjoyed this book, I am happy to have gotten a glimpse into people much more daring than myself and feel privileged to share in some part of their stories.

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