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The Beckoning Silence, by Joe Simpson
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The Beckoning Silence
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The Beckoning Silence
The Mountaineers
$18.95

I get a lot of books sent to me to read and review. If I read every one that came through the door I wouldn't get any work done, much less get out climbing. So basically I pick up a book, flip through the pages, reading some here - some there, and see if anything catches my fancy. If it does, I usually read a bit more and decide to move it from "the stack" to "the pile" on my nite stand. Then over the next week or so I'll read a chapter or so, usually but not always starting with the first, to see if I want to actually read the entire volume. When I got The Beckoning Silence I randomly opened it up and read the following paragraph in a chapter titled "The Coldest Dance."

"When you also consider the the ice climber is bedecked with a wicked array of razor-sharp screws, crampons and assorted spikes, falling off doesn't bear thinking of. Axes are attached to the climber's wrists with leashes so in the event of a fall they tend to have the disconcerting habit of spinning wildly through the air from the falling climber's semaphoring arms. Most of the time falling is not the problem. Hitting the ground is. Hitting the ground feet first with crampons on your boots tends to splinter leg bones with alarming efficiency. I know. I've done it twice now. This is painful enough without then having to contend with disemboweling yourself with the very tools and screws that are supposed to save your life."

Humorous, yes. True, yes again. Does it make you think about the topic, if you haven't already. Absolutely. This book is riddled with observations like this. Joe is obviously someone who has spent a LOT of time thinking about why he does this stuff. Maybe more than is good for him. That said, his ruminations on the topic of climbing and why he does something that has caused him so much pain and pleasure are totally on the mark.

On the surface the book is about the build-up to Joe and partner Ray's failed attempt on the Eiger, interspersed with a variety of stories about other climbs, history of the Eiger and it's aspirants, reminiscences of old friends and partners, and rants on a variety of topics - all woven in and around the Eiger. The Beckoning Silence is a rich and entertaining tale, and as a climber, one in which you will most certainly see yourself and your own successes, failures, doubts and joys.

Conclusion:  For me The Beckoning Silence is Joe Simpson's best book. He has looked deep inside himself to question why he has done the things he did, and reflect on whether or not it is time for him to quit the vertical game. If you're like me, you'll have a hard time putting this one down.

Details: ISBN #: 0-89886-941-2, 315 pp.; b&w and color photos, 1 map, paperback

Al Hospers
November 2003

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