Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer by David Roberts
This is an account of the (short) life of Everett Ruess, his disappearance, and attempts to find him both at the time and in very modern times. To this date this has never been explained. I became interested in Ruess, probably like many people, after reading John Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’ which covers the life and death in the wilderness of Christopher McCandless. Everett Ruess has similarities and differences with McCandless. He grew up in the 1920s and disappeared in southern Utah in 1934. Unlike McCandless he was not estranged from his family. He also had some ambition and perhaps talent as a painter and writer. He certainly made himself known to many famous cultural figures of the era; eg meeting Ansel Adams and being photographed by Dorothea Lange. I can appreciate his journeying through very remote places and enjoying the wilderness, which at that time was very remote. I’ve visited the areas he enjoyed and they are very spectacular. It is interesting that he has never been found. My view is that given his general risk taking and many near accidents he fell to his death in a remote crevice that is still remote or covered by Lake Powell, though I understand there are arguments against this.
The section on the discovery of remains in 2008 that were initially thought to be his was interesting not least because of the insight this gave into Native American attitudes to death and burials. (In fact these remains were found not be those of Reuss.)
For a general description of Ruess’s life, work and his disappearance, this is a useful account.
Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I
This is an account of the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649; followed by the retribution meted out to the main actors after the restoration. It is interesting to ponder the religious and political ideas that drove people in those days, perhaps the (very) beginning of modern political ideas. The actual trial had an interesting legal aspect because trials were carried out in the name of the King, yet it was the King on trial. Of course, this would be relevant today. Some regicides ended up in the the American Colonies and their ability to evade justice is perhaps one reason why there is no state of New Haven (it was absorbed into Connecticut).
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
This is one of my favourite books. It is a sad description of loneliness, attempts to find friendship, thwarted dreams and lack of understanding of other people. Very beautifully written, it describes a number of people who form a friendship with a man, John Singer, who is deaf and cannot speak. It is set in a southern state and has a background of casual violent racism. Each person considers John Singer to have special powers of understanding and finds something a bit different in him. However, he looks for friendship with other disabled people and finds friendship with the main characters insufficient. In the end most participants have their dreams crushed. Another theme is shown by the inability of the two radicals, who have not dissimilar views, to have any useful interaction. Another theme is alcohol which is used throughout as a prop, eg by Mick Kelly who eats ice-cream and drinks beer mulling over the end of any dreams of music and education — driven by poverty. I would be interested to read a critique and a comparison with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ eg on the race issues about which is seems really quite pessimistic.
To me this is a classic of 20th century American literature (Southern Gothic) and I would highly recommend it.
Gustav Mahler Memories and Letters by Alma Mahler
This is an account of Mahler written by his wife Alma Schindler. It focuses on their relationship and marriage. She seems to have been a talented person who was frustrated by the lack of opportunity for women in music in that era. However, I wonder if there are other views of Mahler than hers, she was sympathetic to him though. It is also an interesting description of cultural life in Europe and particularly in Vienna with many references to famous composers, artists, authors, poets etc… Additionally it covers some time spent in the United States. She was a colourful character; after Mahler died she married Gropius and then Werfl.
I read this after Jacqui.