Climbing mountainsRead Now
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., was surprised to see Annapurna listed as one of the books Pud Goodlett had read in March 1953. Here Cooper writes about how he stumbled onto that book and what it meant to him. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
When I was young, I was intelligent. Bolstered by the hubris of youth and fearless of everything save the notion of being the same as everybody else, I read voraciously and indiscriminately, sure in the thought that I was unique, and that what I read was the best.
In all of this, my hero, Robert F. Kennedy, always guided me. Just when Bobby became my hero is not important; can I simply say that I can’t recall a time when he wasn’t? And if it’s true that we define ourselves by our actions, then I, too, was going to leave my mark on the world, to live bravely and care deeply, just as he did. Ah, youth.
I must have been 15 or 16 years old and living in Richmond, Ky., a mystery to no one except myself. In those days, my favorite thing to do was to walk the three miles from my house to downtown and go to a used bookstore run by an ancient Renaissance man. Housed in a dilapidated building that couldn’t possibly meet today’s safety codes, heated by two or three space heaters scattered haphazardly on the uneven floor, this used bookstore was a haven for my imagination and me. The old man would always give me the run of the place. What could possibly be better than that?
One Saturday morning while rummaging through stacks of books and magazines, I stumbled on a Life magazine from 1965. On the cover was a picture of Bobby standing on top of a mountain dressed in mountain climbing gear and surrounded by various flags. The caption on the front cover was “‘Our Climb Up Mount Kennedy,’ by Robert Kennedy.”
Too impatient to wait until I got home, I read Bobby’s article twice before I looked up and saw the old man walking over to me with a handful of books. Yes, they were all books on mountain-climbing expeditions, and I bought every last one of them. And no, I had no idea that mountain climbing was a popular sporting endeavor, much less a literary one. I read those books, which confirmed over and over my own uniqueness. Dare I say that it never occurred to me to wonder why there were so many books on mountain climbing if I was the only one interested? Ah, youth.
My favorite book in this stack was Annapurna by a Frenchman named Maurice Herzog. The pain and suffering experienced by Herzog and his team were rendered in great detail in this remarkable book, and I just couldn’t fathom the courage and teamwork that was required to climb that 26,000-foot mountain. But surely I was the only person in Richmond to know who Maurice Herzog was, to have read his book. That was enough.
About a month ago, I stumbled onto Sallie Showalter’s remarkable blog and her magnificent book on her father, Dr. John C. Goodlett, The Last Resort. And though Sallie and I have known each other since we were in our teens, I was never privileged to have known Dr. Goodlett, who passed away a few years before our paths crossed.
Just a week or so ago, I was again poring over The Last Resort when I noticed that Dr. Goodlett made reference to reading Herzog’s Annapurna while he was working at Harvard, and that he characterized it as “gruesome, loony, and gripping in places.” A more apt description you’ll never find. May I tell you that something quite strange and wonderful happened to me when I read Dr. Goodlett’s reference: I felt a measure of comfort and joy and contentment I haven’t often felt as an adult. I recognized that the self-assured autodidact that I was as a youth had given way to an adult who recognized the complexity of the world and who enjoyed the company of like-minded friends. I felt immediately reassured in the knowledge that the father of a friend of mine from my youth had also read Herzog’s book when he was a young man. What I felt was solidarity.
No, I never knew Dr. Goodlett, and it is nearly impossible for me to refer to him as Pud, a nickname, I think, that should be reserved for family and friends. But, reading through his journals, I like to think that we’d both enjoy sipping a bourbon together. And I like to think that we would enjoy talking about mountain climbing and the “loony” Frenchman who wrote a book so important to us at different points in our youth. Here’s to you, Pud.
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