Review: Adventure Inward: A Risk Taker’s Book of Quotes by Jonathan Wunrow

adventureinward_frontcover1Adventure Inward is a collection of inspirational quotes by mountain climber Jonathan Wunrow. I should preface this review by saying I’m not an avid rock or mountain climber or extreme sports enthusiast of any kind. Actually, more than that: I’ve never been climbing once. That might actually put me in a good place to review this book, as it’s a test if it can appeal to someone outside the niche. While this is a niche book, it’s not so niche as to not be interesting to, well, virtually anyone. The reason is that everyone has challenges. So really, you can replace “mountain climbing” with “writing a book,” “facing an illness,” “traveling,” or any other eye-opening challenge.

In a way it’s a book that’s not meant to be read. What I mean by that is that it’s a book to be picked up ever so often and see where that leads you. It could even be used like a kind of I Ching – open up to a random page and see what wisdom you get that day. OK, that’s overstating it a bit: this isn’t the next I Ching, and I would imagine the author doesn’t think so either – it is, however, a thoughtful list of quotes culled from a lifetime of gathering bits of wisdom. Jonathan Wunrow collects quotes the way other people collect figurines or books. He’s addicted to them, it seems, in a similar way that he’s addicted to the high he gets from climbing. He writes in the introduction:

I’ve always been a seeker of quotes, or more often than not they seem to find me, usually at times when I need to make sense out of what’s going on around me. Just as essayist Joseph Epstein declared, “I’m seeking clues to explain life’s oddities,” I have sought quotes to provide me with clues about life.

This is core to what makes the book work – not just the quotes themselves, but the book is about the very notion of collecting quotes. It’s something personally I have never thought to do – I have saved potential epigraphs here and there – but the breadth of what he’s gathered together shows a true love and, yes, obsession, with the form. It makes one think differently about language when so much emphasis is put on a single sentence.

It wouldn’t work without some good quotes: “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” – Albert Camus. See “heights”: it really could be anything, it doesn’t have to be a mountain. This is mixed together with the occasional profane quote as well, which gives the book a refreshing looseness – everybody’s got a voice, from an unknown author to James Joyce, and it shows there can be some sacredness in the profane (Joyce probably perfected that). A few more selections:

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” – Collette

“Evolve a joint craziness with someone you are safe with.” – Carl Whitaker

“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” – Miles Davis

“The fear of death follows from a fear of life.” – Mark Twain

There are literally hundreds of quotes in the book, and your results may vary according to what sort of advice you’re looking for. The book is separated in 18 chapters, with an author’s introduction to each, on topics like death, self-help, climbing, and so on. The introduction to each chapter is not entirely necessary, unlike the introduction to the entire book, which is quoted above. Some of it is a bit self-help 101. The writing in the chapter introductions may be a tough act to follow when measured against the likes of Mark Twain. And the quotes are of varying quality (U2 have never seemed that wise to me), but obviously no quote is going to be for everyone. The variety is what makes it interesting.

One issue that might be mentioned is the question of copyright concerning a book of quotes like this. One can claim fair use for using a quote, but a whole collection is another matter. That aside,  this book would make a good gift book for the climber in your life. It’s certainly more appropriate for the climbing community even if it does have something for everyone else. A final thought: the matte covers put out by Createspace look and feel like a traditional book. If you didn’t tell someone this was self-published, no one would know.

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