book beginnings on Friday: Into the Silence by Wade Davis


Thanks to Katy at A Few More Pages for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest appears to be a largeish, well-researched, exhaustive coverage of its three overlapping subjects. I’m just a bit into it but am finding it to be gripping, and painful in its discussions of the tragedy that was WWI. You know, I feel like we say this about just about all the wars (and rightfully), but what an awful thing it was…

I am going to give you a double beginning today. The prologue:

On the morning of June 6, 1924, at a camp perched at 23,000 feet on an ice ledge high above the East Rongbuk Glacier and just below the lip of Everest’s North Col, expedition leader Lieutenant Colonel Edward Norton said farewell to two men about the make a final desperate attempt for the summit. At thirty-seven, George Leigh Mallory was Britain’s most illustrious climber.

And chapter one:

On the very day that George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared on Everest, another party of British climbers slowly made their way to the summit of a quite different mountain and in very different circumstances. At 2,949 feet, Great Gable was not a serious or difficult climb, but it was said to be “the most completely beautiful of English mountains.”

So you can see the juxtaposition set up. I find this to be an effective way of linking his topics (see the subtitle) right from the start.

A word on nonfiction book beginnings: Unlike in fiction, where I feel the first lines should always grab or surprise the reader and interest her, I think nonfiction can take one of two routes. I do like to be grabbed in the first lines, of course, and extra points are given for this. But it’s extra credit, not required work. Sometimes nonfiction begins quietly, stating a date, a place, arranging a background, and this I find effective, too. Somehow, with nonfiction, I’m comfortable settling into things with this understated approach, which I think the above falls into.

What are your thoughts? And what are you reading this weekend?

These quotations come from an uncorrected advance proof and are subject to change.

8 Responses

  1. I went on a total mountain saga reading kick after reading Into Thin Air by John Krakauer because it was such an amazing book. I did not read this one though! But it’s definitely a subject that it’s hard to make boring!

  2. I’m so glad you mentioned Into Thin Air! That’s my favorite of Krakauer’s books (I’ve read… 4 or 5) and my favorite of the climbing books I’ve read – maybe until this one. Into the Silence is a bigger undertaking: it treats the Great War very seriously, where Into Thin Air only touched on Everest’s history where it affected the subject matter: that one season on the mountain. Not a criticism, just a different focus in each book.

  3. I haven’t read any mountain climbing books, but this one does set up the story very nicely. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. If I didn’t know which group this book fell into, I would say that the openings could fit comfortably into either fiction or non-fiction. If it was fiction it would not exactly be gripping, but more interesting and intriguing; if it was non-fiction it would be an engaging read, which I find rare.

    Anyhow, all that’s beside the point! I like the way the stories are juxtapositioned and appear to run parallel. Sounds like it should be very interesting.

  5. I think you’re right about non-fiction beginnings. It’s a plus when they are gripping, but I don’t expect them to be like the opening of a novel.

    Thanks for participating in Book Beginnings!

  6. That sounds like a nice read! I don’t usually read the Prologue of a book until I finish reading the book. It’s like a teaser, but it’s sometimes too long. I like to start reading a book knowing almost absolutely nothing about it! Hope you enjoy the book!

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  7. Thanks everyone for visiting, and for weighing in on the fict-vs-non question. I am really enjoying this book!

  8. That’s a great beginning, and that would have been the case if it was fiction too. Still, I agree with you when it comes to non-fiction beginnings.

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