Through the Reading Glasses, October 2021

By Janet Moore

There’s just so much going on in the world lately that when I perused the shelves at the library, my eyes rested on mountains as an escape, and four books caught my eye: Daniel James Brown’s “Facing the Mountain,” “The Second Mountain” by David Brooks, Mark Synnott’s new book on Everest, “The Third Pole,” and “Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold. 

True confession: the pictures in Synnott’s and Hannold’s books had me quaking in my boots, er, slippers, but the descriptions of surviving Everest’s north face and then of free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite were no less daunting. I must keep my feet on the ground, feet on the ground …

I was three when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest, but it wasn’t until I was 10 that “National Geographic” became my entree into the mountaineering world: such photos, such color, such cold, such beauty, and of course such courage from the climbers. How could anyone do that?! Precisely – someone else could do that. And these are the stories of two who have the courage, along with their companions, and a mystery that baffled the world for most of the 20th century.

“Facing the Mountain” tells a far different story that recalls a dark time in American history, specifically, when Japanese-Americans were herded into camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for the duration of the war. However, Brown ventures further by detailing how the Nisei-sons of first generation-Issei-finally made it into combat in Europe. 

Theirs was not an easy road, from discrimination in basic training locations to actual fighting in Italy and France, including the rescue of “the lost battalion” of Texans in the Vosges and emerging as a highly decorated battalion. At home, their families were interned in the desert camps, left pretty much to fend for themselves, which they did successfully by organizing their own infrastructure and servicing their own needs. 

Brown also includes the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, who spent the war following his conscience as a resister to internment and becoming familiar with prisons and jails and the men who justified “breaking the boundaries” of the United States Constitution.

I’ll just mention briefly “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” by David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and an author focused on social movements, faith, and the greater good. His book reflects his astute observations about his personal life as well, and his ability to see beyond individualism onto a path toward a life of caring and community.