Sunday, May 25, 2014

Two Memoirs: 127 Hours and Orange is the New Black

I just got back from a wonderful 2-week road trip during which we listened to several audio books, two of which were memoirs and so begged to be reviewed together.

Since our first stop was Arches in Moab, UT, we started the trip by listening to Aron Ralston read an abridged copy of his book 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

This is a tough book to rate because on the one hand it is a compelling story about survival.  Aron is the young man who cut off his arm in a canyon in UT where he was biking/hiking/canyoning alone.  A boulder that he dislodged fell on top of him, trapping his arm.  Five days later, after eating his scant rations, making his small amount of water last as long as he could, drinking his own urine, taking photos and videos of himself for his memorial service, he finally broke his arm and sawed off the flesh and tendons, hiked out, and flagged down a helicopter, whose pilot flew him to a hospital.

It was a compelling story.

But, Ralston is such a supremely unlikable, arrogant, braggart that I really had trouble giving the book more than 3 stars.  He talked a lot about how sorry he was that he was causing his parents so much grief (as he anticipated their finding his remains and having to bury him and live with their loss), but in the end declared that he wouldn't have done anything differently. The experience, in his assessment, was worth it.  The cynical side of me has to wonder if the resulting book and movie deal were factors in his final assessment.

He lost his arm, he survived a terrifying and almost fatal ordeal--he also caused Search & Rescue teams to risk their lives to search for him.  He may have thought that his mistake cost him alone, but that is never the case.

The second memoir we listened to was Piper Kerman's Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison. This book was unabridged and read by Cassandra Campbell, who is now one of my favorite readers.  I couldn't believe the range of accents and emotions that she was able to capture and convey.  I'm not sure that reading the book would have had the same impact as listening to it had.

Okay, back up. I loved this book.  So interesting and such a contrast in tone to 127 Hours.  Like Aron Ralston, Piper Kerman's memoir is about consequences.  While Kerman also ended up with a book and, in her case TV series, contract, she did regret her illegal activities that led to her incarceration.  She did fervently repent of the pain, heartache, humiliation, and distress she caused her family and friends.  While she concludes that prison changed her, and for the better, I never got the sense that she wouldn't have changed her past actions if she could have.

I've watched Season 1 of the TV show, and as everyone has noted, it is radically stepped up in drama from the book.  Compelling as I found the TV show, I liked the book better.  Often while watching the TV show, I doubted some of the authenticity of many scenes--where were the video cameras that should have caught or prevented a lot of the shenanigans that fueled the plot lines?  Geez, every department store in the country, every mall, every major corporation, every bank, every school is full of video cameras and there aren't any in a women's prison?

Anyway, the book was interesting--I, as a middle-class white woman, could relate to Piper and empathize with her and I found her story sobering and encouraging.  Even awful conditions provide opportunities to grow and expand one's consciousness.  Piper learned that being a contributing member of a society beats being a lone wolf, and that is a valuable life lesson.


  1. I thought the audio version of Orange is the New Black was great! Working my way through season 1 of the series now. It's a good treadmill diversion, but I like the book better, too.

  2. Great commentary on these books Janet.

    I have not seen the television show but I recently heard an interview with Piper Kerman. based upon that as well as your commentary, Orange is the New Black sounds like a very compelling read. Kerman seems like a very interesting and out of the box person.

  3. I recently picked up Orange Is The New Black. I'm liking the series; better read the book soon!

  4. I've never seen the movie, I don't like James Franco, nor have I seen the show. Fir whatever reason neither story appeals to me. Maybe, someday, I'll read Orange is the New Black.