Book: Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by Gary Paulsen. Winterdance is a first-person, non-fiction account of a relative novice attempting to complete the Iditaord, the famed 1150-mile dogsled race held annually in Alaska. Madness it is. Paulsen faces frostbite, storms, moose attacks, hallucinations, and dogfights in his 17 day trek through a beautiful but punishing terrain. It’s a great read- Paulsen’s easy style captures his love for the dogs, the race, and most importantly, his ability to laugh at himself. He recounts with humor his near-disaster at the race’s start in Anchorage, where his overly excited dogs veered off in the wrong direction, dragging him through backyards, and he pulled off a car’s bumper trying to catch his sled hook on it to stop the dogs. His description of the coldest section of the race, a two hundred mile stretch of the frozen Yukon river, where temperatures routinely reach -60ºF made me jump into bed and pull the covers up:
“Cold came at me from everywhere. Any seam, any crack, any opening and I could feel jets of it, needles of it, deadly cutting edges of ice, worse than ice, absolute cold coming in. It was, simply, not believable.”
Winterdance is a fun, fast, and enjoyable book, sort of like Jack London meets the Three Stooges. I'd read a lot more non-fiction if it were always this entertaining.
Movie: The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro). This film by Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar tells the true-life story of Ramon Sampedro, a sailor who becomes paralyzed after breaking his neck, and spends the next twentysome years as a quadriplegic in a legal battle with Spain’s court system over his petition for euthanasia. Javier Bardem (of whom I’ve been a fan ever since I saw The Dancer Upstairs) carries the film as Ramon, a captivating figure who entrances everyone around him with his intelligence, passion, and sheer force of personality. It is easy to understand why the women in his life fall for him, and easier still to see why everyone around him seems to ponder the same question: how can someone so alive want to die? I had never heard of Sampedro before this movie, but apparently he was a well-known public figure in Spain. This is not a story about euthanasia; rather, it is the tale of one man and the people who loved him. Almost the entire movie takes place in the farmhouse where Ramon is cared for by his sister-in-law, brother, nephew, and aging father. I would recommend watching this movie in private, as I cried for, oh, almost the entire thing. It wasn’t the love story that got me, it was the senile father and the teenage nephew. Some of the dream sequences were a bit too art-housey for my liking, but The Sea Inside definitely deserved the Best Foreign Film Academy Award it won for 2004. I learned on IMDB.com that Javier Bardem is starring in the upcoming movie versions of Love in the Time of Cholera and also No Country for Old Men, so I’m now looking forward even more to both of those films.