Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hold Off on Buying "Holding Fast"

Recently our local book store in Winthrop, WA. called Trails End released their Winter 2009 Readers Guide. On page 2 they listed 4 "Great New Adventure Books" coming out. This caught my eye because I just love that stuff. Ever since I read the first article in Outside magazine and then the subsequent book "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, I've been addicted to adventure books. I must be in the category of those that can't do it read about it.

Of the 4 books presented I had already read one of them called "Ten Degrees of Reckoning." It's about a sailing mishap and it's well worth your time. It must be being re-released. Of the other 3 books mentioned I picked 2, "Holding Fast" by Karen James and "The Lost City of Z" by David Grann. The reason I picked Holding Fast is because Mt. Hood is pretty local and although I've never climbed it, I have gone skiing there.

Well the book was the wrong choice because it is no more an adventure book then say Winnie the Pooh. It advertises itself as a adventure book through the extended title "Holding Fast, The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy," but it's really about the author. If you are curious as to what really happened to these climbers you aren't going to find any answers from Karen James.

What will you find? A lot about her, her feelings, her love of God, her inability to swear even in a book, the love her stepchildren have for her, the love her now deceased husband Kelly had for her, how much people love her art, etc.,etc., etc. The title of the book should be "Holding Fast, The Untold Story of Me and How I Handled a Tragedy with the Help of God." Now that would be a truly descriptive title.

This book shouldn't be anywhere near the adventure shelf in the book store but placed firmly in the religious department. I should have read the back cover reviews before purchasing it from Amazon. If you have reviews written by such literary luminaries such as Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Sheriff Wampler, and wife of country singer Alan Jackson then as a reader you need to "take the hint!"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Final Verdict

Journalist and author Adela Rogers St. John writes about her father Earl Rogers in this book penned in 1962. Mrs. St. John was 68 years old at the time she finally wrote her father’s biography but it was a story that had always been inside her to tell. The deep love and admiration she feels for him permeates each page of the book.

Earl Rogers was a lawyer in a small city called Los Angeles beginning in the late 19th century. I say small because that is what Los Angeles was in those days. If you click on this link it will show you a picture of Wilshire Boulevard in the period in which this book takes place. http://digarc.usc.edu/search/controller/view/chs-m14788.html. The city has seen some changes since then.

Adela is given a view of her father at work that few sons and daughters ever get to see unless they live on a farm or ranch. Instead of sending his young daughter to school, Earl Rogers kept his daughter mostly by his side as he worked each day. Adela writes that he considered her his lucky charm. Because of this Mrs. St. Johns had a front row seat on some of the most sensational trials of early Los Angeles.

You will recognize names like Clarence Darrow whom Earl Rogers defended in a jury bribery case. Adela always considered Darrow to be ungrateful for the work done for him by Rogers and his staff in getting a not guilty verdict from the jury. Even though Darrow delivered the final argument on behalf of himself most observers of the time felt that the case was won before he ever started speaking. Adela also relates that at the end both she and her father recognized that Darrow was actually guilty of the offense.

Earl Rogers was ahead of his time by being absolutely against the death penalty for any offense. His father had been a devout clergyman and he had passed on to his son a passion for fairness and justice especially for the underdogs of the world. Because of that Rogers may have represented some men that were guilty of their offenses but to keep them from the gallows he defended them in court.

One of the few times that Earl Rogers played the role of prosecution was in the case of the Los Angeles Times bombing in 1910. Adela was 16 years old at the time and her father’s office was directly across the street from the Times. The building was blown up by a pair of union organizers who thought that the bombing would be a great way to express their views. Twenty-one men and women were killed. Unfortunately for the murderers a reporter and great friend of Earl Rogers was working in the building when the dynamite exploded. The grand jury of Los Angeles County returned an indictment of murder on evidence presented by Earl Rogers. To view of picture of the dynamited building click here: http://www3.gendisasters.com/california/2680/los-angeles%2C-ca-times-building-explosion-fire%2C-oct-1910?page=0%2C0.

This book is a tribute to a daughters love for her father. She states clearly that being Earl Rogers’s daughter was the most important thing in her life and what she was most proud of. She name drops shamelessly and allows us to follow her as she trails after her father and famous friends such as Jack London. Considering how full and exciting her own life was (she lived until she was 94 and wrote 4 more books after this one) it didn’t compare with a childhood watching her Dad.

Reading this book is a wonderful ride through early 20th century Los Angeles and the politics and crimes of the era. Mrs. St. Johns escorts the reader through the trials and characters that were a part of their lives and allows us to imagine what it might have been like. A genuinely good read.