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Books to Go

Strictly for the Daring--or Foolish

October 11, 1998|BOB SIPCHEN

COLD OCEANS, Adventures in Kayak, Rowboat and Dogsled by Jon Turk (HarperCollins, $24, hardcover).

Two pages into this book I decided that Jon Turk is a fool. That's how long it takes the self-styled adventurer to explain that he attempted to paddle around South America's treacherous Cape Horn because his beer-drunk buddies back in the Pacific Northwest declared that only someone who had done so could toast the queen with a foot on the table.

Considering that three of the four expeditions Turk details here are crashing failures, many readers likely will share my early assessment. By Page 49, Turk himself ruminates: "I am 34 years old and I have finally come to realize that I am a bit of a fool."

And in that realization is the author's salvation, and the book's.

That is not to say that many readers won't turn the last page still holding the view that Turk is a fool--as well as a bad father, lousy mate and the sort of eternal adolescent who traipses off on reckless "adventures" without even pretending that his real mission is to raise funds for AIDS research or publicize world peace.

But I wound up liking Turk a lot, admiring his courage and tenacity, and almost understanding why his often-neglected children from two previous marriages and Chris, the woman who becomes his wife and co-adventurer, stick with him.

As a young man making that Cape attempt, Turk is outmatched by monster waves. Years later, he and Chris paddle and pull a rowboat along the blizzard-whipped Northwest Passage of subarctic Canada, but fall short of completion. With another man he drives sled dogs across Baffin Island, turning back well before reaching his destination. Then he and Chris battle ice floes along an ancient Inuit route from Ellesmere Island to Greenland, where he arrives at a richer, more mature definition of "success."

Turk's adrenaline-saturated struggles are gripping as all get-out. But what satisfies is the author's tough, honest effort to understand himself and where he fits into a world that has moved from hunting and gathering to 21st century high-tech faster than a glacier moves a mile.

*

THE CURMUDGEON'S GUIDE TO CHILD FREE TRAVEL by Jennifer Lawler (Pilot Books, $13.95, paper).

"There is no longer any place on earth safe from the depredations of children and their runny little noses."

Even doting parents know that's true and wish--at least on occasion--that it were otherwise.

Much of Lawler's advice on how to enjoy adults-only travel is of a sort to make the average disrespectful child say: "Duh!" ("Schedule your trips when school is in session.") But her appeal is in her willingness to swipe at society's current sanctification of child travelers.

Still, the author pushes her humor to nastiness too often. So when she asks whether this is the most overindulged generation of children ever, a parallel question arises: Could it be that the author represents a breed of adult so childish and self-absorbed that it throws rhetorical tantrums at having to compete with bona fide rug rats for playtime?

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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