Clawing for the Stars


An aging former Catholic seminarian, ex-Marine and businessman, debut author Villareal recounts solo climbing the high Andes.
The author has navigated Andean superpeaks again and again to discover anew the extreme challenges of high-altitude climbing alone in the deserted mountain vastness of the Andes. Possessed of an indefatigable positivity, Villareal details many of his middle-age journeys in this book written for his young grandson, Alex, so that the young boy will come to understand his grandfather’s unique life and his decision to leave the pleasures of home behind and engage in the rigors of high-altitude mountaineering. He carefully plans and executes these risky mountain assaults knowing that one misstep may lead to his death. Villareal repeatedly reflects on his reasons for choosing this path not taken by most others. “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains,” Villareal writes, “Yet they pass their daily lives without wondering in the least about themselves.” He hungers to fulfill his individual destiny, but he has a hard time explaining the motives that push him to continue these terrifying ascents well into his 60s. His fascination for mountains remains an enigma, the author says repeatedly. “It reminds me of Moby Dick,” he says, “And I pray it doesn’t drag me under as the whale did Ahab.” Told in straightforward first-person prose, the book sometimes delivers exceptional descriptive passages that capture mountain moments, such as the alpine glow as it fades from the Andean summits: “A crooked shaft of flaming fire breaks the black of the distant horizon and illuminates the sky with glittering flame.” Some small grammar issues can detract from the relentless forward press to portray the privations and challenges of solo climbing at high altitudes. Linked to the author’s website, which features many of his pictures from his various journeys, the book stands on its own as a tribute to the author’s life of solitary adventure and individual courage.
An often riveting account that details the interior life of the solo mountaineer as well as his adventures scaling some of the highest and most treacherous peaks in the world.

Pub Date: March 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1458213228

Page Count: 308

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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