Mark Terry

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Turn Right at Machu Picchu

November 9, 2011
I'm trying to figure out what to do with this blog - if anything - besides whine about writing. So here's some discussion (rather than, say, a review) of the most recent book I've read, TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams.

Mark Adams is or was an editor for adventure magazines, but he's a guy who did all his adventuring from behind the desk (I can relate). He's married to a Peruvian woman, so he'd been to Peru several times, but finally had, I suppose, what one might consider a midlife crisis of sorts, and decided to get out from behind the desk and go adventuring, following in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, the explorer who "discovered" Machu Picchu.

So what follows is a very entertaining and often fascinating story with more or less two tracks - Mark's journeys, and Bingham's journeys and history. In that respect it's structured very much like THE LOST CITY OF Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon by David Grann, a book I highly recommend as well. The Lost City Of Z probably is strongest when it's dealing with the explorer it's describing (Fawcett), whereas TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU is strongest when Mark is discussing his trip with his muleteers and his guide, John Leivers. Mark, even more so than David, has a self-deprecating sense of humor and John Leivers probably deserves a book of his own, a real-life Indiana Jones.

I had several thoughts while reading the book. One, much of the archaeastronomy indicated at Machu Picchu - the alignment of landscapes, windows lining up with the sunrise on the solstice, etc. - is almost identical to that found at a lot of Anasazi ruins. Which makes me wonder if there's more to some theories about connections between the Aztecs and the Anasazi (and continuing further south, to the Incas) than seems probable. Maybe ancient engineers just needed a religious reason to shift most of the local workforce (or slaves) and economy over to building a temple, rather than, say, a king's summer home. Interesting stuff. But then again, I could probably argue, since my office window faces the east and has a north-south alignment, that modern architecture does as well - although I don't think that's really the case, just a happy coincidence.

Secondly, as a sometime writer of nonfiction books, I'm somewhat in awe (or something related to chagrin) at nonfiction book writers who so thoroughly immerse themselves in their book's subject matter that they risk their lives for the material. At the very least, I can just imagine saying to my wife, "Honey, I'm going to take a couple months off, leave you at home with the kids and the dog, and go hiking through Peru/Amazon/wherever for my next book project. See ya." Her response may very well be, "If you go, don't come back." Or: "Good thing the life insurance is paid up." But then again, she works in a parasitology laboratory and takes a dim view of dining in third-world countries.

Author Doug Stanton, a friend of my brother's and a somewhat 2-degrees of separation friend of mine (his wife was one of my first editors), took several trips to Afghanistan when writing THE HORSE SOLDIERS: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. (All nonfiction subtitles must have a superlative in them: "Extraordinary" or "Deadly." I think it's a law.) I'm disinclined to voluntarily go into war zones for my job, but maybe that's why Doug makes a good living writing a book every couple years while I am on the trade journal/white paper/ghostwriting treadmill making a decent living.

Anyway, I enjoyed TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCU quite a bit and am even slightly more fascinated by Choquequirao, which I had never heard of before. But that may be why I'm fascinated by it.

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Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Discussions of books are more interesting than reviews. Most of the excitement in my life goes on in my head when I'm trying to write fiction. If I had all the excitement of traveling to exotic places maybe I wouldn't feel like writing about it. The experiences would be enough in themselves.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I agree with you on both things. Rather talk books than review them. And I suppose there's a Walter Mittyish thing going on with most writers, at least those of us who write more adventurous fiction.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I just read Virginia Postrel's comments on e-publishing & the Amazon lending library deal and wondered if you had seen it.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I've heard of it. She covers it pretty well. From the POV of an author, it's actually a real problem. There's nothing in any of my contracts to suggest how I might be reimbursed if I were part of it - at all. And since it's not an actual sale - not even to a library - it seems likely that Amazon could take one of my books, and then, as part of this deal, 1,000,000 readers could read the book, but I would (presumably) get absolutely nothing.

9:19 AM  

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