Chris Connors has hit us up with another review for the blog! This one is called Push On: My Walk to Recovery on the Appalachian Trail by Niki Rellon.
[note: this is a review of the first edition. After I submitted this review, I was forwarded an updated copy of the book in which the new formatting makes for a better reading experience; see notes at the end]
This is a 285-page book about extreme athlete Niki Rellon’s struggle to recover from a horrific accident in Montezuma Canyon, Utah that left her with a missing leg and daily pain. It chronicles her struggle to overcome the doctors’ pessimistic prognosis (she should learn to get used to a wheelchair), her injuries, her pain medication dependency, and her own despair (how was a restless nomadic athlete supposed to adapt to a desk job? Spoiler alert: she didn’t, but you’ll have to read it to find out where her adventures took her—aside from the trail, that is).
“A diamond in the rough” probably sums up this book—and perhaps the author—which has some rough edges that hides its value. A rough diamond can look quite unremarkable, but shows its true value when much of it has been cut away and polished.
The book starts well, but it seems the editor did not see much of the book. There are some mild editing problems in the beginning: three foreshadowing sentences in two pages, a few awkward sentences “I’d never even heard of Paradox Sports, but they’d heard my story from a base jumper who’d been at the same time in that Hospital in Grand Junction I’d been there”, and sentences that belaboured the obvious. One humorous spelling mistake about her brother’s wedding produced a great euphemism I’ll be using now. “Every time I posted something on Facebook about a breakdown, they [her parents]got more and more nervous about me making it to Germany in time for my brothers weeding.”
By the middle it was similar to a high-school diary with stream of conscious from present day to past with no coherent narrative, what parties she attended, books and movies read and seen, restaurants visited, and interjections about who was a jerk, who was a creep, who was an angel (angels outnumber creeps and jerks, which itself is uplifting).
The Appalachian Trail part of the book starts on page 122, then there are numerous detours back in time to earlier events, as well as numerous social forays at stopping points along the trail or while she was waiting for infections in her leg to heal or prosthetic repairs. We are treated to what life as an active athlete is like before and after the accident. The detours, though, do not seem to relate to the main narrative, but are more random connections—she sees a dog, she remembers her own childhood’s dog.
One’s heart goes out to Rellon. For example, Rellon gave the nurse her height and weight in metric. The nurse hadn’t even heard of metric. Rellon felt like she’d walked into a Third-World hospital. One can only imagine how she felt upon discovering she was at the mercy of a nurse who had managed to graduate without even being aware of the metric system. What else doesn’t she know? This level of incompetence is stunning—even nurses in Third World hospitals know the metric system as only the US, along with Liberia and Myanamar, still use the antiquated imperial system.
The book is littered with inspirational quotes (I view inspirational quotes the same way Rellon views shrinks—her term, not mine) that are randomly salted throughout chapters without obvious relevance to the topic at hand. They were written in 14-point Algerian font with reddish letters, which jarred me out of the flow that was present in the early chapters. I started skipping over quotes the same way I skip over ads on webpages. Perhaps they’d work better at the top of each new chapter, or if they were placed in an inset box where they fit the topic under discussion.
Another big item that distracted from the narrative were the pictures. They’d been resized without regard for proportions (holding the Shift key down while dragging at the corner of the picture will keep the original proportion while you change the size). As well, faces were marred with bad photoshopping. It is good to value someone’s privacy, but permission to use their faces could be obtained from good friends or Facebook friends; the rest could be gently blurred or pixelated.
Eventually, I had to start skipping over the pictures as I found them cumulatively disturbing. I did not find the pictures of her infected stump disturbing though, just missing faces—other readers’ mileage may vary.
Missing faces are always creepy.
This book is more like a biography as only about half of the book takes place on the trail. An editor would have her change the title to reflect this. Or, an editor would keep the title but have her use the trail as a skeleton for the rest of the story. For example, the book begins with the accident. Later, there is a trail story where she almost dies from hypothermia and gale force winds that knocked her off her feet. This story is told beginning to end which leads to no real suspense. Now, suppose the book opens with that story, talks about how she tries to huddle into a wet sleeping bag thinking, “How did I get here, in the middle of a storm on a mountain, far from help, just months after I was told I’d have to use a wheelchair for most of my life?”—then cut away to the accident, leaving us wondering how she got out of the trail predicament. It’d keep people reading to find out what happened next.
The flawed delivery should not take away from Rellon’s message though. The accident was horrible—rocks always seemed more unforgiving in eastern Utah—and her determination to push on, to recover, to prove the naysayers wrong is motivational.
Unforgiving rocks. Photo by CC
There is so much potential in this book to be far better. It is an inspirational story, and with some cutting, some polishing, it could easily become the diamond that is already there.
Addendum to the newer edition—now with some polishing.
The new edition’s interior layout looks great. They’ve changed from Cambria font to MinionPro, altered the information and look of the headers, gone from blocky-looking paragraphs to smoother paragraph transitions that let the eye flow naturally along without jumping across white spaces between paragraphs. This appears to be the work of NZGraphics and Nick Zelinger, according to the front piece.
The pictures are higher resolution, and some of the distortion has been corrected too. Compare the two editions below—the one on the left is the updated version.
Night-and-day difference. Kudos to whoever did this (Nick of NZGraphics.com, and Niki and Jeremy?)
The quotes are also formatted with DancingScript (I think) and delineated with lines above and below the quote. I wouldn’t have thought that technique would be effective, but as I read through parts of the book again the quotes no longer jarred me out of my reading rhythm. In both pictures note the changes in paragraph layout to the more eye-pleasing updated version.
Quote formatting made a world of difference in presentation and reading
I didn’t see any editing of the words or sentences themselves—I was happy to see her brother was still going to be weeded—but I only compared small sections. Still, even without grammar and typo corrections, the book is greatly improved just by these changes alone; they also added a shark photograph at the end—you can never go wrong with a shark photograph (says the completely unbiased biologist)—well done, folks. A vast improvement, quite reader-friendly, and shows more of the diamond that was hidden.
Book Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Disclaimer: This book was sent to us in ebook format to read and give an honest review.