Review: Altitude Sickness by Litsa Dremousis
It’s not often that I read a nonfiction book about something that isn’t one of my pet obsessions (cults, conspiracy theories) or something that touches my life directly. With Altitude Sickness, I was reading about a world I have never really encountered, the West Coast rock climbing scene.
The Variety of Greek Experience
What drew me to Litsa Dremousis’ Altitude Sickness was how much I had enjoyed her as a writer just following her on Litsa’s Twitter and reading the interviews she conducted for various publications.
Litsa is a window into another side of the Greek diaspora for me. She grew up on the West Coast, in Seattle, and from what I can tell the experience of being Greek-American can vary wildly by region. We enjoyed an exchange one year over “Greek Easter” where she joked she always called the other Easter “White Man’s Easter” which had caused a few of her friends to not consider Greeks white. She found this funny, but I told her on the East Coast, especially in the Baltimore Greek enclave, most Greeks do not self-identify as white, and often draw boundaries between what is Greek and what is “Americani” or “white people shit”.
I instantly became a fan of Litsa’s no nonsense precise wit. She is very funny and authentic. So I had to virtually pick up her book Altitude Sickness for my Kindle.
Altitude Sickness tells the story of Litsa’s best friend and sometimes lover’s obsession with climbing and eventual death pursuing it. Apparently it’s like all they do on the West Coast is take risky climbs (now THAT’S some “white people shit”.)
What I loved about this book is that it’s actually about this heartbreaking tragedy, her friend loses his life on a solo climb after promising previously to stop going out alone when he had been attacked by a bear ten years previously, but it didn’t feel like a downer or an overly sentimental take.
The response to people throwing platitudes her way “At least he died doing what he loved!” is, “What? Falling?”
I found this brutally honest take on losing someone you love in a preventable and somewhat stupid way extremely refreshing. Often people are so eager to artificially square our circles when it comes to death. In her questioning of the climbing culture (she rightly points out that no amount of planning can prevent a loose rock from taking a climber down), I found myself applying her thinking to all sorts of things where safety is tossed aside for a sense of macho achievement; I think we can apply many of the same concerns to football head injuries.
Altitude Sickness is a quick, fascinating read and I highly recommend it!