Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Boulder: a philosophy for bouldering...

I was less than half way through Francis Sanzaro’s The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering when it struck me. This is the best book I’ve read about bouldering so far (I haven’t read many mind you).

At last, here’s someone who sees bouldering as something more than just a sporting challenge, someone who looks at this art from various points of view, with all their complexity and contradictions.

Of course, the title can be misleading. This book is neither about bouldering tricks, nor about training – not from a purely practical point of view anyway, unless you consider that reflecting on what bouldering means to you should be one of your training goals.

Indeed, Sanzaro’s 'philosophy' for bouldering is not American (it does not propose a 'guiding principle' for your business activities...). His philosophy does what it says on the tin. His book intends to study the fundamental nature of bouldering. This will inevitably sound tedious to those who hate the buzz the brain produces when it works.

Personally, I like it. I’ve always been interested in how my body related to its environment, how it perceived space (void or conversely, materialised), how my brain analysed these perceptions and made use of it. I’ve always taken a great pleasure in touching, and anticipating the feel of a hold. When I see a piece of rock, my brain starts reading it and I imagine myself climbing it. And indeed, I take pleasure in visualizing the potential moves.

Most boulderers will intuitively understand the feelings and thoughts I’m talking about. But it is so difficult to put them into words, perhaps because we lack the time to do so, but more certainly because we think we do not have that time. You see, this is not serious matter. Society has taught us what is vital and bouldering isn’t part of it.

These are the kind of topics that Sanzaro touches but when I checked online to see if this great book had been reviewed or had had any success, I found very few references.

The first review Google pointed me to was an appalling rant by self-proclaimed “outdoor writer” John Appleby. I do not know if Appleby is a frustrated boulderer, but he seems to be a frustrated writer. I suspect Sanzaro succeeded somewhere he must have failed.

I think, however, that one condition should apply to both reviewing and good criticism: critics should like – or, better still, love – the medium they are reviewing. These are not my words by the way, but those of a famous editorial writer, William Zinsser who I shamefully plagiarize here (see On Writing Well, 1976/2006 for more).

If like Appleby, you “haven’t got a clue what this guy is on about” because “it was really passing over my head”, then move on! Don’t waste your time writing about it, write about something else you liked. Better still, if you think that “to succeed is to bring about a sense of achievement and satisfaction” then focus on what brings you that: get out and climb!

So new year's resolution folks (pretty please!), do with books what you do with boulder problems: Forget about those you didn't like and share those you enjoyed.

I'll start:

The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering by Francis J. Sanzaro, Glasgow: Stone Country Press, 2013

PS: Interview of the author is available on Robinclose's blog.

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