By Susan Spann
This month’s book giveaway is Susan Spann’s wry and moving new memoir, CLIMB. Two and a half years ago, her life appeared to be rocketing along quite nicely—not only was she a successful lawyer, she was jaunting off for extended annual stays in Japan to write a popular mystery series. No one would have guessed that behind the enviable facade, she was living with paralyzing anxiety.
She finally decided that the thing she most wanted in the world was to to step outside her comfort zone and face her fears, so she left everything she knew behind and set out to summit a hundred Japanese peaks within a year.
And that’s when Fate said, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Because two months before heading off to conquer her fear of the unknown, she heard three words that shined a light on an even bigger fear lurking in the shadows: “You have cancer.” This where her real journey begins, and CLIMB is her account of how the fear she had chosen helped her get past the one she didn’t.
Here are some excerpts from a conversation we had about the experiences that resulted in CLIMB:
JP: What makes climbing in Japan different from climbing elsewhere?
SS: The way the peaks are all considered—and treated as—sacred places.
JP: Was reaching the summit always the best part, or were there some other moments that turned out to be even better than reaching the top?
SS: Getting to the summit was nice, but the tricky thing about climbing mountains is that, technically, the summit is only the halfway point. The best part was usually relaxing in the onsen (Japanese volcanic hot spring bath) when the entire thing was done.
JP: What’s the funniest thing you encountered while climbing?
SS: A Japanese man (also climbing the peak) in a full-body chipmunk suit.
JP: What was the scariest thing you encountered while climbing?
SS: The unresolved issues and fears that lay inside me.
JP: If you were going to make a t-shirt about your climbing experience, what picture would go with the words PUBLIC ENEMY #1?
SS: Biting flies – in the book, I call them Enormous Winged Biting Things.
JP: Did you ever run up against a barrier you didn’t expect?
SS: Yes. It was a cloudy day at the base of the mountain, but on the way to the summit, I climbed through the clouds and emerged into the sun. I stood on the summit and looked down on the “sea of clouds” – something I didn’t think I’d ever see, except from the window of an airplane. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen—until the bees showed up. (For the record, I’m allergic to bees.)
JP: What’s the one thing you would tell people never to do on a climb in Japan?
SS: Forget your hat and bug spray.
JP: What was the most useless equipment you took on your climbs?
SS: A tick removal key. (Thank goodness.)
JP: What was the most unexpected thing that happened to you on a climb?
I learned the hard way why you shouldn’t eat an entire bag of raisins on the summit. Spoiler alert: they get you moving. In more ways than one.
JP: Did you ever fail to reach the summit, and if so, what stopped you?
SS: Yes. Death. Spoiler alert: not my own.
JP: Were there any special foods or supplements you ate to fortify you for this quest?
SS: My friend (and fellow novelist) Annamaria Alfieri flew from New York to Tokyo to join me in the mountains. We headed south to Kyoto, where we discovered that although she handled the mountain climbs just fine, she’s allergic to just about every component of a typical Japanese meal (including soy sauce—which, in fairness, she didn’t know before she came). The only thing she could really eat was dessert. Fortunately, we discovered a really cool restaurant near our hotel that offered over 100 different kinds of dessert parfaits, and we did what any responsible adults would do: we ate dessert for dinner two nights in a row. On one of those nights, I ordered a “Blue Hawaii Parfait,” which included Blue Hawaii-flavored ice cream and blue Hawaii jelly (think a cross between a gummy bear and jell-o, made with vegetable-based agar instead of gelatin), whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and a cherry. It was actually delicious.
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Reviews of more Japan-centric books are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist
Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had