BOOKCHAT: The “I Survived” Genre

Q: I’m writing a story in the I Survived book genre. I know you are a big fan of theirs. They even checked out one of these from the library a week or so ago. So my first question for you is why do you like these books?

A: Hmm, I’m not sure if I can say exactly why. I enjoy novels. Some of them very much, but when I pick up a book or watch a video, 8 times out of 10 it’s non-fiction: biography, historical narrative, history or – a survival story. Most of the time I don’t lean towards a survival novel. Probably because I now know that there are real experiences that rival the imagination (at least mine). That doesn’t quite answer your question, dear Pabs, but it touches the surface.

Survival accounts are like a game. As I follow the narrative, I can’t help but analyze the protagonists’ choices and actions. “For real? What are you doing this for? You should have done that instead.”

Well I know Pabs you think it’s easy for me to question a person under tremendous stress and anxiety. But I think it’s human nature. I mean, how many people wouldn’t question this horrific scenario, for example:

Probably, but more often, I wonder if I could ever have overcome any of the challenges the survivors faced.

Q: What do you like best and why?

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(a) Stranded at sea

(b) Stranded in the mountains

(c) Stranded in the jungle

(d) Other

A: I was first drawn to mountain adventures, with books about the disastrous climbing year of 1996 on Mt. Everest particularly capturing my imagination. Left for dead, a report by Beck Weathers, a self-deprecating Texas doctor who ended up losing his hands and nose (if I remember correctly), is perhaps my favorite climbing account. The guy wasn’t an elite climber, but that made his story all the more compelling.

While I still enjoy mountain adventures, my favorite is the sea survival stories, especially when it comes to sharks and storms. I vividly remember an episode of I shouldn’t be alive which reenacted the story of two boys in South Carolina (where I live) paddling their fiberglass boat in a bay. They planned to fish for an hour or two before going home for dinner. Instead, they were pulled out to sea by a strong current. Their fishing gear was lost in the turbulent water. The boys survived several days at sea without water, food or a telephone. Quite an episode.

I recently discovered the jungle survival story. The creepiness of the deep jungle is unrivaled (at least for me). Think of the predators – jaguar, black caiman, green anaconda, wild boar, an unprecedented array of insects! Even a small mistake in the jungle can have devastating consequences. A few years ago I read an account of the disappearance of explorer Percy Fawcett on a 1925 expedition to discover what he called the ancient lost city of Z in the jungles of Brazil. Following this book, I discovered the account of Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to the Amazon Basin to study the River of Doubt. The experience almost broke him.

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Wherever there are people, there are human survival stories. The outback, the African savannah, plane crashes, Antarctic expeditions. Weather-related stories about surviving hurricanes (the one I picked up in the library), blizzards, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, avalanches. Freak accidents at home.

Q: Can you name some titles that you like the most?

A: river of doubtby Candice Millard

Through the Brazilian wildernessby Theodore Roosevelt

Left for deadby Beck Weathers

Black Wave: A Family’s Adventure at Sea and the Disaster That Saved Themby John and Jean Silverwood

Aliveby Piers Paul Read – probably my first true survival story.

Isaac’s Storm: One Man, One Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in Historyby Eric Larson

Q: Why are you such a bad sister?

A: Probably because you’ve been a terrible influence on me. Are still.

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Q: What is the craziest or weirdest survival story you can remember reading?

Possibly the story of five sailors who are hit by an Atlantic storm while delivering a yacht to its owner en route to Florida. The yacht sinks and they spend days in a lifeboat on the open sea. The account was captivating. But it was also heartbreaking because three out of five didn’t survive the experience. Your history, Shark Survivorwas introduced in episode one of the first season of the TV documentary I shouldn’t be alive.

Q: Do you also watch Survival Stories on TV, YouTube or a streaming service? If yes, which?

A: I think I’ve seen pretty much every episode of I shouldn’t be alive on Youtube. Some of them are more persuasive than others.

I often watch episodes of on YouTube I survived, another old series that documented survival stories that also included accounts of victims of crime as well as accounts of dangers in the natural world. I’d love to hear about any newer (or older) programs or books that are out there.

By the way, Pabs, I didn’t force you to watch an entire season I shouldn’t be alive a few years ago? I think you were tied up against your will.


The New York Times Best Seller list for the week of September 17, 2022 (Top 5 Fiction & Nonfiction)


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