Survivors: Real stories that go to extremes

For the Record

October 19, 2003|By The Hartford Courant

Thankfully, most of us will never know what it's like to get struck by lightning or attacked by a grizzly bear. Odds are we won't get shot in the head, undergo an exorcism or contract leprosy. Nor will we have someone on hand to ask, "So, what was that like?"

But now there's the next best thing, a thin book that answers this question dozens of times over.

What it Feels Like (Three Rivers Press; $12.95) is an oral history of extreme experiences. The table of contents reads like a program from a lecture circuit for survivors.

It includes what it feels like: to be buried in an avalanche, to be stuck in a tornado, to be gored by a bull, to have amnesia, to cope with multiple personalities, to be held hostage, to catch the Ebola virus, to have a parachute fail, to (almost) die.

Compiled by A.J. Jacobs, a senior editor at Esquire magazine, each entry takes the form of a first-hand account, at most a few pages long.

One man explains what it was like to weigh 400 pounds, stuffing himself into theater seats by lifting up his gut and sucking in air. Another describes how he spent 24 hours digging out of an avalanche after watching his tears fall to determine which direction was up. A female exorcist recounts the battle against an evil entity occupying a young woman's body.

Not every account stems from trauma. Others take the reader vicariously through experiences that are uplifting (walking on the moon), bizarre (swallowing swords), enviable (winning the lottery) and titillating (having breast implants).

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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