Vaughn Ripley, The Survivor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I just finished Survivor: One Man’s Battle with HIV, Hemophilia, and Hepatitis C and my first thought after reading the last page was that you should never judge a book by its title.
Vaughn graciously sent me a free copy of his memoir to read. I put it in my to-be-read pile back in February of this year and then anxiously watched as it got closer to the top of my pile. Since I deal with my own blood disorder (I’m the opposite of hemophilic; my blood clots too much) and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor to HIV, I wasn’t really looking forward to a memoir that dug into living daily with these health-related issues. However, I remembered the enthusiastic emails Vaughn sent me and I wasn’t going to let him down about reading and reviewing his book just because I was afraid of the title.
Immediately upon opening the book, I realized my fears were unfounded. Anyone who starts a book with a quote from Josey Wales has my attention: “Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’ boy.” The 264 pages that follow this opening quote have nothing to do with dying and everything to do with living. This is a memoir so Vaughn includes the obligatory thank you to family, friends, and coworkers who have supported him in life. You read about how Vaughn dealt with each health related issue when necessary. But the thing that becomes apparent very quickly is that his memoir isn’t really about surviving, it is about living.
Vaughn lives to get the maximum out of life. If you have any interest in rock climbing, motorcycles, cycling, or healthy living there is plenty in this memoir to keep you reading. He adventures and misadventures are written in very short, concise entries that make this a perfect read before bed or on your lunch hour as you can read about a few adventures in a small amount of time. You’ll read about some hilarious and hair raising adventures. You’ll be touched by some poignant and heart warming memories. And you’ll see how one man chose not to be defined by labels and made his own way in life.
Vaughn doesn’t hide behind his illness or his pen. He tells you both the good and the bad about his life. Regardless of the situation, he makes a plan and moves on. It is that perseverance that has allowed him to take on such challenges as climbing Mt. Rainier—you’ll have to read the memoir to find out if he made it to the top—and be successful in business.
And when you finish this memoir, you’ll feel a sense of hope. Not just for Vaughn, but for yourself. Remember how I said I was afraid to read this book, well I realized facing your fears is really what this book is about. There were plenty of times Vaughn could have taken a less risky path and played it safe, but he never let his fear get in his way. There are certainly times when life forced him to change his goals. Yet, Vaughn never let life break him, but rather just bend him in a new direction. There is a lesson in that for all of us.
That’s why I think the title is misleading. This isn’t a book about surviving—though Vaughn has certainly suffered—it is really about living.
Ten percent of the author’s royalties are donated to AIDS research so with one purchase you can improve your outlook on life and improve our world.