Book Review: Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, by Brendan Leonard

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Brendan Leonard’s latest book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems: More Funny Shit in the Woods from Semi-Rad.com, a compilation of 79 essays from Leonard’s website, covers everything from beer currency to the importance of being a lifelong beginner. In his stories, Leonard uses sarcasm and comedy to provoke laughter, thought, and dialogue between likeminded “outdoorsfolk.” He draws on the absurdities of “type two fun” and the simple pleasures of the great outdoors that a more civilized audience may not fully understand. Don’t expect epic tales of free-soloing or high-mountain derring-do, but do prepare to relate and laugh your ass off even as Leonard, in his understated way, gives you the necessary tools to pursue a successful outdoor life.

Now 40 years old, the Iowa native has lived in Denver since 2005. Writing from laundromats, vans, and airports on his various travels, he commingles work and the road life, and gains human experience along the way—all with his trademark humor. “Making people laugh has always been easy for me, and writing comedy is way easier than being a standup comic… the worst that happens is people just don’t read your blog,” explains Leonard. Though he always knew he wanted to be an adventure writer, Leonard first paid his dues. Before becoming a full-time freelancer, he worked for newspapers, Big City Mountaineers, and IBM from 2008 to 2010. Since then, he’s contributed pieces to almost every outdoor magazine in the industry, including a stint as a contributing editor to Climbing Magazine from 2012 through 2015; Leonard has also written for Adventure Journal and Outside.

In February 2011, Leonard grew tired of pleasing an editorial board and created his blog Semi-Rad, where he could exercise total creative control. He’s been posting there weekly since 2011. “I just throw shit at the wall every week and hope it sticks,” Leonard jokes. “I try not to be the worst part of somebody’s day. My stories are something to share with a friend who climbs or understands the woes of being outdoorsy and communicating that language between people.” In 2014, Climbing started publishing Semi-Rad in the magazine. Alongside Semi-Rad, Leonard is currently a contributing editor at Adventure Journal and a columnist at Outside.

Leonard’s stories in Bears Don’t Care reflect his nonchalant outlook on writing. Through satire and humor, he provides a voice for millennial outdoor enthusiasts. Steve Casimiro, founder of Adventure Journal, calls Leonard’s writing the “voice of humility and optimism and stoke” in the book’s foreword. On Bears’ pages, Leonard dissects the psychology behind something as simple as poking a campfire with a stick, and analyzes the necessary micro-details that go into any outdoor excursion with wittiness and a light heart. He considers matters like: How can you be a good tentmate with someone you don’t actually know that well? How loud should you blast your music at a communal campground? How many beers is adequate compensation for a ride to the crag? And, will your co-workers ever forgive you if you don’t respond to their emails because you’re in nature? To supplement each story, Leonard incorporates at least one hand-drawn graph or cartoon. His stories are a reminder not to take life so seriously, especially when there are people out there pooping into bags on portaledges.

When Leonard moved to Montana from the Midwest in 2002, he found the outdoors as a source of fulfillment. He started climbing in 2006, and realized that he could do what he loved and make a living through writing. Two of his favorite pieces in the book relate true stories about friends of his. In “The Greatest Mountaineering Survival Story Never Told,” Leonard details the potential dangers of eating a ham sandwich by yourself. “He had survived thirty-five years of pushing his limits in the big hills, including hundreds of pitches of roped climbing, that falling rock on Torreys Peak, the occasional incompetent partner, stuck ropes, Rocky Mountain thunderstorms, and more, and he was about to be killed by a goddamn ham sandwich,” writes Leonard of his good friend Lee’s choking epic. And in “The Gas Tank is One-Quarter Full, Or Three Quarters Empty,” Leonard recounts a debate he had with his friend on whether to stop for gas: “…[W]hether you believe you can control things or you don’t worry at all about trying to control things, shit happens. And when it does, nobody wants to be the jerk with a vein popping out of their forehead as they scream at an airline employee about how important they are,” writes Leonard. Like the other short stories, this simple exchange is about much more than running out of gas. Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems takes average anecdotes we outdoor-oriented people can relate to and extracts the less obvious humor and life lessons from each.

“I think any of us want to be heard and make a small difference in peoples’ lives, and if you can do that, I think you’ve succeeded,” says Leonard of his literary intentions. Leonard’s stories are much more than just a laugh or step-by-step guide on lightening the weight in your backpack. Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems draws insights on human nature, character, and perspective. Read a few of these stories, and you’ll soon be crushing pages like the post-climbing beers your friend bought you for being his chauffeur to the crag.

$18.95, mountaineersbooks.org