I love to read but I'm not good at reviewing books. In junior high school I considered reading book reports to my classmates to be a fate worse than eating tofu-covered lima beans. Shrinking in my seat like an ashamed Rottweiler who's afraid to chase the mailman, I would agonize as student after student volunteered, hoping that somehow the teacher would exempt me. Of course she never did, and I never learned the lesson that going first means you get to kick back and enjoy as other kids stammer and turn red and tremble so badly their reports nearly tear in half.
In my adult years the fear of reading my work out loud has been replaced by the realization that I'm just not that good at critical analysis. I've always had difficulty plumbing the depths of long works of fiction, teasing out the symbolism, deciphering characters' ulterior motives or simply even remembering at the end of the book just what the hell happened in the first few chapters. These reasons attest to why I've never written a novel. I've diagnosed myself with executive function disorder.
Nevertheless, to coin a phrase, I've persisted. I've reviewed plenty of books here over the years, many of them non-fiction. Below you'll find links to three attempts. If you're so inclined, search the site for others.
April 4, 2013, Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
January 20, 2012, Myles J. Connor, Jr.'s The Art of the Heist
July 24, 2012, Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole
I've come to you today with a somewhat different approach than the longer-form reviews I've done previously. I'm going with a quick-hit approach, offering up basic reviews and also a look at what's on my nightstand right now.
Also, there will be nepotism. Well-earned nepotism.
Earlier this summer I read Andrew Forsthoefel's Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story At a Time. The author of this memoir is young and freshly graduated from Awesome College or some such institution. He doesn't know what to do with his life, so he sets out from his mother's house in Pennsylvania on foot, a rucksack across his back, with the goal of simply talking to people along his route. He figures that he can learn from his fellow citizens how they make their lives work best, and apply those lessons to himself.
I really enjoyed Walking to Listen. Forsthoefel has an easy writing style and doesn't shy away from examining his own warts. The tales of kindness and generosity offered by his fellow Americans that he shares will make you think that in these polarizing political times there is hope for our nation.
Reading Forsthoefel's book was a dangerous thing for me to do, perhaps even brave. As regular readers know, I've been working, on and off, for several years on a road-trip memoir. So reading a really good book from a major publisher about trekking across the US of A is the sort of activity that could drop me into writer's depression. But instead I decided to take inspiration from Forsthoefel's book, go back and look at my work-in-progress and make it even better.
While I was the first member of my family to publish a book -- well, since you asked: (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity -- I will not be the first to publish a memoir. That honor goes to my mother, Joan Bogert Brigham.
Published earlier this summer, her book, Invitation to Inner Light: To Love and Wisdom...an Essential Step for Personal and Planetary Peace, is part memoir, part travel guide to Peru and part revelation. The revelations for many readers will come in learning about my mother's spiritual path and how perhaps to follow their own, similar route to "opening to the sacred seed within." The book is about following your inner voice, which my mother tunes in via meditation, to realize who you are and how to realize your dreams and fulfill your destiny. She places great weight on love and learning how to discover the light that's inside each of us. This is my clumsy attempt to translate the message of Invitation to Light, as a person who is not at all spiritual and can't relate to many of the experiences my mother has had in her 85 years.
For me, the revelations in my mother's book were more personal. I had no idea that she'd yearned since she was a teenager for a meaningful spiritual experience. I never knew what motivated her to make not one, but two, trips to Peru in the 1990's. And I certainly didn't recall all that she'd told me about her transformative experience at Peru's Machu Pichu, the sacred and breathtaking ancient Inca city in the Andes mountains.
Additionally, I wasn't aware of just how important meditation, sounding and dream interpretation were, and still are, to my mother. Sure, I've heard her talk about all of these things all of my adult life, but reading it just makes it all the more evident and powerful. The message of my mother's book -- we as humans need to look inside ourselves to find the strength and courage to love ourselves and one another -- isn't unique. But given the tenor of our times, it certainly is a message that needs repeating. I can't express how proud of my mother for putting her heart, soul and, yes, LIGHT, into her book!
A few years back, I gave my mother a copy of Mark Adams's Turn Right at Machu Pichu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time. I'm not sure whether she read it. More recently, I purchased a copy for myself, after reading and thoroughly enjoying Adams's Meet Me in Atlantis: Across Three Continents in Search of the Legendary Sunken City.
Now seemed like a perfect time to take Turn Right at Machu Pichu off my growing stack of books to read. And just as with his Atlantis book, I am getting tremendous enjoyment out of this one. Adams has a self-deprecating writing style that I both enjoy and employ myself. The basis of his book is retracing the route the Hiram Bingham III took in 1911 to expose Machu Pichu to the wider world. Adams ties his own trials and tribulations along the rigorous adventure to Bingham's pursuit, as well as to the history of the Inca people.
So far I'm loving it, and I expect that will continue.