Friday, October 14, 2011

Guest post: "Redwood to Deadwood"

Pottstown resident Janet Jay recently sent me an email singing the praises of a novel her book club had read. I asked Janet if she would guest blog her review of that book. It is as follows. I just added the photos. Thanks, Janet! If you would like to guest blog, too, post a comment.

Book review: Redwood to Deadwood: A 53-year-old dude hitchhikes around America. Again. By Colin Flaherty

Robert Pirsig famously said Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not about Zen and it is not about motorcycles.

But when you talk about great books about great American journeys, Pirsig has to be on any book lovers shelf, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and if you insist, John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.
More than travel, these books are all about discovery. 

To this list of great travel and discovery books, I am adding Redwood to Deadwood, a 53-year old dude hitchhikes across America, by Colin Flaherty.

When he first started his three month journey around the country, Flaherty rejected any kind of talk of self-discovery as indulgent, and he said, kind of silly. He soon learned better:

"Before I tucked my thumb in for the final time, I'd run with wild horses. Visit a pot farm. Hunt big game. Poach big game. Get by a police helicopter. Get info family feuds. Ride in cop cars. Reconnect with old friends. Make new ones. Get tired and exhilarated. Lost and found. Kicked out and invited in."

"I know how to cook muskrat, squirrel and rockchuck. And oh yea, I almost got killed.”

“I did not know why I objected so vigorously to anyone thinking I might actually learn something about myself after such a journey. Had I known what  the next three months would bring, I would not have said anything so stupid.”

You better believe there was discovery of all kinds aplenty there. Whether he wanted it or not. Most of it is fun and funny and adventurous. 

During one part of the book, Flaherty describes hitchhiking around to meet the people who were with his brother Kevin when he died in Viet Nam. Then learning at the same time his son was heading off to Afghanistan.

Very moving. 

And when mixed with the wry observations of the material that comes before and after this, that pushes this writer and this book into a whole new level. This is not just a travel book. This is literature at its most riveting and relevant.

But I suppose if you really need to learn how to cook squirrel, how to ride the rails, or how to get free food, you can learn that here too. 

Flaherty grew up down the road in Wilmington, Delaware, but spent most if his adult life in San Diego, as a reporter, political staffer, and owner of an on-line ad agency.

When the world stopped in the Winter of 2008, Flaherty started. He took off for Colorado, where he taught snowboarding for five months. Then, after wondering why no one hitchhikes anymore, he decided to find out.

So this 53-year old award-winning writer stuck out his thumb, and sticking to the back roads and curvy twists on the map (a la Pirsig) he spent the next three months zig zagging around to places where the closest Wal-Mart is 120 miles away.

These places still exist. Great characters still live there. And in Redwood to Deadwood, a great writer tells us all about them. 

I’ve had a lot of fun reading this book. And so have my friends. And I hope you do too.

Here’s a link to the book’s web site.

Janet Jay

p.s. I think he came pretty close to Pottstown, too.

1 comment:

Katie McVay said...

What an interesting story Colin has, and a great review! Given I'm a writer who loves to travel (or is it a traveler who loves to write?) I want to read this book. Thanks Janet and Michelle!