I try very hard not to be negative when I review books. Writing is hard. Writing a book is even harder. Everyone who manages to publish a book has done something admirable and worthy of respect.
With that said, some books are better than others, and some author-narrators are simply more likable and relatable than others.
If you read any other reviews of "Tracks," you will likely come across the question, "why??"
This is one of the main issues with the book and the story. This is not a novel, so there can be no plot holes, but a memoir of a journey with no explanation of the reasons the journey was taken is a bit confusing.
Ms. Davidson undertook a huge challenge, and she maintained a high level of integrity in regards to her original intentions of the trip and how the trip actually played out. She had to make some sacrifices for financing and safety, but ultimately, she did what she set out to do--walk across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. It's really quite impressive. It took a great deal of fortitude.
It's simply hard to understand exactly why she did it.
Fortunately, even without the underlying reason, Ms. Davidson's account of her adventure is exciting, enthralling, and memorable. Her writing is clear and compelling, skillful and mature.
There is a major issue I have with this book, which is a personal response, directly related to the beliefs and values I bring to the table when I read any book. We all read through our own filters of experience and personality.
The author claims to treat her camels "like glass," to spoil them and coddle them. She expresses adoration for them, and recognizes humanlike traits in their behavior. She does, however, beat them. At times, it's merciless and completely out of control.
She acknowledges that she loses it sometimes when she disciplines or punishes them, and then feels remorse, but that doesn't undo or excuse the abuse.
The task she set for these animals was arduous. She had them heavily laden with all her necessary belongings, and brought them through territory that had inadequate food and water. Her camels lost considerable weight during the trek, especially the one who was nursing her baby during the journey.
Ms. Davidson attempted to stop the baby from nursing once she had determined that it was too old to need its mothers milk, because the mother was allowing herself to waste away in order to feed her offspring.
This seemed unnecessarily cruel to me. To bring a nursing mother and her baby on the journey appeared impractical to me, and the author would not have needed to prevent the mother from weaning on her own schedule if she had not demanded so much from the animals and found that it was taking too hard a toll on the mother camel.
Ultimately, the lack of stated reason for such an immense undertaking was problematic for me because of the stress on the camels. Ms. Davidson "broke" feral camels, piled them high with food and personal items, half-starved them, and worked them to exhaustion, for what?
Simply to satisfy some angsty urge--a very middle-class white urge, if I might add--that she won't even divulge in her detailed account of the experience.
Not only that, but she killed several bull camels that she encountered while out in the desert, fearing for her safety. If she hadn't taken it upon herself to be out there on her own for no logical reason, she would not have needed to end those lives. It was a complete waste, necessary only as a result of her self-serving escapade.
Putting all that aside, as much as possible, Ms. Davidson does display a very strong empathy for the displaced black aboriginal people of Australia, and brings a great deal of attention to their status and treatment.
With all things considered, this aspect of the book makes it worth reading. I learned quite a bit about the culture and history.
I want to repeat and emphasize that this was a well-written and absorbing memoir, with good information and food for thought. I simply could not feel much compassion for or interest in the author herself.
In my opinion, the film paints a much more palatable picture of Ms. Davidson, though still exposing some of her shortcomings.
For the cultural backdrop and political history, I recommend the book. For the story itself, the travel and adventure aspect of the thing, I recommend the movie....more
Scott Jurek co-authored this with a writer named Steve Friedman. I think it’s commendable to recognize where your strengths lie and where they do not,Scott Jurek co-authored this with a writer named Steve Friedman. I think it’s commendable to recognize where your strengths lie and where they do not, and to ask for assistance in order to make your final product the best it can be. They both wanted this to be a good book, and between the two of them, they made that happen.
What was surprising to me was how well-rounded of a person Scott Jurek seems to be. This book really shows just how much thought he has put into every aspect of his life. He discusses the factors that led him to adopt a vegan diet, and all the doubts and criticisms he has experienced along the way. He is honest about his motivations and concerns about his health, and includes useful information that he has discovered in his research. The book is well-cited, with an extensive list of sources at the end. He does not make any claims that he cannot back up.
Jurek emphasizes the importance of a healthy mind when running extreme distances. He talks about meditation and self-discipline, and makes it clear that this can be a lonely sport. He stresses how helpful it is to make connections with other involved in the sport, so that it doesn’t become a lonely life. He walks the walk by camping out at finish lines after completing races, in order to congratulate and support other runners. This attitude has probably been crucial in forming a community in a sport mainly comprised of lone wolves.
This book shows the pitfalls of such zealous dedication to a lifestyle, as well as the rewards. Without any appeals for sympathy, the author tells of the failure of his first marriage and his misgivings about spending so much time away from his ill mother. He also learns just how double-edged success can be, when he nearly loses his best friend to envy and misunderstanding. Jurek’s chosen career affected every aspect of his life, and I was moved to read about his thoughts and how he handled those consequences with grace and humility.
Ostensibly, this is a book about running, and it is quite inspiring in that regard alone. The list of races in the back of the book showing Jurek’s times and new records set is not just impressive, but truly amazing. Eat and Run is about more than running, however; it is a story about a man with remarkable courage and passion, and I enjoyed it very much....more
As sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times iAs sad as it was, I really enjoyed Melissa Coleman’s memoir, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. It is at times inspirational, at other times heartbreaking, and sometimes just frustrating. The frustration comes not from the writing, but from the actions of the people in Ms. Coleman’s story, and from the knowledge that this story is true – this is an honest account of her childhood and everyone who played a part in it. It is both tragic and beautiful.
The author has done an excellent job of taking her own memories and supplementing them with the perspectives of the adults from her young life, filling in the gaps, and yet making a cohesive story out of it. One does not recognize the different sources of the anecdotes she shares, but rather gets the sense that this was a very observant and precocious person with an astonishing power of recollection. The narrative has an easy, natural flow.
Melissa Coleman tells the story of how her parents came to the decision to drop out of the rat race, inspired by the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing – namely, Living The Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. The Colemans visit the Nearings and end up purchasing from them sixty acres of land adjacent to (and formerly part of) Helen and Scott’s property, in order to start their own homestead. The Colemans are full of optimism and drive, determined to make a living the old-fashioned way, by the sweat of their brows and strength of their convictions.
It is a beautiful life for a while, with baby Melissa making her appearance, and then sisters Heidi and Clara, with an influx of apprentices to help with the work and bring a little social atmosphere to the little farm in Maine. Melissa’s father Eliot is never satisfied, however, and it is his continual push for greater success and recognition, and his desire to educate others, that begins the unraveling of the fabric of the Colemans’ lives. On top of growing stress comes family tragedy, and instead of rallying together, they drift further apart – to the detriment of young Melissa.
This is not a flattering portrait of Eliot and Sue Coleman, but it is a testament to the strength and resilience of the author, who has managed to make a happy life for herself despite these early deficiencies and disappointments. She has told her story with honesty and frankness, showing the reader her emotional responses to her situation, even when she is not proud of them.
It is clear that she does not seek pity, nor desire to make herself out the blameless hero of the book. She earned my respect and sympathy by virtue of her balanced and just account of the events of her life, and because she retold them with obvious skill and grace. Ms. Coleman is a talented writer, and apparently a well-adjusted individual.
This book serves as a cautionary tale of marriage and family, as well as the danger of trying to do too much. It is also simply a story of the land and how we, as modern humans, can get back in touch with it and find our place in the natural world – not apart from it, but living in harmony with nature and each other, and remembering to maintain balance in our lives.
I found myself lost in This Life Is in Your Hands for hours at a time, unwilling to put it aside. It was well worth those hours, even with all the sadness. I highly recommend it....more
This was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners muchThis was well-written enough to warrant 4 stars, but I just didn't enjoy it that much. The author does not portray herself in a way that garners much sympathy, and somehow manages to go for pages and pages without mentioning the man who got her into farming and with whom she claims to be madly in love. The whole book is meant to be a dual love story, love of the man and of the farm; the man, however, seems to be a minor character, which was disappointing, since I found him to be quite likable and intriguing.
This book was absolutely interesting and entertaining, and I quite enjoyed the information and anecdotes about the plants and the cultivation of the land. On the other hand, while this might have been eye-opening to some, it was difficult for me (being vegan) to stomach reading about the callousness and various cruelties that go along with animal farming, most of which I was already too aware of, and which I didn't enjoy revisiting.
While I can see how perhaps reading about these things in such graphic detail might provoke some readers to reconsider the systems that they take for granted or don't look too closely at, it's frustrating to read about someone learning of these practices and gamely participating in them despite their initial revulsion or reservations (especially someone who claims to have previously been a vegetarian).
I'm not trying to preach here, and I realize I'm coming from a place of rather fringe sentiment, but my veganism is an important part of my life, and thus is a huge part of what I bring to the table when I read any book. It wouldn't feel right to talk about this book and omit my most fundamental reactions to it.
The "yes, it's actually a bit awful, but that's the way things are" mentality saddens me, since I know it's not the way things must be. The couple in this book do all sorts of zany, off-beat, retro things to go back to a simpler way of being and to attempt to provide a "full diet" for their CSA customers... which, unfortunately, they see as necessarily including a large quantity of various meats and other animal products.
So, while this book was in many ways about overturning a status quo or two, there are also some threads woven through the book that are strongly supporting (unwittingly or not) a very different kind of status quo.
I did not write this to start an argument or to proselytize. This is just my honest reaction to the book, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to review it, what I should say about it and just how to put it. I've done my best....more