My daily schedule has become hectic, but each morning presents a solid half hour of blessed public transportation. This allows me a half hour to read and relax on the train before a day of trying to cram information into my head. My recent selections have presented stories of two drastically different road trips, each devastating in its own way.
The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart
I began The Places In Between with a large number of preconceived notions about the author. I knew the story detailed the author's walk across Afghanistan in 2002. Based on that detail alone, I expected the author to be a macho risk-taker. I expected the story to be interesting but full of boastful anecdotes. I formed these opinions by pondering the type of person willing to take such a risky trip.
Fortunately, I could not have been more incorrect. The author comes across as introspective and knowledgeable, resourceful and kind. He weaves threads of his own story along with Afghanistan's history--both recent and ancient. The result is a beautiful tale of danger and discovery. His narrative is a welcome contrast to the way Afghanistan tends to be presented in the mainstream media. Instead of discussing a monolithic culture, Stewart reveals an Afghanistan marked by diversity. While reading, I realized that much of what I have read about the country had been littered with overgeneralizations, and the lack of subtlety in our conception of the nation will likely be the downfall of the US project.
As a travel story, the book was one of the best I've read. He faces difficult conditions throughout his trip, and his survival depends on the hospitality of strangers. He encounters dangers that seem alien and absurd, but the dangers make the journey so remarkable.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
I assume most folks who come to this blog have heard of The Road by now, so I will keep my comments short. It's a story of the love between father and son, the end of civilization, and being. The writing transports me, and each time I set the book down I have to shake off the world McCarthy creates so deftly. The story is scary and beautiful, and it unmasks existence to its core, finding a perverse clash of good and evil. I call it "perverse" because I'm forced to decide where I would fit in this world. I'd like to think that I'd be "carrying the fire," but I can't be sure.
I now face the first time that I have been afraid to finish a book. I lack only fourteen pages, but I don't know if I can face what they may hold. When you read the book, pause at the bottom of page 272, and I imagine you will feel the same way.