Reading authors who are still alive has its perks. You can find them. If they are very current, they are on social media. And sometimes they TWEET BACK TO YOU!
Such was the case this weekend. While doing some low-key advertising work on The Luther Register and attacking my son’s t-shirt and sock drawers on a Friday night of a holiday weekend (don’t be jealous of my glamorous life), I took a listen to The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely. I got the audio book through the Audible subscription that I didn’t really know I was paying for every month, and really need to cancel. But before I cancel, I’m listening through all of my book credits. I picked The Wonder Trail likely because my daughter recently got to go on a Water 4 trip to Peru with some other Luther residents (story coming soon), and she and her brothers have strong strains of wanderlust in their DNA. These kids’ parents do too … but mortgage and starting an online newspaper distract from keeping the passports current. So be it.
What do you think of audio books? We have loved them in our family. However, we are true voice snobs. You get one chapter or less to sell us with your voice and delivery, or else we’re done. Done. Delete from the phone or ejected from the CD player in the minivan (we have neither that beloved van nor a working cd player in our lives any more). I won’t confess how many audio books we’ve ditched because of bad voice acting, but I will say that Cissy Spacek reading To Kill A Mockingbird made the classic for me. And then Reece Witherspoon taking on the sketchy Go Set a Watchman really saved the book in my humble opinion (even though I barely tolerated all of those chapters with Scout fighting with Atticus. It just didn’t happen, if you ask me. Oh, it’s fiction you say?). What about Cherry Jones’ performance of the Little House books? Epic. And while I dip into younger fiction, Peter Coyote voicing Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet is so so fine. Check it out from the library or acquire it some how (perhaps buy it!). What better reason to have for a road trip of listening, or to be a companion to cut through the silence while tackling ridiculous housework. Audio books and podcasts are where it’s at! To have the author read his or her book is a gift (and garners automatic grace if they are lame). Hely was awesome.
After listening to a good bit of The Wonder Trail, I had to do pause and start stalking the author. The book retelling the adventure of Steve Hely leaving his home in Los Angeles and zigzagging all the way to Patagonia was hilarious at times, interestingly historical and endearing.
Naturally I had to do a Twitter shout out. I found him there before I found his website where I wanted to see pictures of the llamas he referenced (because I have a llama too!), boat trips on the Amazon, through the Panama Canal, and his hallucinogenic experiences in Peru (when in Rome? Whatever.). This book is painted with local flavor and silly anecdotes of his experiences crossed with some heavy historical references of the colonization and various tragedies of the civilizations south of us in Central and South America. I don’t know about most readers of The Luther Register, but this history exposes a deep gap in my own education. Regrettable.
Hely is a TV writer. He’s written for Letterman, 30 Rock, The Office and a show called American Dad that I have never watched. It’s probably funny though. Seems when you work in television, some get to go on “hiatus” which sounds like when Hollywood shuts down for vacation. Not bad work if you can get it. That’s sort of like being a teacher in Luther, isn’t it? Summer vacation along with a salary (or promise of a book deal) that might fund a wild tour of part of the world where you can buy a plane ticket, taxi or boat ride and all of the beer and tacos you need to get you from LA to Patagonia – with stops at Mayan ruins and random birthday parties. Okay, so an Oklahoma teacher’s salary won’t cover that? Still, I’m glad Hely gets to do it to satisfy the vicarious needs of educators and online journalists. Certainly we could do this too, if we really really wanted to. Right? I remain an optimist, who thinks a tiny online newspaper in a little (but wonderful) town will make some money when newspapers are dying left and right. Online news is growing but remains in the trailblazing phase in these parts.
Back to the book. Hely’s voice is great, and you get the feeling he digresses here and there when a memory might overtake him while he’s reading aloud from his own book (which is on my personal bucket list – writing and voicing my own book). He ranted about this hippie guy who owns a surfing alcove. The dude had the nerve to call Hely’s work on TV “pablum.” I had to look up the word. It means “bland or insipid intellectual fare.” It totally hacked Hely off and he went off on it for a few breathy sentences (I don’t know if this is in the printed version). I totally identified with the rant. How dare the surfer dude who owns a little piece of mosquito-infested paradise on the surfing coast insult one of his guests? Pablum? The nerve. Not everyone even likes The Office.
Through the telling of the journey, you get the sense that Hely’s adventure gene leads him or drags him through all sorts of social, cultural, geographic and adventurous situations that are defining his life, and gets him a book deal. Dig it. What great material for his future television gigs. He has a great way with words and recall.
Listen to the book. Or read it. Buy it if you can. Find it at the library. I will have to buy a printed copy of the book, because you can’t dog-ear pages or highlight interesting passages when you just listen. And there are some travel spots and history I want to read more about, thanks to Hely’s book.
After recounting his experiences in Mexico City, the primer on the Aztecs, the expanse of the Amazon and the altitude of the Andes, after Machu Picchu and the desolate stretches of Chile, Hely concludes with a mighty reminder: “What matters more than anything is people. … People are who are the best and most interesting in the world.”
There and in Luther!
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