Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my last blog post was October 23, 2014. I mean, I knew 2014 was a hectic, difficult year, but I didn’t realize I had gone quite so quiet. Last week, while browsing on Twitter, I discovered #yourturnchallenge, and it felt like the right time for me to commit to seven straight days of blogging. At least for now, I’m back.

I recently finished the book, A Deadly Wandering, and decided to make my book review my first post in this blogging project. 
Coincidentally, I had recently watched a documentary by Werner Herzog on distracted driving. When I finally started this book, I had no idea there was any connection between Herzog’s film and the story in this book. As soon as I started reading Reggie’s story, I knew this was the same guy. 
Reggie crossed the center line early one morning back in 2006, causing the death of two scientists who were beloved fathers and husbands. Although not immediately apparent to anyone, the cause of the accident had been Reggie texting while driving. 
I was half expecting a book difficult to plod through, because I read more fiction than non-fiction, and the fiction I read tends to require less mental energy. However, I found “A Deadly Wandering” to be both fascinating and easy to read. I confess I am in the group of people who have texted while driving, and so this is an extremely timely topic not only for myself, but for our society in general.
Some excerpts from pp 215-216:

In the same way we crave food, we crave connection. Not just for its own sake, but because connection is essential for survival. It helps us form networks, understand sources of opportunity or threat, create alliances, fight enemies. It is primal. … Now come ultra-powerful devices that provide such easy communication that they can, if we’re not careful, use our social survival skills against us. … “We use stone-age brains with space-age technology, and that can lead to trouble.” … Our tech tools let us be “hyper-social,” … which has many benefits, and also costs.

There is much information in this book about attention, and what it allows us to do, and what happens to our brain when we overtax our mental capacities. Anyone older than age 30 has seen the huge influx of demands on our attention over the past 10-15 years. I remember when I was in college. We didn’t even have a television in our dorm room. Now, students are attending to twitter, instagram, tumblr, Facebook, email, text messages, Youtube, YikYak, Netflix, video games, and more. And that doesn’t include the actual humans in the environment, or less demanding things like books, journals, pencils, reflection, quiet.

As for my own experiences with distracted driving, before I read this book, I had formulated the following motto for myself in regard to texting and driving. “Hands on the road. Eyes on the wheel.” Imagine my surprise when my “original” thought turned out to be words from the 1970 Doors’ song, Roadhouse Blues.

Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Yeah, we’re goin’ to the Roadhouse 
We’re gonna have a real 
Good time 

Imagine, if you will, my further surprise when the author reported that the issue with texting and driving isn’t my hands or my eyes, but my BRAIN. Having had five children nearly all at once (jk), I feel like I had to get really good at toggling between tasks if I were going to be an effective mother. My kids, like most, had a million questions, and I seemed to feel that it was my responsibility to answer every single question. Thoroughly. In order. Correctly. And I think having to do that helped me to get good at switching between tasks, but my brain is still a human brain and has pretty much the same limitations and capabilities regarding attention.

The story about Reggie Shaw in this book is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. By choosing to do a dangerous activity like texting and driving, he irrevocably changed the lives of the families of the men who were killed in the accident, his own family, the life of the farrier who actually hit the other car, and all of the people involved in the investigation, prosecution and defense. To his credit, Reggie used his authentic grief and remorse to fuel a journey of speaking to young people about the incredible dangers of texting and driving.

I’m encouraged to see that more and more cities and states are passing laws about texting, and even about using phones while driving. Richtel has written a timely, and important “tale of tragedy and redemption in the age of attention” and I highly recommend it to everyone who carries around a cell phone.

I Read a lot of Books …

Of the 33 books I have read so far in 2014, Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead has touched me most deeply. Two of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben and Lee Child have review snippets on the front cover. Coben says, “Warning: Michael Koryta’s wonderful, riveting, and harrowing Those Who Wish Me Dead may just move you to tears. Enjoy at your own risk.” And Child says, “Outstanding in every way … Don’t you dare miss it.” With those two recommendations, I was primed to like the novel, but not to get what I got out of it.

The protagonist, Jace Wilson, witnesses a murder and is subsequently pursued by the killers. He is pursued all the way from his Indiana home to Montana, where he has been sent to participate in a wilderness camping program, which will presumably hide him from the bad guys.

Having been involved in wilderness camping myself throughout the years, I was immediately drawn to this aspect of the story. I vividly remember the muscles used to rappel, rock climb, canoe and hike. I remember learning backcountry skills like orienteering (before GPS), map and compass, reading a topo map, starting a fire, cooking, making water safe to drink. I remember the little treasures — gooseberries along a path, a beautiful sunrise, the wonder that is Lake Superior.

In chapter 8, not too far into the book, which I was alternately reading and listening to, I heard the narrator say, “Anyone remember the chain? The order of our [survival] priorities? … Positive mental attitude, wilderness first aid, shelter, fire, signal, water, food. My mind connected these paragraphs with my son, who is currently in rehab for issues with heroin. I saw how a positive mental attitude would be essential for survival in his situation. And I realized that just as the two killers were tracking Jace in the book, so the killer heroin has been tracking my son in real life.

The wilderness leader, Ethan, was teaching the boys how important shelter is in the wilderness. “With shelter, the environment is no longer in control.” With drugs, when you have any type of shelter from the drug environment, the environment is no longer in control. How essential then for anyone trying to recover from drugs to find their shelter, which could be and probably is all inclusive of a physical shelter, a mental shelter, a spiritual shelter, and a social shelter.

As Ethan taught the boys how to survive in the wilderness, he taught this important concept about recovering from mistakes they might make in the wilderness: “Anticipate and recover, anticipate and recover. If you could do the first well, you were ahead of most people. If you could do both well? You were a survivor.”

Is this not applicable to recovering from drug abuse as well? And, actually, life in general. Although we cannot anticipate everything, I appreciate the approach here which is suggesting that we are intentional about looking at what we are experiencing, and thinking about situations we may face.

Take for example the simple situation we all face twenty times a week; having a time we are supposed to be somewhere. I may not be able to anticipate the exact traffic jam that is on the highway when I am driving, but I can certainly anticipate the possibility of it happening, and when I anticipate that, and leave ten minutes earlier, I’m that much closer to being on time. And when the traffic jam lasts 15 or 20 minutes, and I can recover from the frustration, I am even more than a survivor. I thrive.

In situations of life and death, which drugs most certainly bring about, anticipating where we might get tripped up, by identifying triggers and urges, puts the recovering user ahead of most people who haven’t thought about those things.  Getting connected with others who have traveled this road and who are intent on supporting the recovering drug user into a meaningful life puts the socially connected individual ahead of those who try to go it alone.

Mistakes happen. In drug recovery, relapses happen. But when we anticipate and recover, we have a chance to survive.

Lastly, Ethan gave this speech to the boys, which was instrumental in saving the lives of more than one of the characters:

There is no such thing as quitting time. Remember that, boys. You rest, you sleep, you pout, you cry. You’re allowed to get mad, allowed to get sad. But you’re not allowed to quit. When you feel like it, remember that you are allowed to stop, but not to quit. So give yourself that much. Stop. Just stop. And then, remember what STOP is to a survivor — sit, think, observe, plan. Spelled out for you, right there at the moment of your highest frustration, is all you need to do to start saving your life.

Preach it.

Sit.
Think.
Observe.
Plan.

This isn’t just helpful for people recovering from drug abuse or addiction. Can you think of five situations in your own life where this would be a wise plan of action? I love the idea of being able to stop when things are stressful or disappointing or I’m struggling. I’ve always thought stopping meant I was quitting. But if I sit, think, observe and plan, and then get back into action, stopping is simply that — a stop. It’s a step on the journey.

I used to think that me seeing connections and applications like this was enough. That if I could see it and somehow just say it with enough conviction and clarity, he’d get it. He’d apply the idea and stay on the path of abstaining or recovery. I know now everybody has their own path, and it’s rather unlikely that he would see these things even if he read this book. But, what a great addition to my toolbox for life wisdom to consider, apply, and share where I can, like on this blog.

So, go on and survive. Instead of quitting, stop if and when you need to, and fortify yourself for the next curve in the road.