Book Review: “The New American Road Trip Mixtape” by Brendan Leonard

Brendan Leonard semi rad book

All that discussion of Jack Kerouac in my review of “The Book” by Alan Watts got me itching for a good old-fashioned road trip story. So I picked up “The New American Road Trip Mixtape” by Brendan Leonard.

I bought this book as a Christmas present for my girlfriend, entirely on a whim and with no more context than a few Amazon reviews. I did not realize that it would read very much like the sort of book I might write in ten years.

Leonard draws his inspiration from climbing, mountaineering, skiing and seeing the world through a lowly lens. His book chronicles a post-breakup period of dirtbagging around America in the back of a Subaru Outback. He even starts his odyssey in Denver. The similarity to my own sensibilities was simultaneously comforting and disconcerting.

The book is a quick read— I read the entire thing in the span of a few hours.

It is even printed double-spaced, like an assignment you would turn in for your writing class. It was self-published, which fits the ethos of the writing. The copyright page contains five lines. All that blank space is exciting.

“The New American Road Trip Mixtape” is adventure writing— quick, breezy and inspirational. To the sort of person who can identify with Leonard’s passions, the book will practically read itself. Those who can’t appreciate the appeal of the modern dirtbag lifestyle won’t find much of substance here.

It’s telling that two months since Christmas, I am the first one in the household to finish this book.

“The New American Road Trip Mixtape” differs from the writing I give you here in one key way. “The New American Road Trip Mixtape” is not a celebration of youth, but rather a chronicle of the end of youth. The book is about Leonard’s pivot into a deeper understanding of the world, not simply a celebration of living. The story is very much that of an inflection point in life.

“What is a life?”

This phrase is repeated often throughout the book. The full question, “what is a good life?” goes largely elided and unanswered. In the final pages of the book, Leonard sums it up as well as he can:

“There was something in everyone I knew in Utah, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California figuring it out as they went, stubbing their toes and tripping sometimes, turning around after false starts and making the second or third try really count, making it as forever as we know how anymore.”

In the end, Leonard is quintessentially young, even as he chronicles his search for the way to age gracefully.

(You can find more writing by Brendan Leonard at his blog, semi-rad.com)

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