Book Review: Sixty Meters to Anywhere by Brendan Leonard

 

Last Saturday, I found myself in Trident Booksellers, a cute coffee shop/bookstore in downtown Boulder, Colorado. Trident sits off the West End of the Pearl Street Mall, in the shadow of Boulder’s signature Flatirons—three iconic rocks that provide a slabby playground for the thousands of climbers that call the city home.

Even though the weather was beautiful, I wasn’t spending my weekend outside. I was alone, tapping away on my manuscript inside Trident. I spend a lot of days this way.

A man I know—a Bangladeshi Buddhist monk—tapped my table as he went to order a drink at the front. I smiled; happy to see him. He came back, Kombucha in hand. “We are studying out back, if you would like to join us.” I grinned a big grin, and said absolutely, I’d be out in a minute.

Boulder’s the sort of town where things like that aren’t too far out of the ordinary.

Out back, I found my monk with two friends who I had met once before, while rock climbing. They were all studying for their exams at Naropa University, a small Buddhist university. They asked me what I was doing. Writing my book, I responded. “Oh sweet, what’s it about?” one asked me. “Climbing?”

I laughed. “No, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that,” I said. “I am reading a book about climbing, though,” I said, brandishing a copy of Brendan Leonard’s new, bright-yellow book, Sixty Meters to Anywhere. “Have you guys been climbing since we last went?”

No!” the woman says. “We’ve tried to get out with Meg a few times, but it hasn’t happened.”

“I’ve got a rope and draws with me,” I said. “I could take you.”

We worked for a few hours, and then skipped off at 4:30, rushing home to grab our climbing gear, reconvene, and squeeze in some evening laps before the daylight died in Boulder Canyon.
We cheers over a few post-climb ciders and a vegetarian pie at Backcountry Pizza. Glad I ran into you two, I say. That was fun.

“I just feel so good after I climb,” the woman says. “I really want to learn more!”

This sentiment is what lies at the center of Brendan Leonard’s memoir, Sixty Meters to Anywhere.

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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)