Book Report · Leadership · Life

Re-Reading on the Road

Wrote this several months ago, but forgot to post it. Hope you like it.


The first time I read Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato I was sitting on the roof-top terrace of the Rex Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It was dark, I was 22, sipping a gin and tonic, and listening to the common night-time sounds of an incredible city in Southeast Asia.

This time I’m 40, on a business trip, sitting in a hotel bar in Houston, TX. I’m still sipping on a gin and tonic and this time listening to the common sounds of hotel bars across North America.

It’s amazing though how taste, words, and sounds tie a life together. I’ve re-read several books lately from my younger days and can’t recommend it enough. Rather than chasing the latest writer, revisit the favorites of your youth.

  • The same story means something different to your 40-year-old self than your 20-year-old self. That realization has hit me over and over. It’s a completely different experience.
  • The re-reading takes your mind back to that time and place. Midway through the first chapter of Going After Cacciato, I was back in Vietnam, back on Semester at Sea. I could smell Southeast Asia. I felt the night heat, the enthusiasm of my 20s. Careful…it’s a slippery slope. Trust me.
  • It makes me wonder where I will be, what I will remember, when I read it again as a 60-year-old. Which character in the story will I identify with then?

It’s also important to read when we travel because the stories serve as quick passages to our earlier selves. These time capsules allow us to continually check in with ourselves. They allow us to take a step back from our current self and realize how we have grown and changed.

I read several Paul Theroux novels while traveling through Europe on my honeymoon and now when I pick up Saint Jack, I can taste the bread and wine Kelley and I enjoyed on the Col Du Tourmalet watching Tour De France riders suffer up that mountain.

While living in Sosua, DR for several months I read much of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee saga and recently rereading A Deadly Shade of a Gold, I not only checked in with Trav, and Meyer, but checked in with myself and remembered my thoughts during that point in life and how it felt to run on that sandy beach each morning.

Time is finite, and as many of us do, I often fall into chasing the latest title or gadget to make sure I don’t miss something exceptional. That affliction though often results in lukewarm and generic experiences.

By our 40s shouldn’t we know what quality means to us? I think so. The hard part is owning it and recognizing that now we go deeper into that quality. Not putting total blinders on to newness, but rather becoming better versions of our 20-year-old selves.

Whether reading Going After Cacciato on the roof of the Rex Hotel in Vietnam or at a cheesy hotel bar in Houston, our goal is the same as the protagonist in that story – self-acceptance. So maybe it’s not total blinders to newness, but the filter to get past our defenses must be strong. Stand watch, just like Private First Class Paul Berlin.

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