Conversations Across America

Loya, Kari. Conversations Across America: a Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerican Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America. XK Productions, 2022.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. This was a December pick that I am just getting around to reading now.

Father and son embark on a 73 day, 4,200 mile adventure from Virginia to Oregon,
My favorite part in the entire book was when Kari’s life rolled by as if it were a memory from a movie.
From the moment I opened Conversations on my laptop I regretted not having the coffee table version Kari mentioned. Some of the landscape photography is absolutely gorgeous. However, here is what you need to know two-thirds of the book are photographs of ordinary people with their accompanying “stories.” Some of the stories are interesting or even heartfelt, but a great deal of them are exclamations about Merv’s age or the number of miles they are trying to bike. Wow is a common refrain.
My only detractor? The sheer volume of stories or conversations overshadowed the beauty of the father/son narrative. I tracked how many pages were dedicated to Loya’s personal journey compared to the pages of “conversations” and the ratio was 1:3. Additionally, the same “conversation” is in the narrative so I felt like I was reading the passages twice.
My favorite section of the book was the end where Loya included a partial list of the gear they carried, their itinerary of the different stages, and the half-time report about dogs and meals.

As an aside, were there really 2,000 filing cabinets? The bit about the trampoline was funny. I also felt Loya was a little judgmental about AT hikers. That’s acceptable if he has hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entity himself and can make a comparison based on his experiences.

Author fact: Kari was trying to sell his home in New Jersey while trying to bike across America with his father.

Book trivia: there is a ton of beautiful photography in Conversations.

Playlist: “New York” by Frank Sinatra, Chariots of Fire, Beach Boys, Def Leppard, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Quincy Jones, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Vivaldi, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jack Johnson (Hawaiian music).

Working Poor

Shipler, David K. The Working Poor: Invisible in America. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

You could either pick up The Working Poor and feel really good about your own situation (if you are employed and are living well within your means) or you could read it and feel absolutely terrible for a myriad of reasons; you feel guilty about your well-off situation or you, yourself are feeling the stress of mounting debt and the growing impossibility of making ends meet. Shipler takes an unflinching look at the men and women trying to stay afloat financially as well as emotionally when they are mired in a variety of debts. He interviews men and women from all walks of life; the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have no choice but to feel something for these people. The myriad of emotions range from pity to disgust and everything in between.

Interesting lines (food for thought), “For practically every family, then, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present” (p 11), “She could not afford to put her own two children in the daycare center where she worked” (p 39), and “Everyone’s life had a price” (p 98).

Reason read: America’s birthday…although this book isn’t about America’s finest hour.

Author fact: Shipler won a Pulitzer for Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land which is also on my Lust List.

Book trivia: Working Poor was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Guilt Inducing Books” (p 111). Here’s the thing. Reading this book didn’t necessarily make me feel guilty about my personal situation. I am a first generation college kid and I worked hard hard to get where I am today. However, what this book made me feel more than anything was frustration. Obviously, our system doesn’t work.

“America To Me”

Van Dyke, Henry. “America To Me. ” The Poems of Henry Van Dyke. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911. p 167 – 168.

“America To Me” is begging to be set to music. In my mind it has all the makings of a really great patriotic song, complete with cheerful verse and enthusiastic chorus. It is the perfect post-9/11 anthem; a rally of sorts. It’s simple in its message: a traveling individual has grown tired of the Old Country. He (or she) has seen enough of France, Italy and England. It is simply time to go home, back to young America. After all, as Van Dyke has quoted Frank Baum, “there is no place like home.”

Favorite line, “I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea…” (p 168).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travelers Tales in Verse” (p 237). Read in April for poetry month.

December Was…

img_0030December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
  • A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
  • A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
  • Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
  • ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
  • Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).

For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).

Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.

So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.

Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!

American Century


Evans, Harold. The American Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Weighing in at over 700 pages, American Century is nothing short of gorgeous. Bold black and white photos stand out on nearly every page, while satiric comics adorn the others. I have always loved the Brown Brothers photo of the construction workers on the Woolworth Building and was pleasantly surprised to see its inclusion on page xvii. 

I liked learning that President Cleveland bought the “dirt” on an opponent and upon receiving the envelope burned it, unopened, on the spot. He also suffered from cancer of the mouth and had an entire artificial jaw.

“You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don’t ask silly questions” (p 332).
Here’s the LibraryThing version of my review:
“Any history buff should have this sitting on his or her shelf (and have a shelf sturdy enough to support this 700+ book). Chock full of intriguing cartoons and mesmerizing photographs, American Century covers every aspect of U.S. history from 1889 to the mid 1990s. Well written with commentaries and first hand accounts, history comes alive. The people, the politics, the power, the pitiful downfalls. The 20th century is laid out and every historical moment of worth is described and detailed.”

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter “American History: Fiction” (p 21). I have to explain that this isn’t fiction. Pearl referenced The American Century while talking about Ken Baker’s novels. Ken Baker helped Harold Evans with The American Century.