Book Reviews

Take A Seat
Dominic Gill
Mainstream, May 2010, 288 pages

In June 2006, Dominic Gill set into motion one of the boldest and most creative adventures ever conceived. He decided to ride a tandem bicycle from the northern point of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina— nearly 20,000 miles—and simply ask for volunteers to ride with him along the way. In a nutshell, any stranger willing to ride a couple hours or a couple days was welcome to join him. Just as he had hoped, many of the strangers became friends, and the broad array of willing souls contributed so much to his trip that he actually toiled with the question about which facet had a greater impact: the nearly impossible, lonely miles or the countless strangers that opened up to him.

Take a Seat recounts the twenty-six months when Gill passed through fifteen countries on the west coast of the Americas. His adventure easily surpasses other modern day adventurers due to his clever initial premise of riding a two-person bike solo, while his stirring British wit delivers two years worth of bizarre encounters and unique “stoker” companions.

Gill pedals with a renowned PhD scientist. He takes rest at a roadside bar that features women’s panties hanging from the ceiling. He is pursued by a man waving a machete. He recounts some of his failed relationships, visits a unique oasis in the middle of a salt lake, rides past very active volcanoes, and learns that it’s illegal to ride a bike across the Panama Canal. Whenever he isn’t crossing a border or passing through drug-cartel territory, he’s sleeping on the floor of a fire station or making friends with thousands of admirers who can’t believe anyone would ride a bike so far.

Every chapter holds a fantastic story. Although he isn’t a polished writer, Gill draws from a deep well of rich and astonishing circumstances. In the course of riding across two continents, he shares his tandem bike with over 270 riders and then proceeds to share the entire adventure in his book. This wasn’t an ordinary bike ride, and this isn’t an ordinary book.

Jon Jonckers

In Earshot Of Water: Notes From The Columbia Plateau
Paul Lindholdt
University of Iowa , 2011, 162 pages

In this collection of fourteen essays, Paul Lindholdt reveals decades of observations of nature and human impacts on nature in the Pacific Northwest. The reader must keep in mind that these are “Notes from the Columbia Plateau” not about the Columbia Plateau. Don’t expect a lot on the shrub-steppe biome of the Plateau. Lindholdt does establish a powerful sense of the “place” we call home. Though Spokane sits on the northeastern edge of the Columbia Plateau, most of us extend our vision of “home” across the Cascades into Puget Sound and into the communities, lakes, streams and mountains of the Idaho Panhandle and even Western Montana. Lindholdt explores all these regions.

Within and among these essays, Lindholdt weaves threads of father-son relationships, environmental activism and natural history into a complex cloth of personal awareness—including at least two of these elements in each essay, ties the collection into a cohesive whole.

Presented somewhat chronologically, the essays give us a view of Lindholdt’s changing life view engendered by his observation of nature and human impacts on nature. From hunting bear with his father to exposing his own young son to firearms, we see a willingness to allow the new generation to develop its own opinion of guns and their use. Through these essays, we see Lindholdt grow from one comfortable with manual labor to one needing the mental challenge of an academic career. Lindholdt bares himself in such a way that the reader can see competing motivational forces driving his personal and intellectual development.

At times some of the pieces become weighted down with academic details, but they each succeed in revealing a bit more of Lindholdt’s character. In the end, Lindholdt laments the mental chaos caused by imposition of technology on our lives—noting that hours of exposure to the computers, phones and other electronic paraphernalia “make me ache to lie down within earshot of water.” In a way, reading these essays can convey that same sense of calm.

Stan Miller

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