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What I'm Reading (No. 32): biking the Silk Road + tips for hosts
While I did also finish a biography this week (of President #2, Mr. John Adams), I figured I'd give you all a break from a huge bio (at least for this week) and instead feature a biking memoir/travelogue and a practical look at being a better host.
Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
I'm not a biker. I don't even actually own a bicycle. So you wouldn't think a book about a bike ride would be at the top of my reading list. And yet, adventurer Kate Harris has provided what's sure to be one of my favorite books of the year. Like top 5 (of about 60 so far in 2018).
While the book is peppered with brief, entertaining vignettes about some of Kate's early travels (she was born an adventurer), the meat of her story is a yearlong bike ride following the Silk Road with her pal Mel. Equal parts funny, deeply sentimental, and poetically, brilliantly written, Harris takes us not only through the nearly indistinguishable "stans” of Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, etc.), but also through the history and current state of adventuring.
This is truly a memoir of beautiful contrasts: broken and impoverished landscapes vs. incomparable mountain vistas; repugnant sights and smells vs. euphoric baklava hangovers; geographic neighbors at war vs. the moving hospitality of total strangers; grueling physical demands vs. the sublimity of reaching the top of a hard-won mountain pass in hostile territories.
Above all, I think, Lands of Lost Borders is an exhortation to live a life of adventure: “Explorers might be extinct, in the historic sense of the vocation,” she writes, "but exploring still exists, will always exist: In the basic longing to learn what in the universe we are doing here."
May we aspire, with Kate, to always prefer "storms and scurvy any day over a slow, pale death by computer screen and Diet Coke."
This book is inspiring, moving, heartfelt, and quite often breathtaking.
It's one that I have no doubt of reading again someday, and I can't recommend it enough, especially for any bikers or folks who love travel and adventure.
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
If you're someone who hosts anything regularly or leads a group of people — be it book club, dinner parties, work meetings, networking events, family holidays, etc. — Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering is a must-read.
With such an artsy cover, for some reason I actually expected more of a meditation on the importance of community and our human need for gathering. Turns out that's not really the case; this is more a practical guidebook on how to be a better host for any sort of club, group, or event you can think of.
Parker is a professional facilitator, and lays out how to turn our generally routine and sometimes boring events into meaningful gatherings. She covers everything from preparing (which she calls 90% of any event's success), to utilizing your power as host to take charge (the most insightful chapter, I thought), to instituting various "rules" and gimmicks to liven things up (this part came off a little unrealistic to me).
It was a quick read, and fairly skimmable. It's chock-full of anecdotes, some of which are really useful, and some of which don't quite feel applicable to folks who aren't pro organizers. When an anecdote wasn't resonating, I happily skipped ahead, and certainly didn't feel like I was missing anything. (Something you should have no shame in doing with non-fiction books, especially ones that are more practical in nature.)
Those slight criticisms aside, and as noted above, it should definitely be on anyone's reading list who regularly gathers people together, be it professionally or personally. If that's not you, skip it.
What have you been reading this week? I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading!