Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Called Again: A story of love and triumph": A Book Review

 Jennifer Pharr Davis eats mountaintops for breakfast—and lunch, dinner, and evening snack. Up and over those rocky crags she goes. Across gassy balds. Through shaded path and traversing boulder fields. When the shine shines and gentle breezes blow, and when the sleet drives sideways and the gales threaten to topple her off the peak, JPD climbs ever higher. She knows each one by name and they know her.

Yes, Jen is a mountain conqueror. But the presence of a mountaintop always requires a valley, often deep. Sometimes the valley is lush and green, a respite from the loftier peaks. But mostly, the valley is merely a prelude before the next peak calls out again; a sirens call to those who choose to rise and meet he to those who are truly called again.

“Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph” is the true tale of a young woman’s love affair with the Appalachian Trail (AT). But it is equally a story of the love affair with her husband. And it is those two loves that keep her feet to the ground in her quest for the overall speed record on the AT.  

To say Jennifer is a seasoned hiker would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. While most her age are content to assume nine-to-five responsibilities after negotiating the demands and guilty pleasures of college life, Jen logged thousands of miles on long, demanding trails. Twice before, she treaded upon every inch of the Appalachian Trail; a trail that snakes its way between Springer Mountain, Georgia and the rocky summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Once, a heavy backpack rested on her shoulders as she trekked northward. The second time, she set off from Maine to travel south. Two weeks prior to that adventure she said “I do” to her man as well as her trail. In doing so, the woman’s speed record became her own fifty-seven days later.

But in “Called Again,” JPD recalls her forty-six days in 2011 on the same trail. This time, when she touched the plaque marking the southern terminus amidst a crowd of family and friends, she became the fasted person EVER to complete the journey. Every word, paragraph, and chapter of her newest book reveals the most memorable moments of the journey. But even more so, every word, paragraph, and chapter peels back the mind, the psyche, of this extraordinary athlete and adventurer. The reader peers directly into the soul that had enough courage to hike into the abyss of pain and misery, relentless miles, and countless difficulties—and back out again in triumph.

JPD’s writing is both clear and descriptive. Her creative style and use of appropriate analogies makes “Called Again” the kind of book that causes the reader angst to have to put it down before turning the last page. It is so much more than a trail travelogue. There is none of the standard, uninspired “I did this and then I did that” kind of writing. Rather, the reader is pulled inside the very mind of JPD. You begin to understand the essence of the endeavor, the gigantic, herculean effort it took to survive. The reader will have nothing but profound respect for Jen, Brew (husband and crew chief), and their accomplishments.

However, with that being said, the reader must understand there is a danger in reading the book. It will become all too clear that Jennifer is an extraordinary individual who has accomplished extraordinary things. In contrast, the reader may become all too aware of his or her own failures. “How many times have I quit?” you might ask. “How could I possibly complain about a blister when there is nary a mention or complaint about the decimation of her own feet over those forty-six days?” If the standard reader is anything like me, there is a chance of feeling inadequate (and maybe even incapable) of succeeding at much of anything.

Nevertheless, regardless of transient feelings of failure by comparison, the greater message is one of hope and perseverance, purpose and commitment. Jennifer is a hiker by God’s design. So hike she must. The rest of us may not be called to hike long-distance trails but we all have God-given purpose. “Called Again” guides the reader in finding purpose and setting a course. The inevitable result will be sleepless nights of profound introspection and thought-filled days, searching for love and triumph as we seek to  execute God’s purpose for us.

"Called Again" is set for release in June 2013 (Beaufort Books)

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