This is taken from the November 2022 Newsletter.

Book Recommendation & Words of Wisdom (2 for 1 Special)

I have a real love-hate relationship with books that are adapted into movies or a television series.

I love them because it is interesting to see how the pictures made in my imagination compare to what directors are able to produce on film.

I hate them because of the impossible task directors face of turning a several hundred page book into a short movie, without cutting and changing important details.

My wife doesn’t read quite like I do, but she does like watching the show-versions of the books I read.

She gets to deal with me regularly talking to the TV (and her) saying things like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa… that is NOT how it happened in the book!”

Or “Why would they change that?! Come on! That ruins everything!”

So, that is the preamble for my book recommendation because you can read this book, watch it as a movie, or do both and we can compare notes on what details were left out.

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

This book has woven its way through my life on a number of occasions. Allow me to explain…

Books about War

This book is a true story, written by the author in 1956, recounting his experience of being taken to a Soviet prison camp during WWII, his attempted escape, and his journey to find freedom.

I have a soft spot for those who have lived through the perils of war and any book that covers WWII somehow finds its way into my reading list.

My grandparents
My mother’s parents are Dutch, born and raised in the Netherlands. They survived WWII while many of their friends and family members did not. In 1949, they made their way to America to build a new life. My mom was born in America, but her oldest brother was born in the Netherlands. She was raised in a home where her parents spoke Dutch and her siblings spoke English. Her dad would tell her fantastical tales of him saving the world through his heroic deeds in Holland during WWII. They were fictional, bedtime stories that turned my grandpa into a hero in his daughter’s eyes, and my mom would tell the same bedtime stories to me when I was little.

Well, travel with me ALL the way back to my sophomore year in high school.

One of my older brothers – who was a high school English teacher at the time – recommended The Long Walk.

Now, I wasn’t raised with this particular older brother, and this is important, because if the recommendation came from the brother I was raised with, my punk, 16-year-old self would’ve probably ignored the recommendation.

See, I come from two parents who each had kids from prior marriages.

About 35 years ago, my parents met at a dance, enjoyed each other’s company (maybe a little too much), and a little while later got the surprise of their lives when I came knocking.

Let’s just say that yours truly was the reason my parents were… encouraged… to get married. Maybe compelled is a better word?

I was an accident.

Erik! You can’t talk like that! What would your parents think?!

We speak pretty openly about it. They get these newsletters too, so everything is okay.

Even though I was an accident, they both (I think) will admit that I could’ve turned out a lot worse.

The point is, I grew up with a brother and sister from my mom’s previous marriage while I had another brother and sister who were raised in Ohio by their mom and other dad.

Since I only knew this other brother – the one making the book recommendation – through the occasional visits and because he and I were eerily similar considering we were 10 years apart and raised 1,700 miles away from each other… I really valued his opinion. I liked impressing him. And if he recommended a book, that meant I should read it.

So, I checked out The Long Walk from the library and read it.

The story is remarkable.

The pain and suffering that the human mind and body can endure is literally not able to be believed. The depths of human cruelty can be unfathomable. The book is crazy interesting.

It quickly became my favorite book of my then-16-year-old life.

In one of my high school classes, I had a teacher that was a no-nonsense kind of guy and had a reputation of being strict.

Naturally, I was a little intimidated. I haven’t always been the bubbly personality you see in the videos and am quite shy.

At the beginning of the semester, he sent around a getting-to-know-you questionnaire. One of the questions was, “What is your favorite book?”

You already know my answer.

After class, he called me to his desk.

“Hey, is your favorite book really The Long Walk?!” he asked.

“Uh… yeah. I really like it,” I said nervously.

“The Slavomir Rawicz one? About the guy who attempted an escape from a Russian prison camp?” he asked.

“Uh… yeah. That’s the one,” I said.

From that point, me and this teacher had a cool bond.

We only spoke about it for probably 5 minutes because I had to get to my next class, but just that connection meant he was no longer the big, bad, scary teacher, and was instead – a pretty cool dude.

The story doesn’t end here.

Growing up in Utah, and I imagine many of you reading this are familiar with this concept, I spent two years of my young-adult life in a foreign country.

Loyal readers already know where I went, but leading up to the moment when I would find out where I would be going, people always asked, “where do you WANT to go?”

My best friend in the whole wide world growing up, from 3rd grade all the way to the present day, is Tongan.

I’ve been to countless Tongan weddings, celebrations, luaus, you name it. I love the Polynesian cultures so I WANTED to go to Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii would be cool.

If not a Polynesian island chain, maybe Italy or Switzerland? Those seemed cool.

I told everyone, “I just HATE the cold, so I really don’t care as long as it isn’t Russia.”

If you guessed that I went to Tonga where I’d always dreamed of going because of the island life, beautiful weather, and happy people, you would be incorrect.

By like 100%.

I gave it away though, didn’t I?

My favorite book talks all about the terrible conditions the hero had to endure in Russia.

I hate being cold more than anything.

I said – OUT LOUD – the one place I did NOT want to go.

So… where did I get to spend 2 years?

Russia.

Those two years shaped who I am today when it comes to seeing people for who they are, not for what television or schools or the news tells me they are. I made friends there who I will never forget and who I love like family. I got to walk on some sacred ground where the absolute lowest of lows took place when it comes to the human condition. Bloody battles where countless lives were taken. Homes were obliterated. And all hope was lost. The scars of these events are still evident and unmistakable these 80-years later.

I spent about 6 months in the city of Volgograd – formerly known as Stalingrad.

There is a building kept as a monument as the only one left standing after the Battle of Stalingrad.

By only building left standing, that’s a bit of a stretch… it looks like a building that has been blown up – it just happens to still have 4 semi-erect walls with bullet holes, blown out windows, and a destroyed roof with entire sections of the building missing.

This is the building that was left. The gray building behind it is an incredible memorial museum.

If you’ve ever read the book, Enemy at the Gates or you’ve seen the movie with the same name starring Jude Law as a Russian sniper, that book and story happened in this city.

Very interesting movie, that covers one chapter in this book. Very heavy book to read. Read at your own risk… but that is NOT the book recommendation this month. 

Now, you and I will read things, we will see things, we will hear things that will attempt to compartmentalize entire groups of people into one bucket so that we can immediately judge them and compare this group of people to us in a way that encourages us to side with them, or turn against them. 

I had been in Russia for about 5 months before I came to this city and didn’t feel like I understood or could empathize with Russians much.

Living in this city was a game-changer for me.

It wasn’t until I saw and felt what they had lived through, specifically through the 80 year old scars of this city, that I started feeling differently.

Every Russian I spoke with who was above the age of about 50 at the time, had an immediate family member who was lost in either WWII or during the Stalinist purges.

I’m not talking a distant cousin or even an uncle. I’m talking a grandmother, a grandfather, a mother, a father, a sister or a brother who was there one day and gone the next.

It gets really hard to hate people when you know what they’ve been through.

Erik, I have no idea how any of this applies to your book recommendation.

Yeah, I don’t really either.

The book is amazing. It takes place in Russia during WWII. Now you know I went to Russia – even though I feared Russia because of the book – but because I lived in similar places as the book, I actually grew to love parts of Russia and appreciate the book in a different way.

Crazy. All of that comes from a book I read in high school.

So, go check out the book The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, or, as I mentioned ALL the way at the beginning, you can watch the movie they made about it.

I’m not going to lie to you though, I’m not the biggest fan of the movie. Lots of interesting director choices, but it does have Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in it so… that’s nice.

The movie is called The Way Back and you can watch that on Amazon Prime Video.

So, that is your book recommendation as well as your words of wisdom for this month.

Wait a minute! Erik, where on earth were the words of wisdom?!

Valid question. They are buried in there somewhere I think.

  • Accidents happen, what are you going to do with them?
  • Life sends you places you never wanted to be, what do you do about it?
  • Sometimes awesome, meaningful, life-changing (in a good way) things come from where you least expect them.
  • Humans can be awful and amazing.
  • Reading is pretty cool.

I appreciate you and thank you for reading!

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. Erik,
    This is David Fenton, your cousin from your Dad’s side. Even though you may not know me, I’ve been aware of you from your conception and earliest years. I’ve always kept up on you through your. I’ve enjoyed reading your monthly blogs and book recommendations, most of which I’ve read. You’re an amazing human being with an incredible outlook on life and doing great things. I’m hoping we get the opportunity to talk at a family reunion or other occasion to catch up. It’s interesting that you mentioned wanting to go to Italy. I served my mission there and just got back from taking my family there for a 2 week vacation. We all learned so much. The biggest lesson we came away with is how lucky we are to have what we have and live where we live. As fun as it is to travel to foreign countries and learn about their cultures, it’s also good to realize how good we have it and that we don’t really have much to complain about. Thanks again for sharing your musings.
    -Dave

    Like

    1. Know you and admire you cousin Dave. Always enjoy chatting with you at reunions. Super jealous you went to Italy. Hoping to plan a trip that runs through Italy and Switzerland in the near future.

      Thank you for your kind words and for reading!

      Like

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