John R. Morris
The World We Left Behind (2016)
Reviewed by David K. McDonnell for Reader Views (02/16)
Article first published as Book Review: ‘The World We Left Behind: A Journey from Georgia to Maine (Book One)’ by John R. Morris on Blogcritics.
“The World We Left Behind” by John R. Morris is an introspective journal, the first of a three-part series, of a young man’s hike along the Appalachian Trail. It is a general interest memoir, which begins with Morris’ pre-hike decision to take the hike.
Morris and his fiancé broke up, he suffered from depression, he was in what he thought was a dead-end job, he was tired of living “paycheck to paycheck,” and he drank to excess. Morris looked beyond the present and concluded that the rest of his life would be the same, barring some dramatic, even seismic shift. Some would make this shift by finding a new job, going back to school, or quitting alcohol, or finding a new love (which Morris also did). Morris chose a 2,000 mile, 8½-month hike from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. A bit much, perhaps, but it was his choice to make.
The book is not, and is not intended to be, a guide for hikers. It does, nevertheless, provide some insight into the Appalachian Trail. The trail was crowded, and Morris saw more people than wildlife. Lessons were learned about equipment, including the pitfalls of “going cheap,” particularly when purchasing boots and tents. Readers unfamiliar with the trail will learn about trail markers, hiker jargon, the often strange and as often interesting characters met on the trail, hostels and cheap (and often dirty) motels. And, while it should be obvious with any outdoor activity, readers will also be reminded about the importance of weather, and preparedness for adverse weather, for a successful hike.
The author did find time for some much-needed soul searching, and to record his experience in his journal. “The World We Left Behind” appears to be the collection of regular journal entries made during the trek. As such, it is extremely well written. Descriptions are detailed, and the dialogue flows well. I would have enjoyed reading these regular entries and following the author’s progress – both along the trail and in his personal introspection.
The problem though is converting a very good journal into a full-length book (and, ultimately, three books). What is lacking is conflict, the sort of which engages readers and makes the story a compelling adventure. “The World We Left Behind” is a bit like “Deliverance” if that story was merely about a canoe trip, or “Into the Wild,” if the protagonist hadn’t starved to death in Alaska. Morris did have a near-death experience on the trail (which I won’t spoil by describing), but there was no build-up or suspense relating to the experience.
The book, though, is not about the author’s near-death experience or other hardships along the Appalachian Trail, except to the extent that they intensify his reflections about himself and his life. We do not see the end of these reflections, nor any conclusion to Morris’ personal quest. That likely waits for the second or third book in the series. Perhaps there is no end, nor should there be. The adventure of life is in the journey. “The World We Left Behind” by John R. Morris is an excellent snapshot into one troubled man’s journey to discover his life’s meaning.