I wasn’t quite sure how to categorize Breath & Other Ventures (written by William Bridges, Green Market Press), but for me it was a self-help sort of a book, so I classified it that way. You may very well classify it some other way, which is certainly your right. In reality, this book is both more and less than a self-help book. It won’t help you control your weight or manage your anger, but it does ask an intriguing and thought provoking question, “How do you want to live your life?” It’s a deceptively simple question of the same sort as, “Who are you?” Most people have no idea of who they are, much less how they want to live their life, so this is a helpful book indeed. (Don’t make the mistake of confusing this question with, “What do you want to do with your life?”, which is actually quite easy to answer in comparison.)
The majority of the book is a series of non-fiction short stories—the author uses the term essays. It’s in three parts. The first part is literally about breathing. Although William includes a number of medical terms and diversions in the book, the focus is on the actual act of breathing—something I’ll never look at the same again. You’ll find breathing in all its forms, including the breathing that takes place during various sorts of meditation. I’m not a Zen practitioner, but I do meditate daily to manage stress and make some sense of the chaos that’s my life. Such meditation is Biblical—it’s mentioned more than a few times even though I know most Christians sadly leave meditation out of their lives. By the time you’ve finished this first section, I assure you that you’ll no longer take breathing for granted either.
The second part is my favorite. It’s a series of short historical stories. I found them compelling. In fact, I started reading this section and didn’t put the book down again until I had finished it. The historical section isn’t about major events or places that most people would consider all that exciting. You’ll discover something about average people in Indiana. The stories are all about the author’s relatives in some way, but not necessarily exclusively about his family. He digresses into other areas, which makes for an interesting read. (There is even a ghost story included in the set of stories.) You go down the road and aren’t quite sure what to expect next—the twists and turns keep the eventual goal hidden and elusive.
The essays in the third part of the book are more focused on how the author has lived his life. I probably could have done without the first essay on Obama, but then again, I’m not a political person in the sense that I would go out and protest something, knock on doors, or even make a contribution. On the other hand, I feel quite good about exploring every detail of a politician’s career before voting and will write a letter or two to express my dissatisfaction. For whatever reason, this particular essay didn’t speak to me—perhaps it’ll speak to you. I did enjoy the essay entitled, “Ten Weeks with the Circus” quite a lot (it isn’t actually about the circus—I’ll leave the details of it for you to discover).
The book also has a very short fourth part (19 scant pages) that contains a fictional detective story about GeeGee Dapple. I found the story quite entertaining and a fitting end to the book. There is little doubt in my mind that GeeGee is the author’s alter-ego. It appears that there is a number of these stories and I hope the author eventually puts them together into a compilation. For now, this is the first GeeGee story I’ve read. The addition reminds me of the “final page” entries often found in magazines. It was a nice ending to the book that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the book but is merely meant to entertain—a kind of finishing touch not found in many books today.
If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Garrison Keillor, you’ll enjoy William’s style too. It has that same free flowing musing that Keillor employs in his books. This book isn’t meant to be funny though, so there are some distinct differences in the way the two authors approach things. This author also includes more than few pieces of poetry, most of which I found a good read and thought provoking. The poetry isn’t just stuck in place either (like many books out there), it always has a purpose for being placed precisely where the author has placed it in the book. I found the author’s word choices interesting as well. For example, you’ll find “blissninny” on page 44 (I’ll also leave it to you to discover the meaning of this word). If you want to see some examples of the author’s writing, check out his blog.
So, does this book answer the question, “How do you want to live your life?” Of course it doesn’t! That’s for you to decide. The author is relating a story of how he has decided to live his life and I think the hope is that you’ll spend a few moments pondering your life as well. I certainly found myself pondering mine. If nothing else, this is the sort of book you want to read as part of your own personal voyage of discovery.