Book Review: Step by Step
About six months ago, my nan and I got into a discussion about the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline and the impact it was having on the local wildlife. It was a fairly innocuous comversation, but pretty baffling considering I had no idea where it came from. Or, indeed, how she even knew about it!
As it turns out, she'd been watching The Americas with Simon Reeve, and one of the segments featured the pipeline. Having never heard of him before, I set about researching who he was. When you study A-Level Geography and have teachers reminding you to 'read outside the course', any little snippet of information can be handy!
Without realising it, his Wikipedia page and the story of his career spurred me on to watch more and more of his travel documentaries on catch up, and when my nan eventually offered me his memoir when she'd finished reading it, I was excited to get started!
First things first - I'm not usually big on memoirs. I don't normally care how people got to the stage they are in life, or what troubles they've faced, but over the years there've been a few people I wanted to know more about. Including Simon Reeve.
He's a journalist, but not really.
He's a traveller, but not really.
He's a film maker, but, you guessed it - not really!
It's hard to pin down exactly who Reeve is through this book, and it's even harder to figure out where he sits within the BBC's personnel. I suppose it makes sense to call him a 'travel documentary maker', but that doesn't fit the bill too well considering he's also an accomplished author and has spent many years pursuing research into various topics around the world.
For the purpose of simplicity, we'll just assume he likes planes.
It's difficult to review someone's own life story, but I was fascinated by the lessons he drew from his trips round the world right from the beginning. It's clear that Reeve has tried to maintain the sense of wonder he had when he hopped on a plane for the first time, and he rarely takes anything for granted. It's obvious from the first page that we're dealing with someone who goes into everything with his mind and eyes wide open.
It was therefore fascinating to see his reflections on his stint with malaria, and how honest he was about how it impacted him afterwards. The openness and frank retelling made me realise that there's a reason he's so compelling to watch on TV! This was continued throughout the book, every anecdote he gave accompanied by a lesson he learned in the process, and whilst this format can sometimes be pretty dated, the dry humour Reeve spreads throughout makes it feel fresh and current.
The way the memoir was structured was interesting too, as the timeline was fairly jumpy. We were first told about his infection with 'ebola' (actually malaria but the assumption's pretty funny) at the start of the book, but no details are clarified until part way through. We then take a trip down memory lane to Reeve's childhood, which makes for interesting, if still sad, reading. Whilst the effects of this jumbled timeline could cause the book to lose its edge and instead descend into chaos, I actually think it's a fairly good reflection of the life of someone who's built their career off saying yes to everything and following their gut instinct. Life is often messy when it's followed this way!
This brings me to one of his overall messages, one that's stuck with me for the three days since I put the book down - just say yes to everything! Obviously, there is a limit (i.e. don't agree to go sky diving without a parachute!) but saying yes to things you think you might not enjoy or things that seem crazy can actually pay off. Whilst you may not enjoy it, the only thing you've lost is a small portion of your time - you can always drop out as soon as you realise you don't want to carry on (contracts with the BBC aside, of course!)
Finally, it's probably important to note that the book is not just a retelling of his travels around the globe. Throughout the pages, Reeve discusses his family losses, the childhood that's nowhere near glamorous, and skims the subject of relationships. This makes for an altogether richer, deeper read, preventing the memoir from reading too much like a 'I've done this, this, this, this, this, and this' and more a 'yes, I've done all those things, but they were hard and here's what I learned.' This is a fairly important distinction, given the sensitive nature of some of his trips, and the overall read was much better because of it. (I find sometimes that people who write about travelling the world can come across as up their own arse.)
Overall, I'd highly recommend reading Simon's book (I highly doubt he cares that I think this, but I'll recommend it all the same!) If you want to learn something about yourself, the world, or both, this is the book for you! And if you're thinking that picking up the memoir of someone you've never heard of is an odd suggestion for me to make, it should be pointed out that we're living in unprecedented times - time to give something unprecedented a go!