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For the audience not familiar with Peart's day job, "Far and Away" is a treasure of travel literature, both between geographic locales and between ideas. The casual tone of the work belies its attention to the craft of writing. Much as Rush fans practice playing "YYZ" repeatedly just for the joy of it, Peart practices writing for the pleasure of creating a finely tuned, precise, meaningful phrase. The essays stand on their own, and anyone who appreciates the patient, meticulous, loving effort of good writing will be satisfied - and grateful.
Thus, the typical Rush/Neil Peart fan will find this work interesting, as will motorcyclists, travelers and anyone seeking a well-written work by a humble, private author. Several things come to mind which have vastly changed from Neil's last work: Pictures...yes, pictures!! Thank you, Mr. Peart. You have endeared the hearts of many motorcyclists around the world who treasure reading of your visits to places that they will never get to ride through. One word of advice, however, is that it would seem satisfactory if you took a few pictures here and there of the scenery and not just your head-inside-the-helmet-next-to-the-scenery. Seems to be a little too much taking one hand off of the bars, while you snap the picture. Just sayin'...
The other thing that has changed in the tone of the book is that the mood generally seems light-hearted and happier. The dislike for fan encounter is really absent from this book. After having read all of Neil's books, I know that this is an issue that has just plain worn him out. Frankly, I can't say I blame him. In his own words, he just wants to be "a guy" and certainly not adulated in every public place that he goes. Being followed for miles while on a tour bus is probably not one of his greatest aspirations in life.....nor is being called by a stranger who just left a six-pack outside his hotel room door in the middle of the night. I wouldn't say that Neil is ungrateful - just that he prefers to be a little more "low-key" than Geddy and Alex. I think I would, at that point, too...
Even if you weren't a Neil Peart/Rush fan or a motorcyclist, Neil's style as an author is engaging and quite humorous. From the Dizzy Dean quotes, to other "fun facts", Neil is always full of knowledge on different subjects and is quite interesting, causing the reader to lose him/herself in whatever he is describing: wearing full motorcycle gear in all climates, the hummingbird family in his backyard in California, snow-shoeing in Canada, the mysterious cell-phone tower in the distance, etc...
The tone in the opening pages of the book is set with Neil declaring that this is a "book of letters, and a serial memoir, and a travel book that includes motorcycling, drumming, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, natural history, human history, birdwatching, hiking, driving, church signs, amateur philosophy and....pretty much everything".
Despite the verbal "swats" that Neil takes at religion, the book is packed with adventure of his tours on the road and some not-so-great moments, e.g. hitting the deer on his motorcycle and Neil showing the humanistic side of himself (as any animal-loving human would do). It also offers some very astute advice, coming from someone that should really be a spokesperson for motorcycle safety, having logged as many miles as Neil has: the need to wear full-dress in all weather, in all states. Like Neil, I can't imagine heading out on a bike with head and body exposed, especially at highway speeds.
What I really love about this book is not only the fact that it's chock full of great stories involving motorcycling, drumming, Rush and the Neil's private life, away from music; it's the specific captivating style that Neil tends to absorb the reader in, except this time around, the pictures make it so complete. He can easily transition from a motorcycling trip that culminates in a celebration of fine dining, to his project involving the Drum Channel, to writing about marine life, as in "Under The Marine Layer".
Perhaps one of the most significant things about "Far and Away" is that Neil is smiling again, at least on the outside. One has to wonder with certain mention in this book, as well as the fast-forward to the sometimes dark themes of "Clockwork Angels" if the smile isn't really a brilliant disguise. Even so, we'll take it for what it's worth.
Truth be told, there's a very humorous guy inside Neil Peart who can easily express himself through his pen. In this state and behind the drum kit, Neil is very much in command and at ease. I enjoyed his parody in "Far and Away" of riding in his Aston-Martin DB5 to the lyrics of "Red Barchetta", one of my favorite Rush songs from "Moving Pictures".
In the later part of the book, one can also get a sense that a career of constant touring, especially in the early days, have taken their tolls on the three members of Rush, especially as expressed by Neil. One can be quite positive that it is more difficult each time the band tours to go out on the road and do it, no matter the love for the music. In his own words in this book, drumming is a "grim, arduous, sometimes painful job".
Sometimes...just sometimes, Neil seems to overstep himself with his opinions on topics such as religion, as he does ever-so-subtly in this book. Interestingly enough, on his own website, Neil proclaims that he doesn't want the "taint" of being a faith-basher, yet he does it with just about every comment he makes in that particular direction.
Realistically, regarding the church signs and amateur philosophy that Neil alludes to in the early pages of the book, his own description of his philosophy as being "amateur" about sizes it up when it comes to certain topics. It IS amateur. As far as religion, if Neil could just leave it out of his work, it would probably save him the "taint" he wants to avoid about being a faith-basher. Even so, Neil is not shy about it all, at least in writing. His response to Blaise Pascal's theorem that it is "safer" to believe in God than not, because you have nothing to lose if you're right, and everything to lose if you're wrong was "Man up, Pascal!"... to which I reply, "Man up, Elwood!" As brilliant and interesting as Neil's writing is, he sometimes overextends his opinion as fact, as if he has falsified the non-falsifiable hypothesis and proven that he was descended from an amoeba.... While I didn't openly declare Pascal as being right, I also didn't declare him wrong.
Moreover to the point above, Neil preaches (sorry, no pun intended) about tolerance and respect, yet he can only personally agree to the tolerance part of it and not the respect. To quote Neil, "Those who attribute spiritual power to geological formations, a humorless deity, or articles of clothing (think Catholic, Hasidic, Mormon or Buddhist) are difficult to respect - not so much for their magic but for their vanity". To me, that's a fairly blunt remark to make in a book that's pretty much of a different tone... but that's all part of Neil's attempt at "amateur philosophy", as is labeling holy holidays (Christmas, nonetheless, even though he didn't say it openly) as "meaningless rituals and customs"... It's this "blemish" that the author doesn't seem to get that he doesn't have to respect others' traditions, but he also doesn't have to exemplify and bash them in every book. It's also sad from Neil's writing about love and respect as in "The Garden", with respect being somewhat arbitrary on his behalf.
Overall, this is a great work - full of great stories inside the mind and life of Neil Peart, who is undeniably a premier icon in the world of drumming, progressive music and modern music...
What I would advise against is reading it in January if you own a motorcycle live somewhere like Sweden, because you'll find yourself wandering into the garage on a more regular basis, looking longingly at your pickled motorcycle and wishing the snow would go away. Reading Far and Away is like taking a whiff of cigarette smoke after you've quit smoking for three months. Though, on the upside, it fires the imagination to start planning trips once the bike's back on the road.
Loved the book. It drops a star for a number of grammar issues, but they don't really detract from the content.
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