| July 14, 2010 8:30 am

Summer-Path_thumb[3]One of the many things for which I use my Audible.com account is to track interesting books.  Whenever someone sends me an interesting review, or mentions a book in passing, the very first thing I do is add it to the “Audible.com” wish list.  After all, every month I get to download two new books, and keeping the list stocked ensures that I’ve always got something interesting on hand.

In the (nearly) ten years that I’ve been a member of Audible, I’ve accumulated quite a list.  it includes fiction books and non-fiction books across all genres.  You can find science fiction and fantasy (what can I say, I’m a whore for space ships, explosions and swords) in addition to titles covering history, business, science, religion, economics, New Age enlightenment and genres that I’m not sure I can even put a name to.

(Due to the Audible subscription and aforementioned two books a month, I’m a great deal more adventurous than if I were actually paying full price.)

As I browse the list, I can tell you where most of the books originated from.  Some are from the recommendations of friends.  Others I saw mentioned on blogs.  Still others came from browsing the Audible site and reading the reviews.

But even though I know where most of the recommendations originated, there are a few that I just can’t place.  Logically, I understand that I must have put them there, it’s just that I can’t remember doing it.

(Which means that I shall blame it on elves, fairies, or aliens; because those explanations are infinitely more interesting than merely saying, “I don’t remember doing that.”  Logic be damned.)

Sometimes these books are tremendous surprises.  God is Not Great (How Religion Poisons Everything) was one such find.  I passionately disagreed with nearly every word, and had a marvelous time doing so.  (Plus it’s written and read by Christopher Hitchens, who is one of the greatest essayists writing in the English language.) As was the Historian, a ridiculous vampire novel with spectacular research covering the life of Vlad Tepes, the fall of Constantinople and the destruction of the Eastern Roman Empire.

And sometimes these books are disasters.  Summer’s Path, by Scott Blum, is one such disaster; and it’s not a small one, either.  It’s a full Hindenburgesque monstrosity with plot implosions, brain sucking aliens and everything.

1.

Which is why, frankly, I want to know how the damn thing ended up on my reading list!  Just reading the book’s description should be enough to broadcast, “Warning! Train Wreck!”:

Summer’s Path is the remarkable story of Don Newport, an engineer that comes face to face with his personal destiny under extraordinary circumstances.  After losing his job and his health insurance, Don learns he has a terminal disease with only a few months left to live.  On his death be, he meets Robert, a brazen angel of death that promises to help Don with a graceful exit.

As Don prepares to say his last goodbyes to his loving wife, Robert attempts to change Don’s perspective about his mortality and proposes an exceptionally unique option.  Robert leads Don through an astounding meditation of life and death and reveals various healing and spiritual concepts including walk-ins, embodiment and soul destiny …

Ad copy that includes the phrases “meditation of life and death” or “reveals various healing and spiritual concepts” should send you to the exit quickly and screaming.  They’re warning signs that Whatever Is Contained Within should probably stay there, no matter how interesting it might appear at first glance.  It’s like the stupid teenager in the slasher movie who hears noises and goes to the window to look.  You just know it’s going to be a catastrophe.  (If she were smart, she’d be grabbing the shotgun and waiting patiently in the corner.)

The only more obvious warning would have been the inclusion of, “[help him] come face to face with his personal destiny under extraordinary circumstances.”  Except, oh, wait …

Nor do I typically have a problem leaving garbage behind should I find myself confronted by it.  Not every book (or article) can connect with every reader.  It’s to be expected.  If a book fails to resonate with me, my practice has been to let it lie.  There are so many brilliant pieces of literature available, why would you indulge mediocrity?

“So, why,” you ask, “didn’t you just set Summer’s Path aside?  Don’t you have something better to read?”

As it turns out, that’s a really good question.  I certainly could have put Summer’s Path aside and found something more interesting to read … but … there are times when that’s really hard.  There are some books that are so terrible that you simply can’t look away.  They tap into your hard-wired gore reflexes in exactly the same way as traffic jams and fires.

Such literary train wrecks grip as well as spy novels and action flicks, even though we know that they should be set aside.  Sure, they may be killing brain cells as quickly as high altitude or mind altering drugs, but … we just don’t care.  We simply can’t give them up.

2.

Now that I’ve made it clear just how generally awful the book is, it’s probably time to provide specific evidence.  That’s what book reviews do, right?

….

Except … I’m not even sure where to start.  The book is so terrible that I can’t even properly eviscerate it.  Instead, I’ll simply start at the beginning and go from there.The Stupid, It Burns!

The book starts off without obvious issues.  It opens on the story of an engineer that has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and is faced with his last few months of life.

As far as openings go, not bad.  Emotional trauma and impending loss are universal themes and can lead to profound places.  It even resonates with my recent experience.

In March of this year, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  In April, she died.  The disease struck quickly and the transformation was terrible.

In march my grandmother was healthy and vibrant.  In April, her body was wracked with agony and her mind had deteriorated.  No one needs to preach to me about the horrors of cancer, or stress its evil nature.

Summer’s Path does an adequate job of describing the despair behind learning that you are diagnosed with an aggressive disease.  It covers the uncertainty associated with diagnosis and even paints a realistic picture of the insurance worries and unpaid bills.  Somewhere in there, though, it takes a 90 degree turn to reality.

I’m not sure if it was the scene where the “angel of death” (Robert) tells the protagonist (Don) that he can “transcend” (meaning cure) his cancer by releasing his negative energy.  Or the scene where Robert/Don actually does this by lying on his back and “giving voice” to his fears.  (Meaning that he lied on his bed and screamed at the top of his lungs and cried a lot.)  Or where Robert/Don (with Don now cast in the role of a black Labrador puppy) fake their own deaths so that they can pursue a poorly defined karmic destiny.

I really wish I knew at what point the book fell apart completely.  Or when I realized that the terrible writing, laughable plot, or offensive ideas combine to reach new levels of meta-horrible.  Really, I do.

I’d also like to say that I hated the book because I’m biased, or because I think that, collectively, most New Age Mystics™ have as much credibility as a used car salesman pedaling Leprechaun toenails.  But, when it comes to the New-Age movement, I’m actually pretty open minded.

3.

Immediately after high school and during my time as an undergraduate, I worked as a horse trainer.  I taught riding lessons, started green horses and worked with “problems”.  If I had to classify my training philosophy and methods (which I generally avoid doing), they would probably fit into the category of “Natural Horsemanship.”

”Natural Horsemanship” is a label and can be accurately applied to a huge cross-section of different training styles.  These include crusty old cowboys as well as new-age kooks and mystics.  For this reason, my horse clientele and list of friends is rather eclectic; and also for this reason, I’ve traded in the Land of Very Strange Ideas.

I can talk energy transference, spiritual balance, and karmic resonance with the best of them.  I’ve attended “embodiment workshops” and buy into the notions of physical balance and emotional connectedness …

Let me put it this way, I have the potential to be a very sympathetic audience.  (Insomuch as a scientist can be, I suppose.)  But, I’m obviously not.  In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I thought the book six varieties of ghastly.

It belittles the suffering of cancer patients and their families, encourages readers to manipulate/mislead family members, and advocates that pushing cars off cliffs is a good way to leave troubles behind.  The book is past eclectic, through eccentric, and beyond painfully uncomfortable.  In at least three ways, it sets a new record for strange.

It’s terrible!

….

And that’s precisely why it’ll sell millions.

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