Book of the Year: The Winner Is…

I have read many good books in 2021, but Jerry Steimel’s Chasing Zorba jumped out at me for my book of the year. You will enjoy getting to know Jerry and his journey will intrigue you on several levels.

Oh, by the way, one follower of this blog found the answer to my find-the-book challenge within minutes. Well done, Jeff.

I am pleased to republish my discussion about Chasing Zorba below.

In 1972, Jerry Steimel graduated college, jumped in a VW Beetle with his lifelong friend, and set out to live his dream, a cross-country trip to California. But his VW Bug had other ideas, quickly ending the trip with mechanical breakdown.

Steimel’s dream wasn’t deterred. Forty-five years later, he jumped in another Volkswagen, a 1973 air-cooled van, and set out from his home in Massachusetts for another try, this time solo. But Jerry Steimel hardly traveled alone.

In Chasing Zorba: A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, he is guided by author Nikos Kazantzakis and his book, Report to Greco, whose life lessons begin each chapter. He names his van Zorba after Kazantzakis’ book Zorba the Greek. Steimel’s goal: California. And so much more.

Some call his plan lunacy. But Steimel is out to discover comfort in taking risks rather than living as if he is just waiting to die. He doesn’t hurry, neither in his writing nor his driving, and his literary and physical journeys are a meander. But, in the end, the book rushes up and grabs readers before leaving them with memories anchored in what it means to live life to its fullest.

Steimel goes to great lengths to find places, like the West Virginia site where four high school boys launched rockets and their lives to heights beyond their wildest dreams. It is the site of the film October Sky, which Steimel watched a dozen times. That figures, you see, because Jerry devoted 45 years to social work, lifting kids who needed an extra push.

Steimel weaves places and American history with the people he meets as he drives mostly back roads, having to stop more than now and then to take Zorba to mechanics for adjustments. The journey tests Steimel and Zorba in ways they could never have anticipated.

The author and his VW Bus still miss the turn of the key every morning. And I miss wondering what is around their next turn.

Rocket Boys: A Great American Comeback

Sputnik’s launch in 1957 thrust the Soviet Union into first place in the space race, causing fear about where its domination would lead.

But for some Americans, like Homer “Sonny” Hickam, the launch was just what they needed to transform imagination, ingenuity and hard work into a great American success story. From 1957 through 1960, Sonny and his West Virginia high school classmates, as the Big Creek Missile Agency, fired off 35 rockets, some wildly successful, some wildly disastrous.

Nearly four decades later, Hickam published Rocket Boys, a memoir that has flown off the shelves since, leading to the acclaimed film October Sky.

The boys dreamed that they would go to the moon, that their rockets would reach space, that they would escape a life working in the coal mine in Coalwood, West Virginia. But, in their wildest dreams, they could not have foreseen where their experiments would take them, their families, their community, their nation. As badly as Homer and his fellow scientists wanted out of Coalwood, their hometown came through for them when everything they had worked for was on the line.

Rocket Boys is an inspiring story for those who value education, community, family, and the dreams of kids growing up in West Virginia–or anywhere.