Book Review
Hues of my Vision
Ara Gureghian and Spirit

homv_cvrWhen I previewed this book in April, it was with the hope that a Kickstarter campaign would result in a bargain priced offset printed version. Ara had turned to the crowd funding site to facilitate pre-ordering the book in support of a cost saving bulk order. As noted in a mid-May update to the preview, the campaign failed resulting in the price of a hard copy more than doubling from $40.00 to $92.99. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is beautiful.

For those unfamiliar with Ara and Spirit, here’s a quick introduction. In 2006, following the death of his son, Ara Gureghian left his job as a personal chef and, accompanied by a rescued pit bull named Spirit, hit the road on Old Faithful, his BMW motorcycle. Since then, they have crisscrossed the country and spent lots of time in some of its emptier areas. Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash tells the story of those travels. Hues of my Vision contains a selection of the many photographs taken along the way.

There are 61 photographs; Each on its own page accompanied by a quote and a map. The maps mark the location and direction of the photo. The quotes are some that Ara has personally found meaningful. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kahlil Gibran, John Muir, and Dan Aykroyd are among those quoted. Most of the quotes are unique but, whether by accident or design, a few are repeated. The paper is high quality and the pages are large. It’s a real coffee table book from a man and dog who haven’t had a coffee table in quite some time.

homv_intNot surprisingly, many of the photos are of America’s open spaces. Ara has visited and camped in some rather isolated spots and has captured some of their beauty. Canyons, lakes, and improbable shapes carved by wind and water are masterfully recorded and there are many gorgeous sunsets. A quote from Jo Walton really resonated with me:

There is a Sunrise and a Sunset every single day, and they are absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.

Ara hasn’t missed too many during the last nine years and I’d like to think that I’ll not be missing so many from here on out.

Landscapes are in the majority but people and buildings appear, too. Some of those landscapes make marvelous backgrounds for photos of Spirit, Old Faithful, and even Ara himself. Subjects also include other people and animals and an occasional building. In these pictures, Ara has skillfully and artfully recorded the world he has been immersed in for nearly a decade. It’s largely a natural world that most of us only catch short glimpses of from time to time. He continues to report on that world through his blog, The Oasis of my Soul.

The book is available in electronic form for about $20. Is the hard copy worth the more than $70 premium?.I thought it was and am quite happy that I have the “real book” to hold in my hands. However, with the exception of size, I believe that everything I’ve said about the print version applies to the electronic versions as well. They might be just the thing for those without a coffee table. All formats are available here.

Hues of my Vision, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May, 2015), hard cover, 13 x 10 inches, 62 pages

Book Preview
Hues of my Vision
Ara Gureghian and Spirit

homv_cvrThis is the second time I’ve posted a preview but there’s a difference. Hues of my Vision already exists. In my review of Ara’s first book, Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash, I spoke of the wonderful photographs that fill his blog and said I agreed with his decision to not complicate that book or compromise the photos with an attempt to include them. I half expected and wholeheartedly hoped that a photo book would some day appear. Here it is. Sooner than I hoped and at less cost with higher quality than expected.

The traditional method of publishing photo books is expensive. High quality offset printing is really only feasible in quantity which means considerable up front costs. Print on demand books require no up front outlay but have justifiably higher per unit costs. Plus, the digital printing techniques that allow print on demand publishing, while quite good, are not yet the equal of offset printing. Ara has turned to crowd funding as a way to get the cost and quality advantages of offset printing without emptying his not unlimited bank account. In essence what he is doing is using Kickstarter to handle advance orders. If 1000 or more orders are placed during the campaign, backers get an offset printed book for $40 including tax and shipping. Presumably, if the campaign fails, Ara will resort to making the book available through a print on demand facility and folks who really want the book will pay $90 plus tax and shipping for a digitally printed version.

The Kickstarter campaign is here.

Update 13-May-2015: With only eight days remaining in the Kickstarter campaign and a little less than a quarter of the necessary money pledged, the project seems set to fail. That’s a big disappointment all around but is certainly bad news for those of us who were excited about getting a hard copy of the book for $40. Even with a few days left, Ara has decided to go ahead with the backup plan and make a print on demand version available. As expected, the cost is above $90 although electronic versions are also available for much less. Ordering information is here.

It has been just over a year and a half since I posted that first preview. In it I expressed confidence that a book by Andrew Forsthoefel, possibly called Walking to Listen, “…will exist and that it will be worth reading”. I must admit that, while my confidence in its worth remains high, my confidence in its eventual existence has slipped. I still read Andrew’s blog and know that he is still traveling, though not always walking, and he is still listening. I also know that he has struggled with the book. A recent post indicated that he may be ready to dive in and see it through. I hope so.


Book Review
Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash
Ara Guregian and Spirit

fobeoth_cvrI really looked forward to the publication of this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it and expect to enjoy reviewing it once I get started but reviewing a book that is near impossible to describe isn’t all that easy. Saying it is the story of a man and dog traveling around the US on a motorcycle isn’t wrong but it sure is incomplete. The man, Ara Gureghian, and the dog, Spirit, have been traveling around the US on a motorcycle since November of 2006 with no plans to stop. I’ve followed their blog since April, 2007, and I have no plans to stop, either. When they started their journey, they were not leaving a home where they planned to someday return. They did acquire some land fairly early on and they do spend winters there but even it is more of a base camp than what most would call a home. From the beginning, Ara had called his online journal The Oasis of My Soul and the ten acres of Texas that his mother bought for him instantly became known as The Oasis. One definition of oasis is “something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast” and that is something both man and dog needed. Ara had suffered the painful loss of his son and Spirit has suffered abuse from a previous owner. Almost everything — the riding, the writing, the sunrises, the stars, the sunsets — is therapy to some degree but the writing is particularly therapeutic. Ara wrote, and continues to write, his journal for himself. He writes about his travels, his surroundings, and his thoughts. This book is something of a “Reader’s Digest” version of the journal. Neither book nor journal actually tries to be a travel guide or provide insights into living. Nonetheless, they do both.

In an introductory section of Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash called “About Us”, we are told that “This book has no chapters, a continuous life story.” That is one of two big differences, in addition to the major condensing, between the journal and the book. The journal, by its very nature, is broken into pieces clearly marked by dates while the book isn’t broken into pieces at all. In Ara’s words, “There really is no beginning as there will be no end.” The story is told in chronological order but with no artificial breaks or numbers or headings. The other big difference is the photos. Ara started his journey as a very good photographer and developed into an even better one. Journal entries almost always contain several photographs. They typically aren’t directly tied to the text but provide an often stunning view of what Ara was seeing during the time he composed and posted an entry. I believe Ara’s decision not to include any photos in the book is a good one. Trying to do justice to the photos would have really complicated an already complex task and they would not have really illuminated the text in any case.

Ara Guregian was born in France and spent time with relatives in Egypt and other parts of Europe and North Africa. Although he is quite fluent and comfortable with it, English is not Ara’a first language and he is not an English wordsmith whose product one devours for its own sake regardless of content. On the other hand, he can describe a sunset or a valley view in a a way that not only allows you to visualize it but that makes you want to go to that spot and experience it the way he did. That’s impossible, of course. There is too much of Ara in his experiences for anyone to have a shot at duplicating them.

Ara and Spirit cover a lot of territory. There are multiple visits to Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and beyond and between. At one point I thought I would describe their rides as going from here to there without, in many cases, any real idea of where “there” would be. Then, when I really thought about it, I realized that most of their rides were from here to here. It seems as if a majority of their camps are base camps from which they explore the surrounding area extensively by both motorcycle and foot. The exploration is not just to see different things but, perhaps partly because of Ara’s photographer’s eye, to see the same things differently.

Early on I referred to this book as “near impossible to describe” and four paragraphs of not describing it very well bear that out. It’s a little bit Blue Highways and it’s a little bit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it is, of course, neither. On the other hand, anyone who enjoyed either or both of those books will most likely enjoy Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash. The book is available from Amazon and other sources at a discount or, for a few dollars more, signed by the authors, through Ara’s Oasis of my Soul website.

Freedom on Both ends of the Leash, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May 26, 2014), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 216 pages, ISBN  978-0996083706