Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road was written after Blue Like Jazz (my review) but the events in the book took place mostly before Blue Like Jazz. Whoever thought it was a good idea to make a movie from Blue Like Jazz must be the same person who thought it be a good idea to have Don read his own audio books. He has a monotone way of reading that puts you to sleep, but it's generally my preference to hear the author tell his own story.
Don and his friend Paul take a beaten up Volkswagen van from Houston to Oregon and encounter the kind of people you'd expect along the way: Strangers who help them fix their car, people who work in roadside cafes, old friends, etc. They hike and camp and talk about love and life. Nothing really insightful. Occasionally, Don will have an epiphany about God and write a few paragraphs about it. This book is basically his journal of that road trip, and I suppose his publishers would think people would find it interesting because his Blue Like Jazz journaling sold so well.
I listened to this book primarily on subway rides in Ankara. The first few chapters annoyed me because it was so self-centric of a couple of middle class, white Southerners to think the world revolves around them and their road trip idea. Eventually, I warmed to the book as their encounters led them places and they resolved interpersonal conflicts and such. At the end of the book when they're sleeping in a tent in the woods and working summer jobs at a nearby pool, Don as a janitor, I'm struck by how easy it is in Oregon to live like that. Don doesn't talk much about his janitorial duties, but I suppose taking on such dirty work gave me a respect for him I wouldn't have otherwise.
But much of this book is like a boring reality TV show where you're sort of a voyeur into these guys pretty tame lives. The fact that people look to this book for spiritual insight really disturbs me, there's really not much there. They don't seem to spend much of their time looking at Scripture much, so much of what passes as spiritual insights (only about 10% of the book) are Don's own opinions on how God runs His universe. That Don would be some sort of hero to some people for writing about the ordinary tells me that American 20 somethings must really be bored or worse. Maybe I should write a book, see how it sells.
I give the book 2 stars out of 5.