What I’m reading this month

Richard Branson sat in chair crossed legged reading
Image by John Armstrong Photography
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 9 September 2021

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained" may be a cliché, but it’s true. I’m constantly inspired by people who take on challenges to accomplish the impossible, which is why I chose The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko for my Literati Book Club this month.

The Emerald Mile is a true story that reminds me of fictional adventures I loved in my youth, and the world record-breaking attempts I’ve made as an adult!

Richard Branson looks up through the porthole of his balloon

The book takes us back to the spring of 1983 when a massive flood hit the Colorado River and the Glen Canyon Dam engineers were faced with an unprecedented emergency. It tells the parallel stories of the engineers whose efforts avoided what could have been the most catastrophic dam failure in history, and the story of three boatsmen who launched a hand-built wooden dory down the rushing waters to become the fastest ever boat ride down the Colorado River. As Fedarko writes:

“The river was a beast that could be neither controlled nor tamed, only run with. And to be allowed to run with the beast, you had to accept and embrace and ultimately find a way of celebrating its inscrutable, ungovernable, glorious wildness.”

As a seasoned travel writer and part-time river guide in Grand Canyon National Park, Fedarko is the perfect narrator for this story. He writes with a tempo that reflects a crucial race against the clock, and I found myself furiously turning the pages. Fedarko also has the most wonderful way with words, so you can almost feel the merciless whitewater rushing across your skin.

Richard Branson's Literati book club choice for September 2021 - The Emerald Mile

The feeling of adrenaline that comes with doing something no-one has ever done before took me right back to my record-breaking ballooning adventures and my trip to space with Virgin Galactic. I struggle to find the words to describe the way I felt in those moments, but Kevin seemed to have no trouble summing it up in this book!

Richard Branson with his dad Ted
Image by Thierry Boccon-Gibod

And while it is a tale of adventure, The Emerald Mile is also a tribute to the splendour of the natural world, and an important observation of the tension between conservation and reclamation. The story also reminds us that it’s often not the people in the limelight who are the heroes. The engineers and rescue workers are the bravest characters of this story in my mind.

The Emerald Mile reminds us that our greatest limitations are often the ones we put on ourselves. As Nelson Mandela said:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

You can learn more about Literati and join my book club here. It really is a wonderful way to connect with one another and gain new perspectives.