Book Review: To Shake the Sleeping Self

Two years ago, I set out to add reading back into my life as a practice and a habit — one that inadvertently pairs well with my other established habit of reflective writing. First and foremost, I read and write for my own benefit. The pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is one selfish act that is—in my humble opinion — quite justifiable. While not every book I have read has broadened my world view or inspired me to be a better person, they’ve all contributed to a better understanding of myself and challenged me to think critically and write with mental dexterity and clarity of purpose.

When To Shake the Sleeping Self came out in 2018, almost every cool writer, artist and millennial influencer I followed on social media raved about author Jedidiah Jenkins’ memoir. At that time, I was vaguely familiar with his name, having bought a beautiful to-go coffee mug from Byta, the company he cofounded. However, I had no clue what the book was about or if the hype was warranted. As someone who tends to shirk the pressures of trends and fads, I hardly ever buy a book when it’s first published, so I was admittedly very late to the book club.

To Shake the Sleeping Self is part travel journal and part quarter life crisis stream-of-consciousness diary. Inspired by a fringe friend’s intercontinental journey, and in anticipation (or perhaps dread) of his impending 30th birthday, Jenkins decided to journey from Oregon to Patagonia, primarily using a bike as transportation to prove to himself that he could complete a magnanimous adventure, but also to prove his right to be himself. Joined by friends and family along the way, Jenkin’s trail was an experiment in fortitude — less however, of physical or mental soundness than that of emotional and spiritual resilience.

Two-thirds of the book contain the wonders and inconveniences of travel. However, as the magic of the road wears off, packing his panniers and finding shelter become quotidian, and the 13,726 miles drag on, Jenkins waxes less on sunsets and mountains and more on attempting to reconcile who he is with what he believes.

While my personal experiences are vastly different from those of Jenkins, I nonetheless found common ground with his pursuit of a faith that he makes sense. One big question that Jenkins wrestles with is: how to follow Jesus when as a normal human you daily make decisions contrary to His teachings.

As Western Christians living in a society full of blurred lines and spiritual truth, this is completely relatable. It can be hard to defend a faith that often doesn’t make sense and to pursue a “relationship” with a higher being that rarely speaks audibly (although I would say that I have experienced it twice in my life). I admire how Jenkins continued to do both throughout his book, especially in tough conversations with people he loved.

“Along the way I’d asked hard questions, entertained “wrong” answers, held new ideas with an open hand, and waited to be scalded by fire. But it hadn’t happened. But then, I wasn’t rejecting Jesus, was I? I wasn’t walking away. I was just wondering if God was bigger than what I had been told in church. If perhaps He wasn’t so jealous, so frightened by the rest of His creation.”

To Shake the Sleeping Self (Convergent Books | 2018) p. 295

I have always wanted to write a book, or maybe lots of books. While fiction absolutely has its merits, I get so excited to journey with an author through their personal triumphs and challenges, whether that is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (à la Cheryl Strayed) or reuniting a lost family heirloom to its rightful inheritor (as Anne-Marie O’Connor documented). I want to be one of those people who spend a season of their life following a trail of personal and/or cultural discovery. ­­­­I’m not sure what my “epic bike ride” is, but reading Jenkin’s book made me encouraged that such a path is possible.

I now totally get the hype of To Shake the Sleeping Self. It’s endearing, thought-provoking, relatable and inspirational. His storytelling is poignant; it is humorous; it is real. Thank you, Jedidiah Jenkins for your honesty and vulnerability. Your book is a gem.

Side note: In the book, Jenkins was at the tail end of his trip when the threat of the Ebola virus was scaring the world half to death. Safely camping in rural Argentina, he light-heartedly mused about what life would be like if a pandemic threatened the livelihood of humanity. Ironic to read such a thought, written only two years ago, while personally experiencing the limitations and frustrations of living in a time when global health issues dictate movement.

This book may be for you if you also like: Wild (book or movie); Turn Right at Machu Picchu (book); traveling; reading; writing; camping; cycling; couch surfing; spiritual quests; South America; the western coast of North America.


*I am not an ambassador for Byta, nor do I receive any benefit from the company. I just love my Byta mug! (You can see it in my book review for The Bourne Identity)

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