‘Dear Bob and Sue’ by Matt and Karen Smith

‘Dear Bob and Sue’ by Matt and Karen Smith

‘Dear Bob and Sue’ by Matt and Karen Smith

By Debbie Stone and Gini Cunningham

Debbie: This month Gini and I read, Dear Bob and Sue, a memoir of visiting National Parks, written by Matt and Karen Smith. What can I say about this book? Super Fun? A bit irritating?  It’s both. So, you are wondering if I liked it? I did. With reservations.

First, let me say that the authors did make a disclaimer— “If you’re looking for a guide to the National Parks, this isn’t one. If you like long eloquent descriptions of mountains and rivers and rainbows, you won’t find them in this book. If you want to read about a couple accomplishing an incredible feat against all odds, look elsewhere. This is our day-by-day account of our travels together to some of the most stunning places in America.”

I like the fact that they chose what they wanted to do with their lives and made it happen. They didn’t sit back and wait for just the right time, but made travel a priority. They took a hiatus from jobs and made a goal of visiting every National Park in the United States (58 at the time) in one year. Such goals intrigue me. The authors highlight some of their “best storied” parks for the memoir. It makes me so envious. I love hearing about their hikes in each park as well as the antics and adventures of each guided tour they embark upon. To end with they always search for a good brewpub to relax afterwards. Sounds like the perfect vacation for me!

A little bit of their funny back and forth banter is great - but sometimes (and this is the irritating part), it goes too far. Matt sounds condescending to his wife and snarky comments constantly fly between the two of them. They often try too hard to be funny (so perhaps not a true memoir if they took literary license to exaggerate) and if they had tamed that down, it would be a great book. I recommend it as a fun read, but not to be taken as a National Park guide or description book - just some stories about a couple trying to reach a special goal.

Gini: A few years ago Lynn and I trekked across the Lower 48 with adventure and National Parks (NP) in mind. This is one reason why I thoroughly enjoyed our book selection: I knew recognized so many places and agreed with the descriptions and musings – most of the time. There exist, of course, comments I would like to add, but audio books do not provide this feature. As for the NP we have not yet visited, this recording makes me want to head out ASAP to see more. How fortunate we are to have these tremendous treasures throughout our nation. Affordable, often with lodging and/or camping options, and offering a unique stamp for each park, I accept the challenge of gathering all 58 “I’ve been there!” identification insignias (now 599. 

If you have never tried an audio book, this one delivers perfect voices and clear imageries to entice the listener into curiosity mode. Matt speaks directly in his organized and methodical manner. Everything about each foray is carefully thought out and he is not afraid to express his joy or displeasure in any situation. An example, an advertised “room with a view of Crater Lake” should not require hanging out of the window to catch a glimpse of its magnificent reflection. When the manager asked if he could see the lake from his room, he retorted “a view by leaning out of the window is not theoretically a lake view room”. I have experienced this and quietly acquiesced – no more! Karen, although a lover of adventure, is pickier. With an aversion to mice or scorpions dashing across her pillow and a desire for clean accommodations, she has a down-to-earth way of detailing her perceptions of the parks they explore.

Sending a diary to friends Bob and Sue, this couple admires how their friends hold hands on hikes and exchange occasional kisses; our narrators, however, possess a feistier relationship. Funny and honest, I laughed my way through this audio as I explored options for our next NP investigation. Somehow in my mind I determined that we’d start with one and then move on through the next 57 in one grand swoop. Now I recognize that breaking it up into “visitable” chunks is wise.