Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Off The Shelf: Inspiring Memoir and Feel-Good Travelogue

Books that inspire and encourage give us a new outlook on the world and what we can do. Today I’m taking not one, but two books off my reading shelf to tell you about that do just that.

Today’s books are TURNING THIS THING AROUND and GOODWILL TOUR: PAYING IT FORWARD. I recently became acquainted with the author of these books, Keith Maginn, and found both of his books to be quite intriguing. Keith has agreed to share an excerpt from each of the books so that you might see what I mean and entice your reading taste buds even more.

The first book is TURNING THIS THING AROUND. Here’s a brief summary of it:

        TURNING THIS THING AROUND is an inspiring memoir of overcoming personal struggles. This brutally honest, deeply personal account of redemption takes readers on a moving spiritual journey. Confronted with caring for a manic depressive fiancée in addition to several of his own obstacles, the author was outwardly happy, but inwardly miserable. Pushed to the lowest point of his life, Maginn shares how he gradually turned things around and used his experiences to grow as a person.
        Supplemented by heartfelt poetry by the author and with quotes from Gandhi to Dr. Wayne Dyer to Eckhart Tolle, TURNING THIS THING AROUND has universal themes that speak to nearly everyone, as we all must face challenges as part of being human. TURNING THIS THING AROUND is a story of a normal young man’s resiliency when battling extraordinary circumstances.

Here’s what some readers on Amazon had to say about this moving memoir:

        Excellent read for all!: “Keith has done an awesome job creating a self help memoir to not tell others how to change their lives but to inform us with what worked for him and to encourage everyone on a positive path. After reading Keith's book I'm inspired to make positive changes for myself and don't feel so alone anymore. Thank you, Keith. Congrats on a great book.” -- By Sarah (5.0 out of 5 stars)

        Freakishly Honest: “I finished the book in a couple of hours. It's freakishly honest (that's a compliment) and it’s an easy read. Not many people have the guts to let their skeletons out of the closest. Not only does Maginn let his out...he lets them dance around and be their messy selves. You walk away from "Turning This Thing Around" feeling less embarrassed by your own hidden secrets and with empowering notion that there is always a way out.” --By Kela (5.0 out of 5 stars)

        An Amazing Story: “Like other reviewers I also read this book in one sitting. I was at actually at a loss for words when I finished reading it, I wasn't sure if I'd even begin to be able to convey how it effected me. The author’s strength to rise above difficult times and strive to improve his life, as well as his courage to tell his story in order to help others, truly amazes me. I have already recommended this book to several friends and will continue to recommend it to others.” --By Amy Kline (5.0 out of 5 stars)

Now for a short excerpt from TURNING THIS THING AROUND:


KeithMaginn_TTTA_picWhat the hell did we do to deserve this? That question has popped into my head a few dozen times in the past several months. I’m in a shit-hole motel somewhere in Atlanta, but it might as well be a five-star hotel compared to my fiancée’s situation: Mary is in a psych ward being treated for severe bipolar/manic depression. I just got off the phone with her. She was hysterical, begging me to sneak her Coca-Cola and muscle-relaxers.

I have no idea what to do or how much longer I can take this. Tears are streaming down my face and I am asking God, once again, for help. My life has fallen apart and I see no daylight ahead.

Mary is still furious with me about check-in night at the “rehabilitation center,” as they delicately call it. She is enraged at me because I refused to give her muscle-relaxers despite strict orders to the contrary. Weaning her off the plethora of medications she was on was the whole idea of bringing her here: sixteen prescribed meds daily and another ten to be used “as needed.” Up to twenty-six different medications a day for one person (and she weighed less than 120 lbs.)!

And they were not helping; quite the opposite, actually.

I stood firm on that first night, refusing to “help her pain” by disobeying facility commands. Mary cried and told me to leave; she said I must not really love her. I stalled for a few minutes, waiting for her to change her mind. She did not.

Hadn’t I proven time after time I would always be there, that I truly loved her and would do anything I could for her? Hadn’t I talked her out of suicide multiple times, holding her on the bathroom floor or in bed as she cried uncontrollably night after night? Didn’t I lay with her in the hospital telling her things would be better someday? And now she’s saying I don't care and she doesn’t want me around?

So I left the building.

I went to my car to think for a few minutes. I decided to go back to Mary’s room. I asked her if she really wanted me to go. She said if I wouldn't give her the muscle-relaxers, then I should.

I left again.

The Most Loving Thing I Could Do
sitting outside your prison
where they’re trying to figure you out
wondering why you?
why now?
what’s this crazy world all about?

Been trying to read a little
but thinking of you a lot
you’re stuck inside alone
wondering if you’ll make it or not
I keep tearing up
looking to the sky
drops smack the pavement
as I ask “oh God, why?”

I know you feel so alone
maybe someday it will make sense to you
why I didn’t give you what you asked for
that’s the most loving thing I could do

I withheld from you
what I was ordered not to give
even when you said
I should leave
there was no reason for you to live

I would give up us
my love
only if that would help you
maybe someday you will understand
that’s the most loving thing I could do.

–KM (February ’08)

Mary had been manic on the drive down from Knoxville, Tennessee, the phase of her illness when she felt indescribable euphoria. I dreaded this stage because of the devastating low that inevitably followed. And it wasn’t her; it was a fake happiness, a mirage.

She’d had these sporadic manic periods for years, often staying awake for days. Mary would finish entire novels in one sitting or jog for miles, despite rarely exercising normally. It was a fantasy-like high, as if she were on hallucinogenic drugs.

The rehab center was one highly-monitored hallway of rooms. Patients stood inert with blank expressions on their faces. Others stared at bare walls as if there were no life inside them. I could not tell what gender some of the patients were. There were odd, primal sounds coming out of several rooms.

Nearly all the patients had attempted suicide at least once, some several times. Many were in the midst of electro-shock treatments. It was a sullen, grave place, much like the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson.

The huge difference to me, of course, was that in this real-life psych ward, my fiancée was the main character.

Mary was adamant that no one know the whole truth of our predicament. A great number of prejudices and stereotypes are associated with mental illness in our society and she did not want to be judged unfairly. Nor did she want pity. My friends and family eventually began to suspect something was not right, but chose not to pry. I admitted to others that Mary struggled with migraines and insomnia—which she did—but no one had a clue how serious her problems were.

In the meantime, I could feel myself slipping away. I was going down with the ship. My mind was a whirlwind of worry, sadness, confusion and anger. It was overwhelming.

I feared I was losing my mind.

Repeatedly, I asked God for help, but things kept getting worse. What did Mary do to deserve this? She was a good person—so great with kids—yet had suffered almost her entire life.

And, what did I do? I was a good person. Had I not spent years in low-paying jobs helping others instead of chasing a bigger paycheck elsewhere? And for what, so we could struggle with bills and barely afford groceries?

I often feared Mary would finally give up. She swore she could never do that to me, but she talked about it often.
We had no idea how long Mary would be at the rehab center. Thank God my boss was understanding and told me to stay as long as I needed and not worry about work right now (I only told my boss that Mary’s health was terrible and we were going to a center to help her regulate her medications). I had very little money, hence the shoddy motel. My “smoke-free” room reeked of cigarettes and had multiple burn holes in the drapes and comforter. The cleaning crew neglected to clean the shavings from the previous guest, which were still on the bathroom counter-top and in the sink. Yet compared to Mary’s circumstances, I had no right to feel sorry for myself.

After Mary asked me to leave, I drove an hour toward home before I swallowed my pride and returned to be with her. I didn’t know if she would pull through. I didn’t know if either of us would ever be “okay” again. I had no idea how we’d gotten into this mess or if we could get back out.

Visiting hours at the center were 5 to 9 pm. I spent the days reading and writing, but mostly worrying. I also passed time in a small hospital chapel next door to Mary’s facility, meditating and praying. I prayed mostly for Mary, but—for the first time in years—I also prayed for myself.

Here’s a look at Keith’s second book, GOODWILL TOUR: PAYING IT FORWARD.

        In mid-July of 2011, Keith Maginn, and his friend, Emily, set off from Cincinnati, Ohio, on a 3,000-mile road-trip through several southeastern states. The pair stopped in Memphis, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Asheville and smaller towns in between. GOODWILL TOUR: PAYING IT FOWARD is a travelogue detailing a philanthropic experiment in this incredible country the two call home.
        What makes their trip unique is that sightseeing wasn’t their sole purpose. Emily and Keith were determined to spread kindness as they worked to make a difference in the lives of others along the way. They gave their own money to hand-picked strangers, who then had to pay the money forward to someone else.
        GOODWILL TOUR is the narrative of the places Emily and Keith visited and the people they met on their journey. It is an ode to the United States and, even more, a tribute to its people. From Beale Street to Bourbon Street and Graceland to the Biltmore Estate, from feeding the needy in downtown Charleston to brainstorming ideas with a female Buddhist monk to help abused teens and high school dropouts in North Carolina, readers will enjoy riding shotgun on the trip as they relive the experience of these life-altering events, and contemplate how people changed as a result.
        Emily and Keith’s pay-it-forward mission will touch and inspire readers to take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of or to have a positive effect in the life of a loved one, an acquaintance, or even a complete stranger.

Here’s what some readers on Amazon have to say about this feel-good travelogue.

        Highly recommend: “A short, concise, to-the-point book. In a world where negative news always seems to take priority, this "paying it forward" mentality reminds us of the good in humanity. I was able to read it in a single sitting and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an inspirational read.” --By Charlie (5.0 out of 5 stars)

        Refresh your heart: “The perfect mash-up between The Motorcycle Diaries and Pay It Forward, Goodwill Tour reminded me of the impact one act of kindness can make. I read it and wondered "Why aren't there more people doing this?" With no motivation aside from making the world a better place, the author and his companion brave the open road, and find kindness in unexpected places. A great book to cure your fear of giving.”  --By Meg (5.0 out of 5 stars)

        Hats Off: “My hat is off to the author for chasing a lifelong dream and spreading humanity. This book is a great illustration of the wonderful country we live in and the good that can be achieved when people come together to serve others.” -- By Dersh (5.0 out of 5 stars)

Now here’s a short excerpt from GOODWILL TOUR: PAYING IT FORWARD:

First donation: Memphis, Tennessee

KeithMaginn_GWT_picIn the morning, Emily and I decided to heed several friends’ suggestions and took the $4 monorail to Mud Island River Park. On the ride over, a female staff member dressed in khakis and a bright red Mud Island polo shirt greeted us. Being the lone passengers at the time, Emily asked the attendant, “Are you our entertainment?” Without hesitation, our host did an impromptu dance for us.

We could tell immediately that Jena (pronounced “Gina”) was an affable young lady who didn’t waste time complaining about the 100-degree temperature. When questioned about her favorite part of the job, she said it was being able to meet people from all over the world, from Amsterdam to Hawaii. Her favorite thing about Memphis: “Beale Street. There are so many places to go and eat, to hear live music. It’s always live.”

Jena could have been in a foul mood, outside in excessive heat. Instead, she had a big smile for everyone, asked questions, and seemed genuinely interested in our responses.

Since two cars shuttled visitors to and from Mud Island, we told our new friend that we would catch her train on the way back (which she told us was the car that Tom Cruise had ridden during the chase scene in the movie The Firm). As we got off the rail, I hinted strongly to Emily that we’d just met our first donation recipient.

While we put the idea on the back burner, Em and I explored Mud Island. Had the temperature been 25 degrees cooler, the park would have been the ideal setting for a picnic. We saw several young adults singing and dancing, oblivious to the hotness. The sun shimmered on the Mississippi and a light breeze lifted from the water from time to time. It was a beautiful day in Memphis, with blue skies and few clouds.

When we stood by to return from the island, a staff member told us Jena was on her break for the next 45 minutes. We decided to wait. After all, we’d promised we would see her again.

So we plotted.

Giving money to a stranger was foreign to us. We didn’t know how to give cash to a person we had just met. Even Emily, who seems comfortable in any situation, was nervous.

I suggested we pose the idea to Jena as if we were conducting a survey, asking strangers what they would do if someone gave them $100. (Unlike the donations to come, this was not necessarily a pay-it-forward gift: One of Emily’s co-workers had donated $100 to be used specifically in Memphis, as her family had lived there years ago when her husband was in the military.)
Soon enough, we saw Jena again. She remembered our names, which impressed us, as she probably saw hundreds of people every day. Jena looked suspicious: “They told me y’all wouldn’t get back on without me.”

Emily: “Well, we told you that we’d see you on our way back.”

I dipped my toe in: “Yeah, we’ve been walking around asking people this question, ‘What would you do if someone just walked up and gave you $100?’”

Without hesitation, Jena replied: “The staff is not permitted to accept tips.”

I tried again: “No, no, no. I’m just saying hypothetically. What if someone gave you $100?”

Without a second’s pause, Jena answered: “I have four kids. I’d give them each $25.”

Emily and I changed the subject and hid our smiles.

Worried Jena might be prohibited from taking our gift, we decided we should talk to her boss. After getting our picture taken with Jena, we told her goodbye, acting like we’d never see her again. When I got to the ticket booth, I asked to see the manager about one of the staff members.

The woman behind the desk shot back, “What did he or she do wrong?”

I clarified that it was quite the opposite. We wanted to reward Jena for her great attitude.

As the woman paged the manager, she said: “Well, you picked a good one. Jena sometimes goes across the street and shares her lunch with the homeless people.”

Two men came out of a back office and asked me how they could help. I explained that Emily and I were doing a “goodwill tour” of several cities and wanted to give money to deserving people. I told them how great of a job Jena was doing and that we were not giving her a tip, but a surprise gift as part of our project. They agreed that Jena was a great choice and asked only that we give her the money offsite.

One of the men radioed for Jena to come down to the office. A few seconds later, she saw Emily and me with her boss and gave us a “what-the-hell-is-going-on?” half-grin. Her boss asked Jena to go across the street with us and get him a newspaper.

Hesitantly, she walked with us. I can’t imagine what was going on in her head at this point.

I broke the ice: “Remember that $100 we talked about on the monorail, Jena? Well, we want to give it to you. We are traveling around, meeting special people and giving money away. After meeting you and seeing what a great job you do, we want you to be our first selection.”

Jena was shocked, and tears welled up in her eyes, which caused a chain-reaction in Emily and me. She couldn’t believe strangers as of a few hours ago were giving her money. Jena said she couldn’t wait to share the joy with her kids. She informed us that she is 26 and the mother of three boys and a girl, ages one, four, five and eight.

Giving Jena the money felt great (though the credit goes to Emily’s co-worker Nancy for her generous contribution). It was an emotional experience, and we seesawed between nervous laughter and happy tears. Jena sighed, “Today, I am truly blessed.”

After more hugs and pictures, Emily and I had to move on. Relieved that our opening donation went better than we could have imagined, we were able to relax. Maybe this crazy plan would work out after all.


Keith Maginn was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the youngest of four kids. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an Evans Scholar. After earning a Bachelor's degree in Sociology, Keith relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, to work for AmeriCorps (a service organization like the Peace Corps, but within the United States) and for Knoxville Habitat for Humanity.

Keith recently moved back to Cincinnati after living nearly ten years in Tennessee. He likes to be around family and friends and has eight nieces and nephews that he adores. He loves playing and watching many sports and also enjoys live music, writing, meditation, yoga and reading.

In December 2012, Keith self-published an inspiring self-help memoir, Turning This Thing Around. Maginn's second book, Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward, is about a philanthropic experiment on the road. Released in January of 2013, the author hopes it will be his second book of many more to come. He feels writing is his life's purpose and that he has a message to share that will help others.

Five things about the author:

1. His favorite books are Tao Te Ching, On the Road, Into the Wild, The Alchemist and The Motorcycle Diaries. His favorite authors are Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and Paulo Coelho.

2. Driving around the country in a small RV or Airstream trailer for a few months tops his bucket list.

3. His biggest pet peeves are arrogance and inconsiderateness.

4. The Dalai Lama is the person that he would most like to meet.

5. He enjoys a wide range of music (Pearl Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Band of Horses, Johnny Cash, Dave Matthews Band, Hank Williams, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley, Kings of Leon, Waylon Jennings, The Black Keys, Jack Johnson, The Script, Mumford & Sons, Tim McGraw…). The two best written songs ever: “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

For more on Keith and his writing, visit his website and connect with him on Twitter.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope I’ve whet your reading appetite with these two fascinating books from this new-to-me author. Have you ever had something good done for you and then you in turn did something good for someone else?


  1. Mason - Both of these books sound powerful. And sometimes, an inspiring book can really lift the reader up. Thanks for sharing these.

    1. I hope that you will check out one or both of my books, Margot. Thank you for your comment. all the best...


  2. Sounds like something we all need to read. I agree with #3 and #4.

    1. Thank you, Ann. And if you ever get to meet the Dalai Lama, please tell me all about it!

      Take care,


  3. that excerpt grabbed me and didn't let go. Wow.

    1. Thank you for reading the excerpt, Karen, and for the comment. I hope you will check out my book(s).

      All the best,


  4. He's a powerful writer. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I really appreciate your endorsement, Carol...thank you very much!!

      With gratitude,



I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.