In 2006, four guys took a ride on a purple bus across North America. Their mission was to complete a list of a hundred things to do before you die. Those four guys were Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan and Jonnie Penn. Collectively they became known as The Buried Life. A name that transpired after Jonnie read the poem The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold for his English class. On the boy’s first journey, they decided to ask strangers “What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?” This became part of their routine, for every list item they completed they helped a stranger complete a list item. # 19 on TBL’s list is to be on the New York Time Best Seller list. This book is their attempt to do that.
The book is a hybrid of illustrated list items, and personal stories from them and their friends. The illustrated list items are ones they’ve collected over the last five years from fans and friends. They range from heartwarming things about falling in love, to more scandalous things like a threesome with John Stamos and Sandra Bullock. Some of their personal stories are from some of the people they’ve helped on their short MTV show, some stories from people who have done some amazing things, and TBL’s own stories of their trials and tribulations growing up, and their journey as The Buried Life.
From the fan community the book has been receiving mixed reviews. Some fans love it because they feel the boys, once again, prove why they’re so honored and admired. Others, think the boys didn’t put enough effort into the book, and instead of making something inspirational, they put together something marketable. The Buried Life guys often walk that line between being inspirational, and just doing whatever will make them money and get fans, a typical dilemma of anyone in the entertainment industry.
Originally, as a fan of the guys, I was excited about the book, but when TBL’s marketing strategy focused so much on crossing off number nineteen, and less about making something substantial, I had written the book off. The more I heard about the book the less excited I became. However, the last couple of months before the book was released they focused a lot of their campaigning on using this book to inspire. This awakened my enthusiasm and I think the boys keep their promise to inspire with this book.
The elements that work strongly for this book is the personal stories. TBL’s stories gives the fans insight into parts of their life that the fans may have never discovered without this book. The fans hear constantly about Ben’s depression, but it’s not until reading about it, in his his own words, do they fully get the impact of that. Anyone who has suffered through anxiety or depression can relate to Ben’s turmoil. Dave offers a light-hearted, but just as meaningful story about dealing with weight gain and anxiety. Dave being such a charismatic person it’s hard to imagine him ever being insecure, but him sharing that story allows anyone struggling with weight to realize even the most confident person has had insecurities. Jonnie, clearly a debate/English major, writes so elegantly that it’s sad he has written his own book yet. He captures his readers and then takes them along for the same ride TBL experiences five years ago. Duncan’s proportion is the shortest, and is the most criticized among the fans. It receives the harshest criticism because of it’s lack of emotions and straight forward nature, and for not sharing enough. Duncan’s part works, because, like Dave, he seems very much a confident person that has everything he wants in life , in his few paragraphs you see elements of insecurity, unhappiness, and pain, something many fans don’t expect from Duncan. It’s easy to admire and respect someone from a distance, but it’s when they’re most vulnerable you begin to understand them. The Buried Life’s personal stories let them show the fans who they are, and where they’ve come from. It creates a bond with the fans by completely showing that they are just ordinary guys who decided they wanted more from their lives then just the nine to five grind. If men who experienced things almost everyone struggles with can create this big empire, then can’t anyone?
Besides their personal ones, the stories from people they help really show that anyone can do anything. In particular, Sam and Lebon’s story (a father and son that hadn’t spoken for seventeen years, but were reunited by TBL on the first season of their show) really resonates with a lot of people. Many children go their entire lives not knowing their father, or only meeting them later in life. It’s great to hear both sides of the story, because it captures an element the Television show doesn’t reveal: the emotional impact this change had for these two men. Another great story in the book is one from a girl who kept waking up at a certain time, only to end up saving a life. Most people have those inexplicable moments that really make them realize that everyone is born for a reason, and maybe it’s just to offer a loving shoulder when someone has reached their breaking point. The rest of the non-TBL stories are about once ordinary people doing things to make them become extraordinary by tackling their dreams, or helping others. It’s hard not to find inspiration in these stories, so this element is one of the strongest of the book.
The only element that didn’t work as strongly was that some of the list items chosen lacked depth. Reading about someone wanting to smoke pot with someone famous just translates to silliness. It’s good to have a mixture of meaningful list items, and funny ones, but overall, the chosen list items felt like things TBL thought were cool or funny, instead of things that are more globally funny or inspirational. TBL isn’t buying their books the fans are, so that should probably be considered more in the future. To inspire someone you have to know your audience. TBL forgot their audience with some of these.
As a person who admires the boys, but judges them by their actions and characters more than anything else, I wouldn’t recommend this book unless I believed in it. I don’t support this book because it’s TBL’s book. I don’t get a commission for this review, unfortunately, so I can honestly say buy this book. I actually don’t recommend you buy it for yourself. I suggest you buy it and either give it to a friend that’s never heard of them, or a complete stranger that needs inspiration. The thing that drew me into The Buried Life was the idea of causing a change. The idea of creating a world of people who actually go after their dreams, instead of just talk about them, and people who help others as they achieve their dreams. I think even doing something as small as giving this book to someone can help make the movement more of a possibility. Buy the book for yourself, or buy it for someone else. Just buy the book, then ask the question: What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?