Running to the Mountain: A Midlife Adventure

Running to the Mountain: A Midlife Adventure

4.2 10
by Jon Katz

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Jon Katz, a respected journalist, father, and husband, was turning fifty. His writing career had taken a dubious turn, his wife had a demanding career of her own, his daughter was preparing to leave home for college, and he had become used to a sedentary lifestyle. Wonderfully witty and insightful, Running to the Mountain chronicles Katz's hunger for change


Jon Katz, a respected journalist, father, and husband, was turning fifty. His writing career had taken a dubious turn, his wife had a demanding career of her own, his daughter was preparing to leave home for college, and he had become used to a sedentary lifestyle. Wonderfully witty and insightful, Running to the Mountain chronicles Katz's hunger for change and his search for renewed purpose and meaning in his familiar world.

Armed with the writings of Thomas Merton and his two faithful Labradors, Katz trades in his suburban carpool-driving and escapes to the mountains of upstate New York. There, as he restores a dilapidated cabin, learns self-reliance in a lightning storm, shares a bottle of Glenlivet with unexpected ghosts, and helps a friend prepare for fatherhood, he confronts his lifelong questions about spirituality, mortality, and his own self-worth. He ultimately rediscovers a profound appreciation for his work, his family, and the beauty of everyday life—and provides a glorious lesson for us all.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for A Dog Year

“A great book that dog lovers will definitely enjoy.”

“The story line of Katz’s latest book can be summed up very simply–two dogs die and two new ones join the family but its charm comes from an intricate blend of witty anecdote and touching reflection.”
Publishers Weekly

“A surfeit of tail-wagging, face-licking love.”
Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Running to the Mountain

“A wonderful book — personal, moving, funny… to call a book a perfect gift always seems slightly patronizing, but I already have a long list of names — yes aging baby boomers — I’m intending to give Running to the Mountain.”
USA Today

“A funny, moving, and triumphant voyage of the soul… Katz finds faith not by running away, but by realizing that spiritual sustenance comes from within — from the decency with which we handle our roles as spouses, parents, and friends.”
Boston Globe

“You’ll love this book…. In the end, we admire Katz, not for the spiritual grace that he seeks but for the grace he finds: the grace of fatherhood, husbandhood, of tending fully to those who depend on him to be a source of stability in their world.”
Men’s Journal

“Candid and inspiring… Katz has much to be proud of: he faced himself, he rearranged himself, and he came back to write movingly of the experience.”
Washington Post Book World
Praise for Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho
“In Geeks, Katz displays a deft reporter’s touch and shows us the geek truth, rather than simply telling us about it…. Too often, writing about the on-line world lacks emotional punch, but Katz’s obvious love for his ‘lost boys’ gives his narrative a rich taste.”
-New York Times Book Review

Geeks is a story of triumph, friendship, love, and above all, about being human and reaching for dreams in a hard-wired world.”
-Seattle Times

“A touching page-turner about social outcasts using technology to wriggle free of dead-end lives.”
-U.S. News & World Report

“An uplifting and hugely compassionate book.”
-Philadelphia Inquirer

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Broadway Books Trade Paperback Editi
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)

Read an Excerpt

Orphan in the Promised Land
We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join in the general dance.
—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
The house sits like an orphan in the promised land, abandoned and forlorn, right at the peak of a mountain that looks from New York State, across a rural valley carpeted with farms, into the green hills of Vermont.

It is sly, revealing itself slowly, like a stripper in a cheap bar. It lies well off a country road, down a dirt drive. Each step of the way, you feel swallowed up a bit more by the forest; the world gets left further behind.

The first thing I saw was an odd tide of almost eerie debris—decaying benches, rotting wagon wheels, a sign that said THE LAST RESORT hanging askew on a pole. The lawn was baked and dusty, half dead, the gardens overgrown and untended.

Here and there posts that had once supported birdhouses stuck up from the ground. I counted half a dozen stacks of firewood, enough for three or four winters, scattered around. A tall plastic swimming pool full of scum and slime sat by the side door, and something—a frog, maybe a snake—slid out of it as I came near. My two Labradors and I jumped.

"Jesus, welcome to Dogpatch," I said to my friend Jeff, who lived in a nearby town. Jeff had scouted the house and had strongly urged me to drive north and take a look.

"Wait," he said.

Disappointed, I wondered what he had been thinking, urging me to rush upstate and look at this decrepit, charmless place, a tiny cabin built in 1965. A truck driver and his father had constructed it board by board, all 846 square feet of it, and couldn't have been any prouder if it were the Taj Mahal. I was also relieved to be underwhelmed; I couldn't afford a second house, anyway.

Georgette, the real-estate agent, watching me sag, was murmuring about the possibilities, trying to spark my imagination. "I'd take down the dark paneling," she suggested. "Open it up a bit."

But the interior was even more dispiriting, murky and tomblike, with thick shag carpeting in hideous colors and fake-wood ceiling beams made of plastic. The small kitchen was festooned with ceramic tiles and plaques offering sayings like KISSIN' DON'T LAST, COOKIN' DO.

While showing me how dry the basement was, Georgette asked me to pick up a couple of decomposing mice and toss them out into the woods. My dogs looked unnerved.

Then Jeff took me by the arm, led me past the swampy pool to the front of the house, and rotated me eastward. The sight hit me like a hammer blow; I almost reeled. The view was as spectacular and uplifting as the approach from the rear was cheesy and disheartening.

What a tease this house was, betraying no hint of where it really was. The lakes and farmland spread out for miles before us. I could see tiny dairy cows grazing deep in the valley. Mist shrouded the hills opposite, and sunbeams streaked from the sky and lit up the distant mountaintops.

Jeff said nothing, letting the view speak for itself. I sat down on the front step and tried to take it in.

My dogs, I could see, were transformed. The older Lab, Julius, a philosopher and contemplative, plopped down and didn't move, staring hypnotically at a hawk floating above the valley. Julius was born to muse and observe. He has never chased a ball, retrieved a stick, treed a squirrel, entered water deeper than his ankles, run more than a few yards, or menaced any creature.

Stanley is another story. He has a devilish lust for mischief and for retrieving, amassing caches of socks, underwear, and chew bones. He is happy to chase rubber balls till he drops. Less regal but far more energetic, Stanley went right to work and rushed into the woods to collect sticks.

I felt transformed, too. In a few seconds I had gone from not being able to imagine living in this neglected dump to not believing that somebody like me could possibly be lucky enough to own it.

"It's a writer's place," said Jeff. "The view is worth a million bucks. The house, you can always fix up."

That was right, I thought, seizing on the idea, the reassuring real estate truisms. The land, not the house. Buy land, they're not making any more of it. It's an investment, not an expense. What difference did the carpeting make anyway, when you could gaze at this outside?

I almost drooled at the prospect of toting my computer up here, clacking away in the shade of the maple in the backyard. I had the sensation of something important happening to me. It was a familiar feeling.

Ten years earlier, as executive producer of the two-hour program The CBS Morning News, I had stood in a control room one day before dawn, staring at a wall of high-tech color monitors. The coanchor of the spectacularly unsuccessful show, a former beauty queen and sports commentator named Phyllis George, was smiling back at me surreally from all of them. An assistant dabbed at her makeup and fluffed her hair.

I was powerful, well compensated, lost.

A few minutes later, I was locked in my office, weeping. I had reached a rung in life a lot of people would have coveted, and I would rather have thrown myself off a bridge than stay there for another month.

So, tentatively, with equal parts determination and terror, I set out on what Thomas Merton liked to call a journey of the soul.

Merton, a Trappist monk whose work I had begun reading when I was in the ninth grade and in sore need of solace, as did millions of others all over the world, was my guide on this trip. I'd read almost everything he'd written. He was a Catholic, I was raised a Jew; he had absolute faith, I never did. Still, for reasons I may never completely understand, he spoke to me, personally and powerfully. As a boy, I'd written him a letter that he never answered; if he had, I might have wound up in the monastery with him. Merton died thirty years ago. I never met him, but if a stranger's voice can enter one's soul, his permeated mine.

"It is absolutely impossible," he wrote all those years ago, "for a man to live without some kind of faith."

It is equally impossible to change your life without some.

What People are saying about this

Deirdre Donahue
A wonderful book - personal, moving, funny… To call a book a perfect gift almost seems slightly patronizing, but I already have a long list of names…
—Deirdre Donahue

Meet the Author

Jon Katz has published six novels and two nonfiction books, including Virtuous Reality. He has written for Wired, New York, GQ, and The New York Times, and was twice nominated for the National Magazine Award. Katz is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and and is media critic and technology columnist for Free! (www., the Freedom Forum's news and information web site. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and daughter, and spends a lot of time in Washington County, New York, with his two dogs, Julius and Stanley. He can be e-mailed at

Brief Biography

Montclair, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
August 8, 1947
Place of Birth:
Providence, Rhode Island
Attended George Washington University and The New School for Social Research

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Running to the Mountain: A Midlife Adventure 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started to scan this book as part of a marketing project, but soon found myself deeply involved with the author and his journey. It was irresistable and I read the entire book cover to cover. For anyone approaching mid-life and faced with the question of 'What next?' this is an inspiring read. Jon Katz writes with a deft humor and plenty of humility, calling upon the spirit of his mentor Thomas Merton to aid him on this quest for meaning and faith. I fell in love with the book. Read it and see for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while the universe opens up and a book drops in your lap that is perfect. Running to the Mountain is like that: a beautifully written, moving, funny spiritual adventure of a fellow midlife seeker. I can't recommend this book highly enough. I was late to work two mornings in a row reading it. Thank you, J. Katz.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a gallon of ointment on the soul. I completely enjoyed the wonderful quotes and Jon Katz's journey of the mind. You don't need video equipment to see his wonderful descriptions. This book keeps the mind firing with great images. It is a book that reads well and lulls you into peace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Padded in.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to be frank. I was totally bored with this book. Maybe it is because I can't believe anyone could have been so helpless and uneducated about the world around him and just doing the normal things of life and reach 50 years old. I didn't see the soul searching as being all that in depth, or maybe it did not come across to me that way. I read about 3/4 of the book and just could not finish it.