There is no shortage of books about the pilgrims’ path to Santiago de Compostela. From travel guide to personal memoir, spiritual exploration to historical documentation, there is something for every armchair pilgrim who wishes to travel The Camino by way of words. This week’s book chronicles the journey of an Australian filmmaker who relies on his gut instinct to make the right choices along The Way of St. James, coloring his pilgrimage with sometimes painful, often hilarious, observations about himself and his fellow peregrinos.
Australian filmmaker Bill Bennett was on vacation in New Orleans when a gut feeling saved his life. While preparing to drive through a green light at an intersection, something internal urged him to slow down. As he did, a truck going the opposite way sped through its own red light and barreled through the space where Bennett’s car should have been, missing him by inches. By nature a seeker, he encountered the terrifying moment with curiosity, terming this unexpected, primal message that saved him as a lesson from his PGS, or “Personal Guidance System.” In The Way, My Way, our middle-aged, good-natured, and somewhat smart-alecky protagonist takes his PGS on the road, exploring what it means to listen more deeply, enjoy life as it comes, and most of all, to stop being so damned competitive all the time. He’s still working on that last one.
It takes a great storyteller to provide for raucous laughter and heart-felt tears, all within a 300-page span. From the first page, the author’s honest, no-holds-barred exploration of personal strengths and weaknesses gives readers a well-rounded picture of a funny, driven, and ultimately relatable guy who has a slight problem admitting defeat.
The book reads as a personal memoir, taking 59-year old Bennett from the airport in Biarritz, France, where he meets the people who are to become his “Camino Family” (whether he wants them or not) all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, the author meets a host of colorful characters whom he alternately either endears himself to or pisses off. He takes a million and one photos, daydreams about his beloved, long-suffering wife, Jennifer, contemplates what it means to get older, and nurses an injury that threatens to end his journey before it even begins. Most of all, he discovers what it means to take the time to listen to your body and spirit, and how this not only affects your own path, but also your relationship with the world around you.
The Way, My Way joins the ranks of other humorous Camino memoirs by authors like Hape Kerkeling and Tim Moore, though with considerably more honest self-examination. As a result, we’re given a great selection of laugh-out-loud moments, tempered by earnest introspection that manages to touch all the right emotional chords. A reader could be excused for imagining she hears her PGS humming softly in the background…