Book Review: The Way, My Way

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.

"The Way, My Way" by Bill Bennett. Click through to learn more about the book on Amazon.com.

The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett. Click to see the book on Amazon.

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…

(Note: If you’re interested in finding out more about Bill, his experiences on the Camino, or the Personal Guidance System, please follow him at PGS – The Way or PGS Intuitive.)

Book Review: In Movement There Is Peace – Stumbling 500 Miles Along The Way To The Spirit

There is no shortage of books chronicling the pilgrim’s 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 review focuses on a book written by a pair of married peregrinos from the United States, and how their journey tested their boundaries – as a couple, alone, and as part of a larger whole.

In Movement There Is Peace

Click through to view on Amazon. Image via the authors’ website, banxietyfree.com.

In Movement There is Peace: Stumbling 500 Miles Along the Way to the Spirit was written by Dr. Elaine Foster and her husband Joe Foster. The couple decided to walk to Santiago de Compostela almost on a whim, soon after Elaine resigned from her longstanding position as psychologist with the US Air Force. After years of counseling battleworn soldiers, she knew that it was time to address her own, sometimes overpowering, issues with anxiety. When Joe, fighting some demons of his own over the unexpected death of his beloved father, suggested it was time for a vacation, neither expected that they’d soon be boarding a plane to Spain to spend the next month navigating the ancient Camino Frances.

Constructed as both travel memoir and a series of daily lessons in overcoming anxiety, In Movement There is Peace explores a variety of topics relevant to both pilgrimage and everyday life. From learning to try new things, to coming to terms with sharing thoughts of disappointments or sorrow, to discovering what it means to truly give in and trust your life partner, the book examines how the simplest of actions – putting one foot in front of the other – can spark some of the greatest life shifts.

Clocking in at 308 pages, the book is organized in chapters loosely reflecting each day’s journey along The Camino, with Elaine and Joe each providing separate written descriptions of the day’s events. This allows the reader to not only see the journey from two points of view, but to also explore how very differently two people – even two people who spend every waking moment together – can see the same events. Travel enthusiasts will enjoy Joe’s descriptions of Spanish landscapes and history, as well as his ruminations on death, adventure and the mysterious ways of his life partner. Elaine’s bravery in discussing her own issues with social anxiety, trust following divorce, a somewhat shaky spiritual life, and the incredible physical pain she faced every day of the pilgrimage somehow only makes the trip seem even more worth its costs. Along the way, the couple meet a lively cast of characters who share their journey, peppering the story with laughter and tears as they all make their way to Santiago de Compostela.

For those thinking of taking to The Camino with a traveling companion should definitely read In Movement There is Peace before setting out on the journey, but that doesn’t mean that lone pilgrims should put this one aside. This is an excellent addition to the shelves of any would-be peregrino or peregrina.

Book Review: “Why I Love Singlehood”

why_i_love_singlehood

Via Amazon.com:

“Eva Perino is single and proud of it. Owner of The Grounds, a coffee shop nestled in the heart of a college town, thirtysomething Eva cherishes her comfortable life filled with quirky friends, a fun job, and no significant other. In fact, she’s so content to be on her own that she started a blog about it: “Why I Love Singlehood.” Yet when she hears the news of her ex-boyfriend’s engagement, her confidence in her single status takes a surprisingly hard hit. 

So begins Eva’s clumsy (and occasionally uproarious) search for love as she secretly joins an online dating site, tries her hand at speed-dating, and breaks her own rule by getting involved with one of The Grounds’ regulars. Soon Eva is forced to figure out exactly who—or what—is the true love of her life. Sparkling with warmth and wit, Why I Love Singlehood is a charming and insightful must-read for anyone—single or otherwise—who has ever been stymied by love.”

First off, let me say that this is less of a book review and more of an expression of my own disgust with myself for wasting hours of my life reading this book. Luckily, since I own a Kindle, I was able to borrow the book through the lending library, saving myself .99 cents off of the digital copy price. Traditional format readers, in comparison, might spend as much as $13.95 for a paperback of the book.

I enjoy reading what they used to call “dime-store novels” – silly little bodice rippers, sci-fi/fantasy romances, murder mysteries, and other quick reads just perfect for picking up at the drug store and finishing in a night or two. There’s something reassuring in a simple storyline, characters that have some depth but not too much to get your brain past first gear, a few scares or romantic scenes or whatever little excitements it takes to get the blood rushing just a bit, then it’s over (typically with a happy ending) and you get back to your life. I’ve read hundreds of crappy little love stories in my time, and there’s typically one big thing that ties them all together: they’re not written particularly well. And that’s totally OK.

Unless.

Unless you write a book in first person, in which the protagonist herself is an author, and that author also pens several writings that are printed within the book. Wait…that’s a little hard to follow. Let’s back up. The book is written in first person, from the eyes of main character Eva. Eva is a published author and ex-college professor. She also writes a blog about being single, and the blog entries are printed in the book. They’re not good. They are, in fact, as bad (or maybe worse) than my writing in this blog. Crappy blog entries in a book could be totally fine – that’s realistic! However, when the crappy blog entries are written by a professional author, and said author also pauses within the story to note how good of a job they’ve done on writing the blog entries, something’s gone terribly wrong. It felt self-congratulatory on the part of the actual authors of the book, not Eva, and since the appreciation was unfounded, it was laughable.

The rest of the story is OK. A little convoluted, a lot formulaic, completely missing detail in the parts that matter (Eva’s family life should have been much more flushed out – that story alone could have been a NY Times pick if handled correctly). Since I’m from the coast of NC, the novel’s setting in Wilmington was a great change for me. I got a great feel for the places in the book, but the characters were flat, and the main character ended up lacking the depth to make her seem relatable, and making choices that seemed to neither fit the emotional difficulties she was facing as a result of a troubled past, nor truly fit a pattern that made sense for her present day life.

Oh, yeah, and in the first couple of pages of the book, two couples are introduced. I laughed out loud when I read their names. Get this – one couple’s names are Jan and Dean (ever heard that song, The Little Old Lady from Pasadena?). The other couple are Spencer and Tracey. Sigh.

In all, I’d give this a 2 out of 5 stars.