This is part of my Summer Reads 2018 series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
Many of you know that I’m in the middle of walking the Camino de Santiago (one stage a year from 2016 until 2020!) and as well as the more general questions I get asked (I wrote a Q&A post in response to some of the questions people had asked me along the way in my first year), people often ask if I’ve read any good books about the Camino. I haven’t read a lot of books (and there are so many more I want to read still!) but there are definitely a few I’d recommend already!
John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: A Practical and Mystical Manual for the Modern-day Pilgrim
If you know me, you’ll know I am a planner and I’m all about the guide books when I travel! There are not many books you can purchase to “guide” you along the way – indeed, many people don’t have any book or map at all – they just rely on information received in the places they stay (maps for the day ahead etc…). As part of our package we received a copy of John Brierley’s The “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago “ on the first day of our trip in 2016 and I bought my own copy months before we left so I could read a little ahead. I’ve since replaced this with the most recent (November 2017) copy I received this past summer as things DO change and up to date info is best. This book has a strong emphasis on the spiritual aspect of the Camino which might not be for everyone but it is essentially the only comprehensive guidebook available (with route information and maps). For information on where to eat (when there is a choice, sometimes there is not) and things to see, you might want to do a little bit more research (hello me in every town Googling “Best places to eat in XYZ” – even if it’s a tiny town there are bound to be TripAdvisor reviews from people walking the Camino).
Bill Bennett’s The Way, My Way: A Camino Memoir
It’s a small world. I’ve known Bill Bennett my entire life. A former work colleague of my dad, Bill’s a writer, producer and director of feature films and documentaries who’s walked the Camino more than once! Of his initial journey, Bill says:
“I’d never done anything crazy like this before – a pilgrimage walk. I was not a hiker, and I wasn’t a Catholic. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian. On the last government census when I had to state my religion, I’d said I was a Buddhist, mainly because they’ve had such a hard time in Tibet I felt they needed my statistical support.
I was also not an adventure traveller. For me, adventure travel was flying coach. All this backpacking and wearing of heavy boots and flying off to France to walk ancient pilgrimage routes was a new experience, and not one that made me feel entirely comfortable.”
Bill’s account of walking the Camino on his own terms is hilarious and honest. He’s not completely sure why he is walking at the start; soon his journey turns into one of pain management (a knee that gives way early on in the pilgrimage) but also of inner reflection as he figures out his raison d’être for undertaking this walk. It’s one of the most thoughtful accounts of walking the Camino I’ve read – it’s meaningful without being cheesy about the whole “inner journey”, if you see what I mean. This account of walking the Camino so differently to the way I’m doing it (Bill stays in the hostels and carries all his belongings on his back) made me *nearly* think I might be able to do that for one stage. Maybe (not). Highly recommended.
Jane Christmas’ What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostele
This was a recommendation from a friend the first year I was walking the Camino but I didn’t end up reading it until after I’d completed that first stage and it was much more meaningful because I could relate to many of the places and situations described. Written by Jane Christmas, a Toronto author, it describes how, at age 50, she undertakes the Camino on a whim (not something I’d recommend unless you’re in top shape physically and mentally, to take on an 800km pilgrimage) and ends up leading (and managing) what can only be described as a gaggle of middle-aged women and her experience wasn’t always the most positive. I appreciate honesty and Christmas is most definitely honest to the point where sometimes she tends to focus more on the negative and the difficult but hey – walking the Camino – especially if you are staying in the hostels/ refugios – can be hard. We all walk the Camino for different reasons and I’m always fascinated to read others’ experience and live it from their point of view. An easy read but probably one best left until you’re back home from your Camino.
Kurt Koontz’s A Million Steps
Koonz met Bill Bennett on the Camino and I happened upon him on Facebook a few months ago, downloading his account of walking the Camino on my Kindle in preparation for this year’s stage. Once again, I read this on my way to Madrid on the bus after I’d finished up the stage in Léon and as my experience was so fresh in my mind, this was the perfect “closure” read for this year. The “million steps” refers to the amount of steps Koonz thinks he’ll take on the Camino (certainly feels like it!). The book is divided into chapters which each describe a day on the Camino (Koontz has long legs, and is obviously much fitter than me because he covered this in much fewer days that it would take me to do the whole thing!) which make it a great read for when you are ON the Camino – you can review the day’s walk in each chapter! The book looks at Koontz’s personal journey of recovering from addiction and working through a rocky stage in her relationship and he does a good job of balancing the story so it’s a nice mix of Camino and inner reflection, making it very readable and relatable. A great choice for anyone considering (or having completed) the Camino!
Read more about the Camino de Santiago
Click here to read all my posts about the Camino de Santiago!
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I purchased all these books myself. I was not asked to review them, nor am I receiving compensation for doing do. All opinions my own.
MY BOOK! In the French kitchen with kids releases July 31, 2018! Click here for pre-order details!