A Sense of Direction (and holy hell, what is up with that cover?)
I confess. I’m still bitter about Wild and this book was an attempt to wash away the bad taste that book left in my mouth (or would that be brain?). So yep, that means it’s another walking story. Except this one has a better back story.
The back story that results in the walking isn’t anything special (I’ll get to the other one in a minute, I promise). Boy graduates from college, goes through the motions, is vaguely dissatisfied and doesn’t want to live a life of regret later down the road, moves to Berlin, parties, learns a lot about the local art scene, parties some more, and ends up committing to walking the Camino de Santiago with an author buddy (Tom Bissell).
They walk the Camino. There is petty arguing, blisters (boy howdy are there blisters), interesting people met, and some thoughts on pilgrimaging (no red squiggle, so I guess that’s a word?). Along the way, Lewis-Kraus hears about another pilgrimage, this one in Japan.
So he walks around the island of Shikoku visiting Buddhist temples. After the first week walking with his uber-cool grampa Max, Lewis-Kraus is alone. In the rain. Parts are interesting, but I didn’t care for the stuff about not wanting to see anything historical and reflections on travel writing that doesn’t even discuss travel (you had to have been there). I’m not a big fan of traveling to not experience anything (nothing annoys me more than people talking about how hard they partied while they were in Italy/France/Mexico/etc…I think it’s a ridiculous waste of money to do the same thing you could do at home…not that this is what Lewis-Kraus does, it’s just a bad example that I’m using). Anyways. Middle part of book=Japan.
After Japan, hooked on the pilgrimage gig (and evidently still not knowing what to do with himself other than write a book for which he needs more fodder), and feeling dissatisfied with his relationship with his father, he gets his dad and little brother (who isn’t so little) to commit to a journey to the Ukraine to take part in an annual pilgrimage (minus the walking) to the tomb of a Jewish mystic whose name I have already forgotten. This time the goal is to reestablish a connection with his father.
Running through the whole pilgrimage/why people go pilgrimaging theme is the on-going conflict Lewis-Kraus has with his father. His father, a rabbi, came out when Lewis-Kraus was a teen and left the family for his lover. While Lewis-Kraus has no problems with the fact that his father is gay, it’s the lies and me-me-me attitude that have bothered him for years. Lewis-Kraus alternately commiserates with and whines (yes, whines) about his dad. It’s alternately interesting and then annoying. But I still think it makes for a much better back story than Wild. Because I thought all Strayed did was whine. And talk about sex. Lewis-Kraus admits to feeling decidedly unsexy during his pilgrimages. Hallelujah.
Also. Lewis-Kraus uses some majorly interesting words without coming across as all pretentious. Feuilletonist was by far the best, with marmoreal and flocculent being runner-ups. He does get a little angsty, and uppity about travel writers, and snarky about the whole pilgrimage gig at times (although I’d be snarky, too, if I was slogging through the rain for days on end), but I still enjoyed the book. In fact, I enjoyed it 10 bajillionity more times than I did that other book about walking/hiking/soul-searching. Although, if anyone would like to write a book about walking without the soul-searching I’d be even happier.