Saturday, December 17, 2005

Walk to New York by Charles Wilkins

This was an interesting travelogue by a man who, upon the end of his marriage, decided the best way to recover was to go for a really long walk. So in April 2002, he left his home in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and ended up 90 days later in... guess! New York City.

The author is a journalist, and it shows in the way that his writing is at its best when reporting on the places he passes through on his journey. He offers some interesting history of the towns he stops in and the people who lived there, and his descriptions of the natural beauty and the native wildlife of northern Ontario and upstate New York are evocative. I enjoyed reading about the building of the railroad through northern Ontario, the history of Manitoulin island, and the geology and history of Lake Superior. That said, there were quite a few places where I felt like he tried too hard, resulting in some odd turns of phrase that feel over-written: "And again she pressed out her throaty cavitating laugh", "my tastebuds convalesced from their umpteenth Montmorency orgasm"... etc.

Wilkins also spends an awful lot of time writing the kinds of things that you might expect someone to be thinking about when they spend hours and hours walking over the course of several weeks. Frankly, I think that stuff is probably interesting only to himself.

We don't miss out on any details of the effect that the walking has on his feet, and we hear about every change of socks or footwear. I also got a little annoyed at his unflattering description of the greater Toronto area. He walks on roads that are not designed for pedestrians, then gets annoyed when he's nearly hit by the cars rushing by. He complains that there's no place for a transient walker to go to the bathroom and that the suburbs have no character, that people in Toronto don't look him in the eye as they drive past (has it occurred to him that they are using their eyes to help them drive, ensuring they don't hit him as he walks on the road?) and apparently believes the suburbs have no character and are evidence of the decline of civilization. Well, that may be true, but I don't know about all the people who live there -- I think they're reasonably happy with it.

This kind of complaining extends to his visits to other places. There are a number of towns he walks through that were home to some writer or artist that Wilkins admires, and he gets really annoyed when the few random people he asks have never heard of the person and don't know where s/he lived when alive. He goes to Cooperstown and is disgusted at all the things that aren't in the baseball hall of fame. Etc, etc.

So, a mixed review of an interesting but at times annoying book.

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