A few years ago, I heard of the Camino de Santiago while reading a book about a woman who walked the trail in sections over the course of a few years.
Since then, I've met several people who've walked portions of the Camino, usually with family members. So, the Camino was on my radar when I was in Walmart (for an oil change) looking for books for our daughter's birthday gift. I got Maggie The Thing About Jellyfish, which she loved and read in a few hours. For me, I picked up Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist's tale of two middle-aged people who meet on the Camino: Two Steps Forward.
I don't normally just buy books when I'm out, even if they look appealing. Typically, I can get them cheaper on Amazon, perhaps even used, and I'm also trying very much to read what I've got. I've got a bookshelf dedicated to all of the books I've half-read or haven't begun at all, so buying new books is a no-go for me. However, on that particular day, I was in the mood for something light and airy. I was feeling down and didn't want to dig into any of the heavier books on my shelf.
So, when I saw a book written by the author of The Rosie Project (which I adored), I thought: this is the Universe handing me a gift. Don't balk at the $12.78.
I'll warn you now, before I get into the thick of my 10 Thoughts On Two Steps Forward, I didn't care for this book and feel the writing/editing was really lacking. So, go into this having been forewarned. :)
That said, here are 10 Thoughts on Two Steps Forward:
1. I bought the book for three reasons. One, it's co-written by the author of The Rosie Project, which (as I've said) I loved. Second, it looked light and airy. Third, there is a quote at the top of the book that reads: "The hype is justified." I didn't read below that quote, assuming it was relate to the book itself. Readers: it's not. That quote is regarding The Rosie Project, not Two Steps Forward. This seems a little disingenuous and deceitful. Having read the book, however, I can see why there aren't rave reviews to plaster across the cover.
2. One of the things that makes a book 'good' is the reader's ability to connect with and care about the characters. Even if we don't like the characters, we should feel something for them. I didn't care one whit about any of the characters in this book and have already forgotten their names. I think I remember two names from the entire book, but I can't remember either of the main character's names.
3. This book is one cliche after another. Seriously. I keep thinking: no....the authors won't do that.....and then they did do that, so the story is just one eye roll after another.
4. I just remembered the main character's name. Ha. Zoe.
5. This is as much a story about the Camino as it is about the people who travel it, but I felt that neither was given enough depth. I've long been interested in the Camino, and this book did pull me further into that interest, but the descriptions of the trail itself, the hotels and the people were sort of one-dimensional and flat.
6. That said, I have been thinking about the Camino since I read this book and have looked up the details several times. So, while the writing wasn't stellar and the characters are cliched and less-than-likable, there must have been something that resonated with me in this book because my mind keeps coming back to it. This is a great example of why it's important (I believe) to read all fiction, even sometimes struggling through poorly written/executed work. As someone who loves words and writing and books, it's hard for me to see the value sometimes in works that fall short of, say The Road or Eventide or Death Comes for the Archbishop. But there is often a different sort of value in other books, and in Two Steps Forward a few things did resonate with me, did make me pause, did make me think.
7. The one page I marked in this book has a sentence that stood out to me and speaks to one of my overall beliefs about life: I had discovered the pleasures of food, and of sleep that comes from exhaustion and leaves no room for rumination. (pg. 89) I really believe we'd all be happier and healthier if we worked hard enough each day to merit that sort of sleep. Have you ever worked physically hard, all day, and fallen into bed at night exhausted but satisfied and happy? I think that's missing in our day-to-day lives. At least it's sometimes missing in mine. Rumination often happens when there is room to let it breed.
8. The authors traveled the Camino, and you can see that in the book. As a writer, there is temptation to write about what we've lived or experienced first-hand, but that is a slippery slope. When we write about something we've done, there's a temptation to make it exact, to describe it just as it was, and this often comes across clunky or out-of-place in fiction. I think that happens in this book. I would have just loved a nonfiction piece about their time on the Camino, something along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love. As a reader, I felt the limited nature of the people on the trail because, I felt, the authors themselves were describing real people, whom they didn't know beyond a surface level.
9. This book, even if it's less-than-stellar, will appeal to middle-aged people who face life transitions, or anyone who is facing a big transition. This book did make me think about marriage, parenting and where I'm at right now in my life.
10. I'd recommend this as a beach read, and I don't go to the beach and read. But it's light and airy and leaves the reader with enough thoughtfulness to have a lovely dinner conversation with a group of friends, who've joined you on this beach vacation. I can picture it now, glasses of rosé, dinners of salmon and mango salsa, maybe a jumbo shrimp cocktail as a starter. Everyone is wearing linen and a tiny bit of bronzer. Hair has been pulled away from faces, and there is a bit of contemplation in the air. Someone says, "Have you ever thought of a pilgrimage?" And your friend replies, glass of rosé lifted halfway to her mouth, "Oh....you mean a bus tour of Napa?" This is just the book for that vacation.
I didn't look at the Insights, Interviews and 'More' section. I can't even imagine.
I did pass it along to a friend, though. I know I've been rough on this one, but there is value in this book, and for someone who isn't coming off just having read Eventide, it may not be as shockingly one-dimensional. I said, a few weeks ago, that I needed a literary palate cleanser. The Universe heard my wish and delivered.
Two Steps Forward is just a light, airy thing that touches on more serious subjects and ends up asking questions relevant to many of our lives.
I should do one-sentence reviews from here on out. :)
I hope everyone had a beautiful, slow, peaceful weekend. I've got a second sick child in the house today. Poor Maggie woke with a tummy ache. She's sleeping now, Sandy by her side. God bless this dog.