Book Your Trip | These Books Were Made For Walking: Summer Reads To Stroll ThroughThink the oldest mode of transportation is still the best? Whether you prefer to walk, wiggle, saunter or strut, these books will put a spring in your step.
Skila Brown uses free verse to tell the fictional story of Carlos, a boy who lives in a rural Guatemalan village in 1981. The country is mired in civil war, and after a group of soldiers attacks his village, Carlos must make his way up a mountain on foot to warn his grandmother about the encroaching violence. Readers accompany Carlos on his perilous journey as he endures fear, hunger and exhaustion but never gives up on making it to his destination. (Some readers will see similarities between Carlos' struggle and those of real-world children growing up surrounded by war.) Written from Carlos' perspective, the poems also touch on the boy's memories of his family and village.
Caminar means "to walk" in Spanish, but the writing is primarily in English and the glossary at the end provides readers with definitions and pronunciations for any Spanish words that appear in it. (For ages 10 and up)
Dominic, a thoroughly good-hearted, adventurous young dog, packs up his precious piccolo one particularly restless day, nails a goodbye note to his door, and sets out to find his fate. He quickly runs afoul of the vicious Doomsday Gang, a pack of villains that has been terrorizing the countryside. With the help of a group of ragtag companions, Dominic sets himself to the dual tasks of routing the Doomsday Gang and seeing a bit more of the world. William Steig has a special knack for combining the most charming animal and human traits to create delightful anthropomorphic amalgams. Dominic, for example, might delight in a rakish cap, but he also "sniffs his friends with affection." These pitch-perfect characters, taken together with Steig's tone of sophisticated whimsy and a well-paced plot, add up to a captivating book. With its short length, long words and episodic action, Dominic makes an especially good read-aloud. (For ages 8 to 12)
In the summer of 2010, British poet Simon Armitage undertook walking the Pennine Way, a challenging, 256-mile journey down England's spine. Like the troubadours of old, Armitage paid his way by doing poetry readings at inns, libraries and pubs each night. We accompany Armitage as he carefully makes his way across moors and up and down the hills and dales. As someone who goes on a long-distance walk in England yearly, I've always been fearful of attempting the Pennine Way; now I know why. Storms are never beloved by walkers, no matter the high quality of their rain gear, but excessive rain makes the ubiquitous peat bogs extremely hazardous, as the author discovers. I definitely don't want to undertake the tramp that Armitage took, but I sure loved reading about his walk.
This list mostly features journeys taken on foot, but we thought it wouldn't be complete without a journey traveled by paw — 12 paws to be exact. It's no secret that those of us with animal companions feel a deep and abiding love for our pets, and Sheila Burnford's most famous novel explains why we love our furry friends as much as we do. If you've never read the chronicle of Tao, the Siamese cat; Luath, the Labrador; and Bodger, the bull terrier, you're missing out. The brave and lovable animals — whom you may recognize from the 1993 Disney movie Homeward Bound — follow their instincts hundreds of miles through northwestern Ontario in search of their owners, and their story is funny, sweet and awe-inspiring. (For ages 12 and up)
When I was growing up, Roger Zelazny's 10-volume epic was my favorite fantasy book series. Where Narnia was childish, Amber was decidedly adult. Where the Lord of the Rings was plodding, mopey and occasionally pedantic, Amber was a flat-out 1970s cross-genre joy, full of sword fights, gunfights, drunken family intrigue, jailbreaks, butterfly collars and the coolest kind of magic ever — the ability of the main characters to walk to any reality they chose. The near-immortal children of King Oberon of Amber have the power to walk these shadow worlds and, in doing so, mold for themselves the reality of their choosing. Now of course, all the kids eventually grow up and want to rule Amber (which gives the books their sword-opera plots, drive and motivating spark), but for me, the ability to simply lace up my sneakers one day and walk to any reality I chose had a powerful, almost narcotic attraction that has stuck with me all through a wandering, vagabond life.
-- Jason Sheehan, author, most recently of Tales from the Radiation Age
Novelist and translator César Aira is a prolific master of the novella, cranking out one short gem after another in a stream-of-consciousness style — a "flight forward" technique that keeps his stories moving despite the corners he writes himself into. Varamo, which is centered on a low-level government employee of the same name, sees Aira at the height of his genius. After collecting his monthly wages, Varamo realizes the bills are counterfeit. Confused and angry, he takes to the street, meeting a host of eccentric characters along the way. From these seemingly meaningless run-ins, he gathers the strange material for what will become a "celebrated masterpiece of modern Central American poetry." With "The Song of the Virgin Child," Varamo surprises everyone, including himself. Why? Because before this piece of writing, he'd never written a thing, not even "one sole verse." With all its humor, intelligence and idiosyncrasy, Varamo is also a reminder that long walks — and what happens on said walks — often make for the most memorable experiences.
What I talk about when I talk about running is how little I like it, how much it hurts my shins, and how many times I sat out the mile run in my high school gym class. What Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami talks about, thank goodness, is life. Neither complaint nor boast, it's a kind of memoir, but also a training journal, and a guide to his own writing. As a runner, Murakami is no slouch — he has run more than 20 marathons. He has even run a 62-mile ultramarathon, an experience that he describes in brutal and transcendent terms. I can't approach the book as a runner, though I know it will appeal to those with Murakami's compulsion, but I loved it as a map to a writer's mind — he notes that most of what he learned about writing he learned by running every day. Embedded in the book are tiny illuminations (he listens to the Lovin' Spoonful on his runs, prefers public speaking in English to Japanese), and helpful maxims even for nonrunners ("Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional"). As a form of transit, running is never going to be my friend, but a piggyback ride on Murakami's strength of character and muscle is a fascinating way to view the world.
When the land of heart's desire can be one cheap discount flight away, how do we find journeys that truly challenge and inspire? We meet Gideon Lewis-Kraus as a young hipster slacker mooching about Berlin. A chance encounter finds him undertaking the famous pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. That Lewis-Kraus is Jewish, with no discernible spiritual inclinations, is immaterial. In the "walking cure" he finds a steady pace (albeit one that includes blisters, exposure to the elements and the often unwelcome company of strangers) that allows him time and space to contemplate the direction of his life and, in particular, his difficult relationship with his father. He undertakes another pilgrimage — this time along a Buddhist route — in Japan and, finally, ends in Ukraine. Although he never quite discards his hipster sensibility and tone, this is a long walk to self-discovery that speaks eloquently of our times.
When Rory Stewart tells an Afghan security officer that he's in the country to retrace the steps of Babur, India's first Mughal emperor, he is told: "You are the first tourist in Afghanistan. It is midwinter — there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee." And that's only part of the reason why Stewart's book is so compelling: It's a throwback to classic travel writing. It's the sort of book — and journey — that one doesn't encounter much these days, given the near-universality of technology and the seeming interconnectedness of all places. And yet Stewart not only succeeds in his goal — walking from the western Afghan city of Herat to the capital, Kabul, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — but in the process shines a light on a country that for good reason is known as the graveyard of empires.
-- Krishnadev Calamur, editor, NPR News
Honorable Mentions: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer, The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
This list could go on forever! Don't see your favorite walking book? Share it in the comments or tweet it with the hashtag #BookYourTrip. And if you're curious about our process you can read more here.
Book Your Trip was produced by Nicole Cohen, Rose Friedman, Petra Mayer and Beth Novey, and designed by Alyson Hurt. The supervising editor is Ellen Silva.