Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Walk West

Almost two years ago, I went with my wife on a business trip of sorts to a part of the country I hadn't been too. The reason for that business eludes me but I like seeing new territory so I jumped at the chance. While she was off doing her thing, I remember having several hours to kill and while doing just that I drove by a second-hand bookstore, my kryptonite. As I was perusing the non-fiction section, my double strength kryptonite, I saw three books with similar book jackets on a lower shelf. By the looks of the jackets, they were all published sometime in the 70's or early 80's and the price was cheap. Knowing nothing but the titles, I bought them along with perhaps a half dozen other books and walked out of the store.

The first book was "Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins and I reviewed that on my previous blog. It described how Peter, a recent graduate disillusioned with the Vietnam War, Watergate and the United States in general, set off to discover America's soul by walking across it. He set off with little money and headed south stopping here and there to work at odd jobs to pay his way. He made it as far as New Orleans where he met a girl named Barbara and married her. That is where the book ended.

I got side tracked on other books and soon forgot all about the other two. However, after finishing up my review of the biography on George Washington, I rediscovered the books on my shelf and decided that it was time to continue the journey. Book two this time by Peter AND Barbara Jenkins, "The Walk West", picked up with Peter working on an oil platform out in the gulf saving money up for Barbara and him to continue the walk west.

This book is almost identically written as the first and while it was a pleasure to read through the first, this one just didn't have the same sparkle. The simple writing style of Peter makes it an easy read but as I read through the pages as they worked their way through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon out to the coast, it just felt like more of the same. To make an analogy, it was still that same sport car that you bought a couple years ago and still drive every day. You wouldn't take back having bought it and you still want to drive it but it has undeniably lost some of the luster and newness in your life.

At the end of the trip, his wife Barbara is pregnant and Peter writes that they both want to settle down. During the book they write about a couple fights they had, they wrote as a new married couple and somewhere inside me I had my doubts that the marriage worked out. They just seemed to be opposite personalities and I had a suspicion that Peter's wanderlust would eventually drive a wedge in it. So I did some Googling and discovered Peter Jenkin's website. On the site in the Frequently Asked Questions portion, he goes on to say that he and Barbara did get divorced for personal reasons but remain on friendly terms. I got the impression that lots of fans were so disappointed of this but it really didn't surprise me. He later married someone named Rebecca and is still married and writing today.

So if you haven't read any of his books, this one and the first one are both definitely worth reading though I would recommend just picking one, probably the first one just because it is the start of the story. If I had treated it as just one massive tome and read them back-to-back, maybe I wouldn't have the "more-of-the-same" feeling that I had by reading them almost two years apart. In any case, the third book, "Across China" will probably remain on my shelf for awhile until I clear out some other books and partly because I'm already reading another much more current book on China right now. In my Googling, I did learn he recently published a book called "Looking For Alaska" with rave reviews so I might have to add that one to my list.


Sage said...

I remember your review of the first book--I read these books years ago--back in the late 70s--long before I hiked the AT. My Grandma (the one who is still living) gave them to me. I liked most of the first book, but didn't care much for the second. I think you had it right that it lost its luster. I didn't know about their divorce.

Beau said...

Interesting- I remember the first book, and read it years ago. It was okay, but didn't inspire me to read more. I was more inspired by the fact that he actually wrote a book! I'll have to look for the Alaska one.

TC said...

I think that once a baby pops into the picture, everything is bound to change. They talked about wanting to "settle down," but did they both? From your review, it sounds like it was more forced settling down for him, while for her it was an excuse to do so? Or maybe I'm totally wrong. It's still too bad either way.

The Alaska one sounds interesting.

TC said...

P.S. Bookstores are my kryptonite. Secondhand bookstores are definitely the really, really powerful stuff.

Ed Abbey said...

Sage - I'm glad that it isn't just me.

Beau - I've always been interested in U.S. travel writing which is what attracted me to this series.

TC 1 - I'm guessing Peter settled down for awhile but soon wanted more traveling and Barbara didn't.

TC 2 - So you have a bookshelf full of unread slightly used books too?

PhilippinesPhil said...

When you going to make your "walk" Ed? I can tell its something you'd like to try. Remember "Travels with Charley?" Steinbeck wasn't walking, but it was a cool road trip, right?

Ed Abbey said...

Phil - I'm pretty sure I missed the window of opportunity for a walk like this though I would have loved to do something similar. I'm a family man now and by the time I'm out of the child rearing business, I'll probably still be interested in traveling but not by foot... at least long distances.

TC said...

Nope. I actually just started the unread book on my bookshelf the other day :) I decided to stop letting its size intimidated me.

Murf said...

I agree, it didn't have the sparkle. Once the dog died, the book went downhill.