Book Review: A Walk Across America

A Walk Across America Cover

A Walk Across America, a bestselling memoir by Peter Jenkins first published in 1979, chronicles the first ½ of his journey on foot across the USA, stretching from Alfred, New York to New Orleans, Louisiana. The remainder of the journey unfolds in The Walk West (1981).

“One half” is a fitting phrase to describe this story packed with bifurcations. Half about feeling lost, getting lost, and experiencing loss, and half about feeling found (in many ways), finding direction and a newfound sense of purpose, and experiencing connections, hope, renewal and love. Rich and poor, North and South, black and white, Summer and Winter, hippie communes and revival meetings, adventure-seeking and self-reflection, near-escapes and tragic outcomes — all that, plus a mountain man living in a forgotten past who you’ll never forget.

Not only a time-capsule of the early 1970’s, this story of America over 40 years ago is startlingly contemporary: social differences (proving hippies were pioneers for diversity), racial conflicts (hello blended families), and links between poor economies, the sources of healthy food, and good nutrition (setting the basis for everything from the obesity epidemic plaguing America, to the slow-food movement). Need more? How about a mission to confront an infamous, polarizing, media-hungry politician?

The phrase “one half” also describes my memory of A Walk Across America. I originally read this book around about 1980. Peter’s quest to explore the United States left a lasting impression on me. I’d intended to write about the book as the next post describing Campfire Tales influences

Then I recently re-read it and discovered not only parts or characters I’d either forgotten or missed (things I’d “lost”), but “found” elements that I strongly relate to (for instance, Peter’s love of trees; at one point he even works as a tree doctor) and emotionally identify with (such as Peter’s “adopted” mother Mary Elizabeth; most importantly, the astounding “looking for a sign” conclusion).

 

2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Walk Across America

  1. Enjoyed your musings Chad – it made me want to re-read through some of those old books that I have carted around from country to country and from house to home, but haven’t read for years. To see if they hold up after all this time, or do I finally understand them. I was speaking to a friend last week about Ferris Bueller – oh, how I thought he was so cool when I was 18, and now I just think he’s a real jerk! – so there will be some books who I might no longer like, and some characters that I didn’t like in them, that I just didn’t have the empathy to understand.
    Much like the Bible I think, which can often be revelatory – its like it is filled with “Easter eggs” (pun intended!) which you can only open when you get old enough. And then you THINK you understand until you realize that you don’t really understand anything……..and then you are once again childlike, and “love focussed”.
    I read this week something about new borns only being able to see a distance of 18 inches, which is the average distance between a baby’s eyes and their mothers face when they are breastfeeding.
    Now, how beautiful is that!!

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    • Let me know how your Second Look Reading List goes. I can appreciate everything you are saying, except for Ferris being a jerk. He’s manipulative and sneaky and selfish, yes. But he also cares about other people and has a zest for life and so on. Look at his best friend and his sister, both so concerned with following the rules, they’ve made themselves miserable. Ferris is the extreme in the other direction, to the point of being a hedonist. I’ve long-wished they would make the sequel to this, “Ferris Bueller’s Next Day Off.” He’s in his 50’s, has an uptight boss (in their early 30’s), and the tables are kinda turned. Anyway, Hollywood, give me a call! Let’s make this!

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