Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading Odyssa

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) has been the subject of many books recounting peoples' experiences on the trail. About a year ago, I talked about the excellent books, Southbound and Walking Home, by the Barefoot Sisters (jackrabbit and Isis). I have read several others since then, some good, some just okay. I have not had the urge to write about one of them until now.  

Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis (Odyssa) is the best AT book I have read since the Barefoot Sisters and is one of the best books of any kind I have read lately. Content-wise, I'll still go with the sisters. Their books are much longer and more detailed. However, in two other important ways Odyssa has the sisters beat. First, her writing is excellent, the best writing I have seen in an AT book and excellent writing by any standard. Her words are a pleasure to read. Second, and more importantly, her writing put me in her head better than any other AT book author. Her various comments and observations allowed me to relate to her. I never felt that I was simply observing someone's hike. Many reviews made a big deal about her being a woman. However, I found the book to be about a person hiking the AT, interesting to anyone who enjoys such books.

Every once in a while I run across a phrase or idea in a book that makes me sit there for a few minutes saying "Wow." There was one such passage in Becoming Odyssa (italics mine): "I spent one full afternoon on the rocks of Clarendon Gorge talking with the locals who had retreated to the cool rapids of Mill River to escape the summer heat. They shared their food and their stories with me. And as I sat and listened to them talk about interests ranging from car parts to pottery and football to farming, it struck me that every person I had ever met and would ever meet knew something I didn’t and could do something I couldn’t. It was a simple truth, but I finally realized that the more people I invested in, the smarter and better equipped I would be."

I highly recommend this book. Don't wait for it to come out in paperback. Get it now.

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