Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Book Review: Camino de Santiago - Practical Preparation and Background
Author: Gerald Kelly
# of pages: 144
Original Publication Date: July 4, 2011
Publisher: Createspace (self-published)
My Copy: Second Edition April 2015
My obsession with El Camino de Santiago de Compostela continues with this fantastic little guidebook by Camino veteran Gerald Kelly. I really enjoyed it. Truly.
It should be noted that this book is self-published and has a few typos and a couple of formatting issues. This is inevitable when dealing with a self-published work (a mark of the sad state of the publishing world in my opinion) but honestly they weren't really problematic. Mr. Kelly opens the book stating that it's self-published, and that efforts have been made to correct any and all errors, so the few typos that persist weren't too irritating. The only issue that truly frustrated me consistently was the way the text ran almost all the way into the crease between pages. This made the text in those areas difficult to read and I found myself bending the spine considerably more than I like to with slim paperbacks. Otherwise, the self-publishing thing wasn't an issue.
I really loved the way the book was set up, so that you didn't need to read it cover-to-cover if you didn't want to. It's a short book to begin with, but I think the way the chapters and sections are worked makes it invaluable as a reference guide. The first (very brief) section introduces you to the Camino - what it is and why people walk it. The second section is all about preparation: what to bring, how to pack, how to prepare, and how to get to Europe if, like me, you don't live on that particular continent.
My favorite part of that section was that instead of making a comprehensive list of everything you need, Mr. Kelly broke it up into three: the essentials, things you can bring if you want to, and what to leave at home. He also doesn't really push specific items or brands, but rather offers the pros and cons of a variety of options and allowing the reader to make an educated decision about what might best work for him or her. I found that to be an intelligent and considerate format and I greatly appreciated it both as a reader and as a prospective pilgrim.
The next part was all about walking the Camino itself. Mr. Kelly wrote about what a typical day on the Camino looked like, and what the hostels are like. He wrote about what to eat and where to buy food, when to drink the wine and when to stick to water. He talked about the potential dangers people face (mostly heatstroke and heart attack) and a variety of ways to deal with blisters. It is a lot of information to digest but it's broken up into bite-sized chunks and generally well-written. He covered a lot of topics but again, all of them fit into pretty small sections and sub-categories and it's easy to bookmark the sections I want to go back to.
After the main section on the day-to-day of the Camino there are shorter sections on other pilgrim routes in Europe, nature and architecture, as well as a chapter on the history of Spain. Some people found this section unnecessary or too long and boring. While I skimmed through most of this section myself, I felt that it is important for non-Europeans to understand Spanish history in order to better understand the nature of Spain today. The history lesson is followed by a Spanish phrase guide as well as some explanation of the differences between Castilian, Galician, and Basque Spanish as well as the variety of regional dialects spoken in Spain. The phrase guide is useful and I liked that instead of trying to teach rudimentary grammar Mr. Kelly simply offered a list of common words and phrases that the pilgrim needs. I personally plan to brush up on my conversational Spanish in the next two years anyway but I like that this phrase guide is available.
I loved that this man walks the Camino every year (or close to it at least) so he actually knows what he's talking about. He's also tried and tested a variety of different walking styles and brought a variety of different equipment with him, and he's also talked to other people about their Caminos and what worked for them. Obviously I won't know what will work best for me until I actually go, but having a variety of opinions to draw upon will likely be quite helpful in two years' time.
I don't have any quotes to share because this book wasn't really the quotable kind. There were parts that made me laugh, but out of context they don't make sense.
Recommended Reading Level: Teen+ but mostly Adult. It's all about packing and walking almost 800km and exchange rates and blisters and I wouldn't give this to somebody under 18 just because unless they were getting ready to walk the Camino for their 18th birthday/high school graduation, they'd be bored to tears.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars. I have to deduct because the typos and formatting issue of the type running right into the crease were annoying. Also, while I did enjoy reading it, it didn't completely captivate me like a 5 star read would. Because it's a guidebook. Can't be helped, sorry.
Who Should Read It: People who plan on walking the Camino anytime in the future, people who plan on backpacking through Europe anytime in the near future, people who like practical guidebooks, people who like books about preparing for a very long walk, people who are considering walking the Camino for the first time.
Further reading to consider:
The author has a website where you can download a guide to a variety of Caminos for free (a donation is suggested but if you want it for free it's available but really, make a donation if you do!) at CaminoGuide.net.
I'm already reading my next book on the Camino, this one written by a Catholic priest. I'm looking forward to a religious perspective on this crazy obsession of mine.
For more of the books I've loved, hated, and reviewed, please check out my Book Reviews tab.
*Note: I am not now nor have ever been an associate or acquaintance of Mr. Gerald Kelly. This is an unpaid, unsolicited review of a book I genuinely liked and wished to share.*