Friday, August 5, 2011

I picked up this book at the used bookstore in town (which, by the way, I love. It's not as organzied as my other favorite bookstores (Horizon in TC or Schuler's in Lansing), but it is such a rambling place, full of odd stacks of unshelved books, a treasure-hunter's paradise. I have often spent hours in its incense-spiced rooms, my arms becoming increasingly heavy with the growing pile), hoping I'd find some great information, the sorts of odd, often-gruesome facts my World History students love to learn about when we talk of the middle ages.
And--just like those freshmen--I'd rather learn history in a fun way than a boring one, so I figured a travel account would be much more fun to read than that history book about medieval history I bought a couple years ago...the one with the still-pristine cover and uncracked binding. (Wonder why it still looks new?)
This book was certainly easy to read, a nice slow amble from London to Canterbury as the author walked the distance in a week's time, chronicling his experiences, the people he met and the thoughts he had. Along the way, he adds information about the differences between medieval life and modern.
I was hoping for some new nuggets of information but didn't find them, aside from the fact that medieval wine and beer had to be consumed immediately, as they didn't have a great way to preserve them. Beer particulary had to be drunk as soon as it was brewed, but wine could last up to a year, afterward becoming so acidic and bitter that it was unpalatable.
Jerry Ellis, the author, is half British-half Native American. Earlier, he walked the Trail of Tears, on which the Cherokee nation was forced to travel from their homes in Georgia to a barren landscape in Oklahoma, and chronicled his journey. His native American ancestry is clear throughout this narrative as well. He speaks often of a kinship with nature, of shamanistic spiritual ideas, of saving bits and pieces of his trip to bury at home under a sacred tree so that he can preserve the spirit of this journey with the one he took on the Trail of Tears.
I must admit, I rolled my eyes a few times at his mysticism. I try to keep an open mind as a reader, but I had such high hopes about this book, and I found that while I enjoyed learning of his journey and the very friendly people he met along the way, and while I admired the spirit with which he undertook the journey--fully prepared to take what came to him, eyes wide open, his ruminations on the past were not as deep as I had hoped.
Maybe, though, I just know more than I thought I did about the middle ages. Yes, maybe I am just too lofty a genius to appreciate this dabbling in the past. I think I'll tell myself that to assuage the disappointment I feel.

(Which reminds me of my favorite line in "A Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving: "Tom consoled himself with the loss of his property with the loss of his wife, for he was a man of fortitude.")

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