Review of WALKING One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge

My Goodreads page opens to my review of Edward Abbey’s DESERT SOLITAIRE, and my favorite Abbey quote, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

Abbey speaks truth.  So it is with Erling Kagge in his superb book WALKING One Step at a Time. I noticed Kagge’s book every time I worked in the Biography section in the store, but I never picked it up until yesterday. I think it should be in the Nature section, or the Sports section, or better yet, the Philosophy section, now that I’ve read it. Wherever it is shelved, it will likely be overlooked, as I have overlooked it for a month or more now.. The cover is not flashy: green and cream. The font is understated. The back cover reviews in no way prepare you for the excellent prose, the quiet tempo, the intimate detail with which Mr. Kagge writes. Believe me when I tell you that once you open to the first sentence on page 3 which tells of his grandmother’s death because she could no longer walk, until you finish with his grandfather walking to his execution by Nazis in 1945 on page 164, you will not put the book down. Even the footnotes are delightful reading. Who, what, where, when have you ever read a footnote that tells you not only the source of information, but the pleasure the author took in finding that information? And it is likely, as happened to me, you will immediately turn back to the beginning, to start reading again.

This is not a memoir about family, filled with sweet tales of beloved faces, though beloveds are mentioned. This is not a chest beating exclamation of worldly accomplishments, though great accomplishments are mentioned. Yes, yes, he is the first person to complete the Three Poles Challenge (North Pole, South Pole, summit Mt. Everest) on foot. Yes, he has wrtten six books, and collects art, and owns and operates a publishing company in Oslo (Kagge Forlag). Yes, yes, he is renowned, but this book…this book is a steady, quiet, earnest conversation with the author through bits of his life shown through the prism of his everyday walks. Some bits are muckier than others (endure his trek with his companion, Steve Duncan, through the dark, dank, smelly water, sewer, subway, train tunnels of New York which begins on page 110). Some bits are heartwarming, as when he describes his baby daughter learning to take her first steps – those calculated falls. He pulls thoughts on walking from other famous authors; from shepherds, from Socrates, Robinson Crusoe, and cockroaches surviving the millenia.

Kagge discusses the pain felt in long walks. He describes his hunger while on his North Pole trek, and how one, last raisin, dropped onto the snow, led him to get down on all fours to scoop it into his mouth with his tongue. “The feeling of joy from having the raisin between my lips, letting it roll around, and chewing slowly reminded me of something I already knew: it’s important to be able to enjoy small bites.” Reviewers note: I will never stuff raisins in my mouth again…it shall always be one at a time after reading this…sigh.

And while he walks, he wonders if modern life, where we sit more often than stand…lie down more often than walk, will change us fundamentally from the creature we were went to be…yet, because he is out walking while he is wondering, he is not necessarily worried about it. Walking is his panacea…and, he suggests, all of ours.

This book goes down like a slow sip of good scotch. Like gravy over roast beef and mashed potatoes. Like stretching on crisp, clean sheets… and now I must complete this, so I can go take a walk…

Brava, Mr. Kagge! Beautifully written!


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