BOOK: "Off the Road," by Jack Hitt (Simon & Schuster, $13)
TARGET AUDIENCE: Sunday school dropouts.
Here's an interesting travel concept: walking the ancient pilgrimage route from France to the tomb of James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, Spain -- by someone who isn't particularly religious. Hitt does it because it seems like a nice hike (albeit 500 miles long) and an opportunity to wipe clean one's spiritual slate. But he has to deal with wild dogs, lightning storms and, particularly vexing, fellow pilgrims.
In a wry, unassuming style, Hitt describes his quotidian challenges, such as personal hygiene (a farmer tells pilgrims they "reek like a shut barn"), bad directions (he spends all day on the trail only to discover he has hiked back to the town he left that morning), loathsome lodgings and blisters. Townsfolk greet him variously, with hospitality, hostility or admiration. Or mooning.
Hitt has surprisingly little introspection for someone in such a contemplative undertaking. He slips in a little geography, legends of the Knights Templar and deaths of the martyrs. All in great fun. Is it irreverent? Inspirational? Actually, both -- and capably so.
-- Jerry V. Haines