A Million Steps
United States: Self-published, 2013
ISBN 978-061585-292-8, paperback,
212 pages, $15.95
Let me start by acknowledging my ignorance of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Before beginning A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz I had never heard of the almost-500 mile hike from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France across the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago, Spain. Nor did I know the history or background of the pilgrimage (or that it had been a pilgrimage since medieval times), that millions of people have walked El Camino –The Way in English–for centuries (including John Adams, who walked from Santiago to Paris in 1779 to enlist French aid for the American Colonies during the American Revolution), or that Christian tradition has it that the remains of St. James of biblical fame are entombed in the cathedral at Santiago—the main reason for the pilgrimage in the first place. I intended to read A Million Steps because a student at one of my schools excitedly told me that his uncle had written the book; to encourage young readers in pursuit of pleasure reading, I told him I would read the book myself over spring break. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when The Idaho Librarian had the title up for review! I’m sure Mr. Koontz and others who have walked The Way would smile and say that there are no coincidences; everything we experience is connected. And they may be right.
This relatively small self-published book reads like an abbreviated diary of Koontz’s 30-day journey. He chronicles his experiences– the sights along the trail; the food in the fancy restaurants, the small cafes, and the smaller tiendas (markets) along the route; the nights in the crowded albergues (hostels) and the occasional 5-star hotels; and his encounters with the locals and with fellow pilgrims from all over the world. The language is simple enough for most young adult to adult readers, although adults will identify more with Koontz’s underlying reasons for his journey—the physical, intellectual, and spiritual lessons he learned.
After every chapter (each representing one day of Koontz’s trek), the reader is treated to several black and white photos representative of the day’s encounters. Be aware these are not National Geographic or Ansel Adams photographs, and the graininess of the printing makes the panoramic shots unremarkable; however, the portraits of Koontz’s fellow travelers are vibrant and full of life.
There are several pages of appendixes listing resources about El Camino and the author’s musical playlist on his walk; the resources were valuable while the playlist was only marginally interesting.
Koontz took me back to my college days hiking the Grand Canyon when my hiking bible was The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher. I still have that dog-eared book in a place of honor on my shelf, and it will be joined by this new friend. I also read up on El Camino and watched the film The Way and enjoyed seeing the landmarks described by Koontz.For the serious or casual walker, A Million Steps may be the catalyst for a personal trip to experience El Camino de Santiago. For those who make the journey, as they say along The Way, Buen Camino!
The book would make a good addition to all types of libraries.
Tina Roehr is an Alternative Schools Librarian/Teacher in the Meridian School District in Southwest Idaho.