As part of my mental preparation for the Camino I have been reading several of the many books that have been written about the pilgrimage. These books have fallen into two rather broad categories – guidebooks/planning books and journals recording pilgrim experiences. Both types are valuable and help the aspiring pilgrim prepare for the realities he/she will face on the Camino. I’ve listed some of them in case others are contemplating hiking the Camino and might find them useful.
From the first category, I have particularly appreciated the superb guidebooks by John Brierley – in particular “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago” and “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Finisterre” (www.caminoguides.com). Not only do these books provide detailed route guides/maps with elevation maps, town plans, information on alburgues, alternate routes, and sightseeing information, they also contain tons of practical information for trip preparation (physical and mental), suggestions for travel to/from Camino starting/ending points, descriptions of daily life on the Camino, equipment recommendations, Camino history, and personal reflections along the way. As an added bonus, they don’t weigh much and are compact enough to be easily carried and consulted while on the Camino.
However, a couple of other very useful planning books are also on my bookshelf, including “Camino de Santiago: Practical Preparation and Background” by Gerald Kelly, “Pilgrim Tips and Packing List: Camino de Santiago” by S. Yates with Daphne Hnatiuk, and “Camino Lingo” by Reinette Nóvoa with Sylvia Nilsen. For me, the Brierley books are essential, but the others contain useful information and nicely supplement the information he provides.
From the second category I have thoroughly enjoyed reading “To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela” by Kevin Codd. Kevin is a Catholic priest whose day-by-day reflections relate the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges he faces on his pilgrimage. His experiences profoundly impact his relationship with God and with the people he meets along the way. His prose is wonderfully crafted and his descriptions are moving and call for serious contemplation. My pilgrimage will be much more meaningful, I believe, because of this book.
I also enjoyed “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. This record of Kurt’s pilgrimage describes many eye-opening revelations he received along the way. He started out feeling very well prepared but quickly found that the Camino has a way of humbling even the best prepared pilgrim. He also experienced a life-changing spiritual dimension to the trip, which he describes throughout the book. A random smattering of his reflections:
• The gifts of the Camino are available to everyone, regardless of station in life or background. They are not only available for a select few.
• You can see God in everything along the Camino. You are always surrounded by Him.
• Time takes on a new dimension on the Camino. The essence of time fades and becomes less important.
• The power of the Camino to teach is greatly underestimated. The lessons come without warning.
• Pilgrims have a spiritual connection with all those who have walked the Camino over the centuries.
I also recently read “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho. This book, a lead-in to his best-selling book, “The Alchemist”, chronicles the author’s pilgrimage along the Camino as he searches for wisdom and meaning in his life. It speaks in parables about the spiritual mysteries he uncovers as he is led along by a strange spiritual guide who helps him understand the meaning of life. I found the book to be strange and a somewhat difficult read. It is in no way a guidebook, but the Camino does serve as the main setting for the book and other readers may find it more enlightening. It contains many of the meditation techniques that Paulo performs along the way and is highly regarded within literary circles.