Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Leo Tolstoy: "To walk a thousand miles ..."

Is Count Tolstoy an unappreciated long-distance trail hiking guru? Judging from this image, he sure looks the part: the weathered features, the two-pronged frizz beard, the intensity of his gaze, and the loose-fitting shirt that covers his chest and arms so he doesn't have to wear sunblock. Consider this piece of advice -- found more than 1,000 pages into the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. I think these words will hold you in good stead if you ever find yourself out on the trail, although Tolstoy, in this case, is talking about the French army after the Battle of Borodino.

"When a man finds himself in motion, he always thinks up a goal for that motion. In order to walk a thousand miles, a man needs to think that there is something good at the end of those thousand miles. One needs a vision of the promised land in order to have the strength to move ... A man walking a thousand miles must say to himself, forgetting the final goal, 'today I will walk thirty miles to a resting place and spend the night,' and during this first march, the resting place overshadows the final goal and concentrates all desires and hopes on itself."

Anyhow -- I can't recommend this translation highly enough. I stayed up late at night marching through this thing -- and it still took me more than a month to make it from one end of the tome to the other. You might consider bringing this book along with you on your next sojourn, aiming for 50 pages a day or so, but I recommend taking out a razor blade and chopping it up into sections. The hard-back edition weighs about ten pounds.

By the way, I sent a fan email to Elif Batuman thanking her for her writings on Russian literature, which inspired me to tackle War and Peace. I told her I was having a hard time with all the footnotes and long passages in French and German. She recommended a trick she learned from Nabokov ---get a hold of two copies of the book and read them side by side.

Cactus Eaters with stamps

And cryptic messages just for you. Available only at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Stay tuned for guest blogger # 1.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cactus Eaters: related stories, articles, book reviews, podcasts and more

The Cactus Eaters (HarperPerennial) was a Los Angeles Times Discovery selection and winner of the Elle magazine readers prize. The book has been reviewed or featured in SalonKirkus ReviewsNational Geographic, Nextbook, Publishers Weekly, and many other publications. My book can be found at Powell's Books, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and in bookstores across the country, and was featured in a 2013 HarperPerennial e-book promotion, "Stranger Than Fiction," also featuring Sarah Silverman's The Bedwetter and other high-profile memoirs.

Here is a hodgepodge of useful links including unexpurgated reviews of the book, which was a San Francisco Chronicle and Northern California Independent Bookstore bestseller and a number-one bestselling travel book on Amazon. It is now available in paperback. Here you will also find related podcasts, related articles and some of my latest adventures on the bottom. There are some oddities, too --- I'm featured in a radio program that also features Chuck D of Public Enemy. Alas, I did not get to meet Chuck D, but I still have his autograph on a cocktail napkin from his appearance at Toad's Place during the Apocalypse '91 tour.

Susan Salter Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times.

A review by the fiction writer Steve Almond in the Boston Globe.


Kirkus Reviews.

National Geographic.

Brave New Traveler.

Rick Kleffel's Agony Column, KUSP.

Agony Column book review of the Cactus Eaters

The Oregonian.


Publisher's Weekly.

Pearl's Picks.

Lisa Haneberg interview.

Good Food with Evan Kleiman.

Writer's Block podcast, featuring the chapter, "Operation Water Dump."

Denny Smithson, interview, Cover to Cover, Berkeley KPFA.

Etude: New Voices in Literary Nonfiction.

Mary Magazine with Jillian Kurvers.

Synchronized Chaos

Camino Santiago.

The Retiring Librarian., and last but not least, Leafing Through Life and the Bay Guardian.

Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who just emailed me this recent Top 10 List which includes the Cactus Eaters. Naturally, I want to read the other nine books on the roster.

Also, here are some links to some of my other recent adventures in the New York Times:

Exploring Santa Cruz.

Getting lost in Kentucky and then slurping bourbon with complete strangers.

Fallin' off somebody else's bike in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Exploring my second favorite city in America: Seattle, Washington.

Dealing with the fact that Mammoth Lakes is getting really gentrified.

And here's a link to a Backpacker story about Range Creek, Utah

That's all for now. See you a little farther down the trail!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Subscribe to the Chicago Quarterly Review

I escaped from my bookstore reading rut by attending a great event on Monday -- five contributors (including one editor) reading from the latest CQR at the Capitola Book Cafe. It was a bravura performance, and introduced me to engaging new voices like Caitlyn He and Vanessa Hemingway.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Upcoming events and horse photo

Upcoming events:

I have three upcoming events, but only two of them have official dates and itineraries. Looks like I will also be addressing a group in the Oakland area soon. I will update this when I know more.

2011 events

February 12, 2001, "Reading in Good Company"

Atherton, CA

Thank you to the newly launched Bay Area book group Reading in Good Company, which has chosen The Cactus Eaters as its inaugural choice and invited me to participate. I will be there for the discussion, which will take place at 1 p.m. on February 12 at the Atherton Public Library in Atherton, Ca.

April 9, 2011: Literary Orange
Irvine, CA

Here is the complete itinerary for that upcoming conference and book talk at the UC Irvine library. I will be part of a travel/trailblazers panel with Robert Anasi and John McKinney. Make sure to be there. I'll bring the salamander stamps if you want them.

I would like to say that this is my trusty trail horse, Katahdin, and that I am planning to ride the length of the CDT with him next year. But that would be a lie.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cactus Eaters and the Dalai Lama

I heard from a reliable source that a copy of my book has been spotted at a funky hostel at the McLeod Ganj (the Dalai Lama's hometown). If it's still there, this is the farthest that a copy of the Cactus Eaters has traveled, and will ever travel --- unless someone shoots the book into the far reaches of outer space.

Maybe someone will give him a copy. I hope they cross out all the bad words.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Two readers of this blog like to keep track of this reading list. Everybody else, aside from those two readers, will kindly ignore this feature. If nothing else, this also helps me keep track of my own reading without having to join a social network that forces me to rate and review books for free, including the work of friends and other people. (bad, bad, bad.)


Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Current movies: Walkumentary by Lawton.