The best memoirs that combine the inward and outward journey

Jane Christmas Author Of What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela
By Jane Christmas

Who am I?

As a kid, I hated the outdoors, hated change, hated discomfort. Imagine my surprise when, in 2004, without an iota of expertise, I decided to hike Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It was life-changing and world-opening on so many levels. Since then, I’ve written five best-selling journey memoirs, two of which have been nominated for awards. I read just about anything but I am particularly drawn to stories about those who leave the comfort of their homes to go and live another life. We all think of doing it; few of us actually do.


I wrote...

Book cover of What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela

What is my book about?

All journeys consist of a metaphysical and a physical aspect: There’s the part of the journey that requires plane tickets, passports, various logistics, and lists of what to pack; then there’s the part that you might not have considered—the reason for the journey, the expectations loaded into your subconscious, the awe and veiled disapproval of those you’ve told about your trip. What The Psychic Told the Pilgrim is about a pilgrimage, but it’s also about prickly relationships and the politics of women; about walking a path you never knew existed much less knew that you had to walk it. It’s about trusting the goosebumps on your arm, of trusting intuition. What happens when you take the road less travelled?

The books I picked & why

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Starting Out In the Afternoon

By Jill Frayne,

Book cover of Starting Out In the Afternoon

Why this book?

Your marriage is over and your child is heading off to university. What to do? Why, you get in your car and drive nearly 6,000 km from Toronto to the Yukon. This lyrical, enchanting memoir of a mid-life journey tugs at the soul. What strikes me the most about it is the courage of its author to go it alone.

Starting Out In the Afternoon

By Jill Frayne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Starting Out In the Afternoon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jill Frayne’s long-term relationship was ending and her daughter was about to graduate and leave home. She decided to pack up her life and head for the Yukon.

Driving alone across the country from her home just north of Toronto, describing the land as it changes from Precambrian Shield to open prairie, Jill finds that solitude in the wilds is not what she expected. She is actively engaged by nature, her moods reflected in the changing landscape and weather. Camping in her tent as she travels, she begins to let go of the world she’s leaving and to enter the…


A Moveable Feast

By Ernest Hemingway,

Book cover of A Moveable Feast

Why this book?

I am not a huge fan of Hemingway, but A Moveable Feast, published posthumously, took my breath away. It’s not the literary name-dropping; it’s the depiction of Paris, between 1921 and 1926, when it was run by artists and vagabonds, not the glitterati. I read this in Paris under duress; I wasn’t even keen on Paris for that matter. This book changed all that the moment I read its opening line: ‘Then there was the bad weather.’

A Moveable Feast

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked A Moveable Feast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway's most beloved works. Since Hemingway's personal papers were released in 1979, scholars have examined and debated the changes made to the text before publication. Now this new special restored edition presents the original manuscript as the author prepared it to be published.

Featuring a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, Ernest's sole surviving son, and an introduction by the editor and grandson of the author, Sean Hemingway, this new edition also includes a number of unfinished, never-before-published Paris sketches revealing experiences that Hemingway had with his son Jack and…


The Seven Storey Mountain

By Thomas Merton,

Book cover of The Seven Storey Mountain

Why this book?

Admittedly, a book about a womanizing druggie who finds God and goes off to be a Trappist monk sounds trite. But this is the real deal, mainly due to Merton’s candidness, but also to his beautiful writing. Though published in 1948, it feels entirely modern. There’s a journey here but you’ll remember the interior one more than the exterior one.

The Seven Storey Mountain

By Thomas Merton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Seven Storey Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The complete and unedited edition of Thomas Merton's famous autobiography, one of the greatest works of spiritual pilgrimage ever written.

'The Seven Storey Mountain is a book one reads with a pencil so as to make it one's own.'
Graham Greene

'A remarkable book, a classic of its kind, written in a vivid, rich and alert style which ranges from crisp vernacular to passionate eloquence, full of picturesque incident and passing at times into religious ecstasy.'
The Times Literary Supplement

'A book which may well prove to be of permanent interest in the history of religious experience.'
Evelyn Waugh


Just Kids

By Patti Smith,

Book cover of Just Kids

Why this book?

Patti Smith’s pale scowl and dark music always scared me a little. Then I picked up this book on a personal dare. It changed everything. Lyrical and touching, this memoir delves into Greenwich Village circa the ‘60s to the late ‘70s and chronicles Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Mostly it reveals the heart of a kind, creative artist. Smith will win you over.

Just Kids

By Patti Smith,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Just Kids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” -- People

It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.

Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence…


The Crossway

By Guy Stagg,

Book cover of The Crossway

Why this book?

In 2013, Guy Stagg set off from Canterbury and walked all the way to Jerusalem to heal himself from depression. He travelled without belief and without support, trusting entirely on the generosity of strangers. The weird and the wonderful came through for him. Funny, fascinating, and personal.

The Crossway

By Guy Stagg,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Crossway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner - Edward Stanford Travel Memoir of the Year 2019.
Shortlisted - Rathbones Folio Prize, Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award 2019.

'An extraordinary travelogue, strange and brilliant' - i

In 2013 Guy Stagg walked from Canterbury to Jerusalem. Though a non-believer, he began the pilgrimage after suffering several years of mental illness, hoping the ritual would heal him. For ten months he hiked alone on ancient paths, crossing ten countries and more than 5,500 kilometres. Travelling without support, he had to rely each night on the charity of strangers.

The Crossway is an account of…


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