"Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time" by Andrew Forsthoefel

By Forsthoefel, Andrew

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9781632867018

For almost a full year, in the spaces between California and Massachusetts, a young man named Andrew Forsthoefel walked the highways and byways with a large backpack, an audio recorder, mandolin, and a sign that read "WALKING TO LISTEN".  Countless cars passed him by, the doors of people's homes opened, and feasts and memories were shared.  Andrew, whom I will continue to refer to by first name as do all he meets along the road, began his walk with copies of Whitman, Rilke, and a yearning for some answers from the outside world.  But as anyone who has journeyed alone knows, so much can arise unbidden from within.
"Will you seek afar off?" - Whitman.
"I was a stranger wherever I went, un-moored, ever-leaving, and I began to wonder if that's how it had always been, but I'd never seen it before, my own true strangeness here."
"Would I take me in, I often wondered, a complete stranger on the road?" - Andrew Forsthoefel.
As a reader with affinity for the records of other's personal journeys, I imagined this book to carry on where Steinbeck in "Travels With Charley" and Least-Heat Moon in "Blue Highways" took us before - through a desire to understand humanity and America through the lens of travel, through the voices of the average people found serendipitously along the way. And it does.
There is a brokenness, and a beauty, and a common of thread of love and healing that truly has woven our country together, a glimpse of the human race that I'm now convinced can only truly be seen from this perspective.  It has been a long time since I've opened a book to unexpectedly discover such depth of humanity overflowing from the pages.
"We are our brother's keeper. Some people don't agree with that, but we are, because everything we do will have a ripple effect. One act of kindness may conquer an army one day. We don't know." - Selma Police Chief William Riley.
This book was published last year, and is written from an accumulation of some years looking back on the experience.  Andrew has been invited to the tables of families with small children, into the makeshift shelter of a homeless man's tent, taken advice from a concerned prostitute, been  lectured by preachers, given tours by mayors, witnessed the divided South, and sought solace in the wisdom received along the way. This is a book, quite simply put, to read to learn about the country we're living in.  Recommended reading for all Americans - as the Washington Post has reviewed, "The ideal antidote for even the strongest bout of national doubt."  Would you have taken Andrew in, fed him & stuffed money in his pockets as so many worse off themselves, did?
"When you arrive at wherever you're going, that's where you'll be, and you'll see, just like I did." - Woody Curry, Vietnam Veteran and Clinical Therapist.
Andrew has appeared on This American Life and The Moth podcast, and teaches listening as a practice in peacemaking and deep connections, running workshops throughout the country.

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