Book Review: Walking to Listen by Andrew Forsthoefel

When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be similar to Listening is an Act of Love, a book I was assigned to read as an incoming college freshmen. While that book was a compilation of verbatim interviews on all sorts of topics, Walking to Listen is a compilation of stories woven, along with the author’s own story, into one cohesive cloth. Over the course of 11 months Andrew Forsthoefel collects stories from people, Pennsylvania to California, all while creating his own story, putting sense to his past, and looking ahead at the possible trajectory of his future.

Book Facts

TitleWalking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time

Author – Andrew Forsthoefel

Published – 2017

Thoughts

My Overall Rating – 5/5 (I would recommend this book to someone even if they didn’t ask me about it)

The way Forsthoefel strings together the stories in this book is incredible. Even the story behind the photo on the cover of the book is touching the way he tells it. He weaves his own story in with the stories of all the people he met on his journey. The whole time Andrew was walking, I felt like I was walking with him. I was growing with him, and making personal discoveries about myself right alongside him. The bonus, of course, being that I was doing it from the comfort of my own living room. My reading pace slowed down around the middle of the book only because, much how Andrew felt about his walk, I didn’t want it to end.

There is definitely more of a focus on his time spent in the southern states like Georgia and Louisiana, along with his time spent walking on Native American reservations in Nevada. California is a bit glossed over in his haste to get to the end. I think it might have also had something to do with those states being more foreign and interesting to a Pennsylvania native. The only thing I would change about this book would be to add a map of the route he walked. I would love to be able to visually see the route he took.

After each chapter he gives a snippet of verbatim dialogue from the interviews he did along the way. This produces a bit of a time jumping effect at times, though he does make sure to orient you as to when and where the interview took place. It adds a flavor to the book when you can read these peoples’ stories exactly as they told them.

Walking to Listen is about more than just the stories of random strangers and the author. Frosthoefel uses peoples’ stories and his own experience as a gateway to talk about and tackle tough subjects. For example at the beginning of his journey he acknowledges his privilege as a white male, and that it has allowed him to take this journey. There is a good portion of a chapter that explores The Dark Knight Rises movie theater shooting in Colorado, after Andrew sees the news headline in the paper. Much of the end of the book, perhaps symbolically, focuses on the end of things, new beginnings, and ultimately death.

Forsthoefel is not afraid to explore his emotions throughout the book. He shares with us moments of elation and celebration alongside low moments of feeling defeated and even sobbing. Something fun he does throughout the book is come up with different names for different types of walking. Bliss-walking, burn-walking, dream-walking, read walking, the list goes on. Like he didn’t know there were so many types of walking, I didn’t know a book about walking could be this interesting.

Memorable Quotes

There wasn’t a formula for how to live my life, because my life had never been lived before (241).

If I couldn’t find perfection in this, then what made me think I’d be able to find it tomorrow, next month, or two decades from now? Peace had to be an inner perspective, not a specific and temperamental set of external conditions (314).

Well, what if there’s sadness, but there’s not judgement about it. Sadness is just as good as gladness… Yeah, it’s sadness! Isn’t it great that you can feel that? (348)

Online Resources

Walking to Listen Blog (Archives)

This is Andrew Forsthoefel’s original blog that he kept while walking across America and for a number of years after. I haven’t delved that far into it yet, but I think it will be really interesting to read his blog posts after having read the book. There is also a page here with a map of his route. He’s placed markers all along the map talking briefly about his time spent in each location.

Living to Listen Website

This is the author’s current website. Here he promotes his book along with all sorts of speaking, writing and workshop events that he is involved in. He has an events calendar with his upcoming book talks and lectures. They seem to happen mostly in Massachusetts, which is where he currently lives. There are also a few Ted Talks videos posted in case you can’t make it to one of his talks.

Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man

This is an hour long radio production about Forsthoefel’s time spent walking. In this program you get to hear a lot of Andrew’s voice narrating his own experience along with some clips of the people he met. At times it sounds like a captains log, where you hear him saying “day two” and describing what is going on in the moment. It’s interesting to hear his experience in his own voice as it is happening. I highly recommend giving this program a listen.

Walking Across America Cowbird Collection

Here you’ll find a collection of audio clips from the author’s journey. If you enjoyed the snippets Forsthoefel included at the end of every chapter, you will love exploring this collection and listening to the many clips that were included in the book. Most of them are only a minute or two. It’s inspiring to hear these peoples’ words in their own voices.

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