Rebecca's Reviews > The Crossway

The Crossway by Guy Stagg
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really liked it
bookshelves: memoirs, newbury-library, theology-religions, travel-books, mental-health, addiction

(3.75) Especially in the early pages, I was reminded of the writing of a young Patrick Leigh Fermor (as in A Time of Gifts). After a time of alcohol abuse and mental breakdown, Stagg set out on a pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem, two of the most significant sites of Western Christianity. And yet this was a secular undertaking by someone who didn’t believe, or perhaps only wanted to believe. In any case, he found the ritual movement useful, as if he was on a journey back to himself. Highlights include arriving in Rome in Holy Week, and being caught up in riots in Istanbul.

Throughout, Stagg cast himself on the hospitality of those people he encountered on his trek, often staying at monasteries and fraternizing with monks and nuns but also sleeping out in a tent or staying with anyone who offered him some food and a bed for the night. This is an incredibly thorough account of the 10 months of his travels, and in places I did get overwhelmed by the level of detail on the people he met and the places he passed through (whereas I would have liked more information on his language skills and how he communicated in countries where he didn’t know the language). There are also a few too many info dumps on Christian history.

But the high caliber of Stagg’s prose and his deep emotional honesty make up for these minor issues. It’s easy to see why this was nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize and won the Edward Stanford Travel Memoir of the Year. I’ll be excited to see what Stagg writes next.

Some favorite lines:

“Pilgrimage had shown me what was radical about the wandering life, as on the road all tokens of status were left behind. Food and shelter were riches enough, while possessions were excess weight. … How little we need to be happy. How little we need to survive.”

“I invented games to pass the time: scoring the monks’ beards out of ten, say, with added points for thickness, whiteness, and moustache length. Or guessing the pilgrims’ nationalities from their appearance”

“Too anxious to ask for help, I made a virtue of solitary endurance, mistaking my isolation for something heroic. But what I thought of as courage was in fact a kind of fear.”
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Reading Progress

October 31, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
October 31, 2018 – Shelved
April 24, 2019 – Started Reading
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: memoirs
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: newbury-library
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: travel-books
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: theology-religions
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: mental-health
May 12, 2019 – Shelved as: set-aside-temporarily
July 11, 2019 – Shelved as: addiction
July 25, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Canadian Reader Lovely review!


Rebecca Canadian wrote: "Lovely review!"

Thanks -- I wanted to like it even more overall, but a book that took me three months to drag myself through? I couldn't rate it any higher. That's my general rule: if a book feels at all tedious, at any point, I can't go much higher than 3.5.


Canadian Reader Rebecca wrote: "Canadian wrote: "Lovely review!"

Thanks -- I wanted to like it even more overall, but a book that took me three months to drag myself through? I couldn't rate it any higher. That's my general rule..."

Your reservations about the book sounded perfectly reasonable. It was obviously worthy enough to finish, even if it was slow going.


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