Riding with Rilke by Ted Bishop

Well, I haven’t really made it to the Rilke part (I’m on page 164 of this 260 pager) but so far it’s been an eye-opening excursion into driving the West, motorcycle style.  For the author, a Canadian professor, it’s a literary pilgrimage as well – to check out the Virginia Woolf and James Joyce Rilke archives in Austin, Texas.  As with any adventure of note, nothing ever happens logically or along a straight line, and the ride down to Austin from Alberta is just the beginning.  Austin leads to a treasure hunt via London and the Ducati motorcycle factory in Bologna, Italy.

Bishop actually recounted this wild literary trek down the highway while recovering from a crash after the trip.  From his impressions of motorcycling, you can really feel the sensory pleasures of the cycling phenomenon and why people who ride them love them (and I reckon Bishop must still, even after the crash).  And if you are a fan of modernist literature (Woolf, Joyce, and the like) or not, these authors and their times become much more accessible after this jaunt through two-lanes and typeface.  A worthwhile read and great visit to some little-known interesting places and people.  Bishop’s approach to the trip (sticking to back roads and off the map locales) and style remind me of an older book on traveling the country – Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. 

P.S.  Did finish this book today (3/6/07), and finally found the reference to Rilke in the epilogue. from his Duino Elegies (we have a different translation in the library collection, but still, it might be worth a look).   

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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