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June 10, 2004

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Seven League Books: A Review of the Web's Hitching Literature.  (Perspective)

Posted on June 1, 1997 by Bernd Wechner

Driving & Road Tripping Seven League Books: A Review of the Web's Hitching Literature.

Seven League Books: A Review of the Web's Hitching Literature.

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: June 1, 1997

Having reviewed Wendy Myers' chronicle Seven League Boots, it was time to turn to the Web's own literature on Hitching. After some considerable time searching and printing, I finally had everything the Web has to offer in the way of hitch-hiking literature, on paper, ready to read. Much of it is just too long to read comfortably on-line.

There's a wealth of material out there. The web provides a unique opportunity for writers to publish globally, inexpensively and autonomously. It heralds a new era in the publishing world, I think.

The reader has yet to win that same power, alas. The primary problem hampering us is the very dilemma of on-line reading. The screen just doesn't read like paper does. You can't take it with you, you can't read it in bed, it's bright and strains your eyes ... the list of drawbacks goes on.

It's even time consuming to download and/or print some of this stuff, which is broken down into many chapters on individual pages. I expect in time HTML and browsers will evolve to make that a little easier.

All the same, I did manage to print everything I could find, read it, and sort it out. I then picked the longer pieces, those that are books, not just pages, aiming to review them in detail here. They are, after all, lengthy enough that reading them, just like a book, involves a certain commitment in time and energy.

In the end, I had seven pieces, each with something to say about the evolution of hitch-hiking literature on the Web. Seven pieces are far too many to review meaningfully in a single article. Instead, tickled by the co-incidence, and in deference to Wendy (the topic of last month's review), I think of them as the Seven League Books, and will review them in instalments over the weeks to come, one league at a time. They are:

  1. The Tao of Hitch-Hiking by Marty Segal (6 ch, 218 pp, 44,500wds)
  2. Innocence Abroad by Irv Thomas (23 ch, 126 pp, 130,000 wds)
  3. Europa by Jaime R. Salazar (4 ch, 38 pp, 35,000 wds)
  4. Rhedeg I Paris by Johan Schimanski (25 ch, 28 pp, 15,000 wds)
  5. Hitchhiking Through Southern France by Douglas Kiang (8 ch,38 pp, 12,000 wds)
  6. The 24 Hour Hitch by Howell Parry (3 ch, 45 pp, 36,000 wds)
  7. Kirsty and Dave are on Holiday by Kirsty Brooks and Dave Sag (8 ch, 25 pp, 10,000 wds)

The first two are very professionally produced books, both, coincidentally, authored by roughly 60-year-old Americans hitching around Europe. The contrast alone, given the similarity just mentioned, is intriguing. Both Marty and Irv play at length with the broader philosophy surrounding hitch-hiking woven around the tale of a single journey; Marty focusing more heavily upon hitching than Irv. I've often felt that hitch-hikers have both the time and reason to muse at length on the mechanics and meaning of social interactions (at least I am culpable of it) and that is precisely what Marty and Irv have done in these two excellent pieces.

The third aims to be a book, but falls dismally short of the target. It represents, all the same, an interesting expression of the Web's diversity, and the use and/or abuse of hitch-hiking. Jaime is 21 years old, and his work, base as it is, stands in stark contrast to the literature of Marty and Irv.

On the subject of literature, the fourth is an interesting experiment. Johan not so much chronicles a journey through Europe as 'achronicles' it in a work that deliberately challenges our expectations as to presentation and content. It is far more professional than Jaime's but neither aimed at, nor entirely suitable for, a mass audience, I suspect, and as a consequence a little less entertaining than Jaime's offering.

The last three all cover logs of one form or another of a hitch-hike, the last rather unintentionally.

The fifth is unusually presented, to say the least. Douglas presents extracts from the letters he sent home while hitching through France. He was inspired to hitch by the words of Ken Welsh (the author of a long running guide to hitch-hiking Europe). The letters were to his girlfriend, now wife, and while Douglas writes every single day, this is a hitching tale, no romance.

The sixth journals an intriguing competition among hitchers in thname of charity, that has hundreds of students racing around Europe by power of thumb, sign and tongue, every year. Howell's account of three of his years in that competition documents the nitty gritty of the journey on an hour-by-hour basis, as might only be possible for a 24 Hour Hitch.

Finally, the seventh covers the story of two who set out looking for hitch-hikers, only to become what they sought. It is a journal that was put on-line day-to-day as it happened, in 1995, to keep friends at home and abroad informed. It also represents a form of expression that is on the rise, thanks to the power of the Web.

Those are the Seven League Books, and over the coming weeks, one week at a time, you can expect to see them reviewed here. It is a sojourn that has much to say about hitch-hiking literature, on the one hand, and Web publishing on the other. I look forward to sharing some experiences with you and maybe enticing you to read some of these pieces. In time, there may be more leagues to cover ...

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