The Book of Wanderings

Winner, 2016 American Society of Journalists and Authors Memoir Book Award

Finalist, 2015 PEN Southwest Nonfiction Book Award


When Kimberly Meyer gave birth to her first daughter, Ellie, during her senior year of college, the bohemian life of exploration she had once imagined for herself was lost in the responsibilities of single motherhood. For years, both mother and daughter were haunted by how Ellie came into being-Kimberly through a restless ache for the world beyond, Ellie through a fear of abandonment.

To a mother and daughter on an illuminating pilgrimage, this is what the desert said: Carry only what you need. Burn what can’t be saved. Leave the remnants as an offering. 

Longing to bond with Ellie, now a college student, and longing, too, to rediscover herself, Kimberly sets off with her daughter on a quest for meaning across the globe. Leaving behind the rhythms of ordinary life in Houston, Texas, they dedicate a summer to retracing the footsteps of Felix Fabri, a medieval Dominican friar whose written account of his travels resonates with Kimberly. Their mother-daughter pilgrimage takes them to exotic destinations infused with mystery, spirituality, and rich history-from Venice to the Mediterranean through Greece and partitioned Cyprus, to Israel and across the Sinai Desert with Bedouin guides, to the Palestinian territories and to Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt.

In spare and gorgeous prose, The Book of Wanderings tells the story of Kimberly and Ellie's journey, and of the intimate, lasting bond they forge along the way. A meditation on stripping away the distractions, on simplicity, on how to live, this is a vibrant memoir with the power to both transport readers to far-off lands and to bring them in closer connection with themselves. It will appeal to anyone who has contemplated the road not taken, who has experienced the gnawing feeling that there is something more, who has faced the void-of offspring leaving, of mortality looming, of searching for someplace that feels, finally, like home.


Notable Reviews

“A poet, essayist, and literature teacher at the University of Houston meditates on the incongruence of her conventional life with the path she desired but never took as a young woman—“a bohemian-explorer-intellectual kind of life"—in this travel memoir. Meyer and her oldest daughter embark on a life-enhancing odyssey through Germany, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and parts of the Middle East to duplicate the pilgrimage of Felix Fabri, a Dominican friar in the Middle Ages. Meyer weaves together Fabri's pilgrimage with her own, revealing a confluence of insight and experiences, even though they lived centuries apart. Occasional bumps in the road include a case of head lice, intestinal afflictions, transportation and lodging hardships, and a frightening encounter in the Sinai, which could have ended very badly. These are balanced with a lighter tone. Meyer follows Fabri's path, “to bare myself to the actual world, to see it and experience it for myself, not just read about it in books... trying to return to something essential within myself." Meyer's internal dialogue is accessible, and will resonate with readers experiencing similar midlife reflection.” Publishers Weekly

“Expansive [and] finely observed.” Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

“Meyer's memoir about her pilgrimage with her daughter Ellie will make you feel virtually transported to some of the world's most exotic and rich locations (Venice, Cyprus, Alexandria), but that's not the most rewarding part. Her story of forging and solidifying her bond with daughter Ellie is what will impact you the most deeply, leaving you with an intense need to talk to your mom.” Lynsey Eidell, Glamour

“A powerful memoir of family connections, what it means to undertake a shared pilgrimage, and the encounters and forces that change lives.... Perfect for mothers and daughters to read together.” Midwest Book Review

The Book of Wanderings is about both the intrinsically private and the universally enduring need for pilgrimage: to the sites that restore and reward, to the experience of wondering and wandering and connecting, whether with family or the whole human race. Meyer brings this insatiable urge to pursue enlightenment of the journey home to the reader. Home to the ordinary suburban American in the very chaotic 21st century. There's no one who won't recognize some aspect of herself in these pages. They offer insights both mystical and practical. It is a book to cherish.” Antonya Nelson, author of Bound and Funny Once

“Intriguing and ambitious.... Meyer has a keen eye for detail and a graceful way with words. Her descriptions are brilliantly crafted - so ripe one is transported with her.... The arduousness and soul-baring nature of the long journey seems to have stripped her down to her essence, and she is able to confidently experience and tell the story in her own words, excellently, compellingly.” Sharon Peters, USA Today

“Meyer's poetic voice and sincerity make this quest not a gimmick but a richly felt expedition.... The book's life comes from Meyer's pondering the years of waiting and wondering if she would ever do what she had dreamed of so long ago and whether it would bring her all that she hoped. An uncommonly rich and spiritual book, The Book of Wanderings speaks not just to satisfying wanderlust but to finding home in this world or beyond.” Eloise Kinney, Booklist

“Meyer ably contrasts the mundane frustrations of travel-language confusion, unfamiliar food, unreliable transportation-and the transcendent moments when you make that ineffable connection with those who came before you, 'swallowed sweep of historical time.'” Michelle Newby, Lone Star Literary Life