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A virtual 'Walk' you can't take to the park

It's a sign of the times. For the first time, the Budgeteer News is reviewing an e-book. For Luddites who love to curl up with a tattered paperback or signed first edition but have never heard of an "e-book," here are the basics: an e-book is lik...

It's a sign of the times. For the first time, the Budgeteer News is reviewing an e-book.
For Luddites who love to curl up with a tattered paperback or signed first edition but have never heard of an "e-book," here are the basics: an e-book is like a book, only electronic, sort of like e-mail versus postal mail. Depending on the format, you can read e-books on your computer, print them or sometimes even read them on a portable reading device, sort of like what you may imagine if you've ever watched Star Trek.
The book is "Walk Right!" by two Duluthians, James W. Buchanan (author of the venerable Minnesota Walk Book series) and his son James P. Buchanan.
Here is the book's message in a nutshell: Americans are overweight, straining their health and happiness. Diet and exercise together best combat the fat, and walking is among the world's best exercises, because it's effective, almost anyone can do it, it's easy and it's enjoyable.
Do you have any argument with that? I surely don't.
The Buchanans have obvious passion for this message. If printed, the book runs 91 pages -- roughly 43,000 words -- and covers a lot of ground about walking, from pacing, safety concerns, choosing the right shoes and dealing with dogs to strapping on a pack and heading overnight into the woods.
It's clear a considerable amount of research went into the book, and I was inspired enough reading it that I've rededicated myself to walking daily. I'm finding that the Buchanans are right -- it's good for body and soul.
I also loved the scattering of famous quotes about walking.
On one hand, the decision to take on so many aspects of walking is great, because it introduces readers to the sport's wide variety. On the other hand, it means treading into some controversy.
In one small example, the Buchanans advise against hiking barefoot, claiming it's dangerous. Yet there are entire books ("The Barefoot Hiker," by Richard Keith Frazine, now out of print) dedicated to the joys of barefoot hiking. It's available free on the Web at http://members.aol.com/bhthom/hikertxt.htm and for a small fee from the author. Ray Jardine (I recently reviewed his "Beyond Backpacking") says going unshod is a safe, welcome change for short stretches. There are barefoot hiking groups across the country. Seriously.
Others will debate other points. Suffice it to say hikers routinely bicker over gear, techniques and other choices, and that's to be expected.
I did notice one dangerous mistake in the text: in the weather section of chapter four, the Buchanans recommend cotton shirts in your layering system. I couldn't disagree more strongly. The adage "cotton kills" exists because if cotton gets wet, not only will it fail to keep a hiker warm, it will actually sap heat from her body. Since the authors make this point elsewhere, I'm sure the mistake was inadvertent.
The text is also poorly edited, with sentence fragments, grammatical trouble and inconsistencies in spelling and usage. The organization could be better, too. Some parts are redundant, and the sixth and final chapter is "Winter Camping." I wouldn't have given that topic a full chapter in a book about walking.
These difficulties bring me back to the state of e-books. Advantages of e-books abound. They are ridiculously cheap to produce and distribute, freeing up new worlds for "content" (that's the newfangled term for writing). Length really doesn't matter in e-publishing, perfect for a book like "Walk Right!" which on paper would be slightly shorter than typical.
Subject matter is also more free: since overhead is slight, appealing to niche markets is more profitable. In the end, readers win.
Disadvantages? I don't want to overgeneralize, but most traditional publishers spend time and money designing books, editing them and promoting them. That is not always the case in e-publishing.
This book is an example. I've already covered the editing difficulties. Marketing? The authors are working to get the word out about their book, but the publisher wouldn't send out a review copy (traditional in publishing). One fo the authors, generously jumping through hoops, finally supplied one at his own expense.
Finally, the design was less than I'd hoped for. The format is a modified version of the ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, which is a nice format. It offers print-like design capability, displays nicely and makes for relatively easy reading on-screen.
But the company just plugged the Buchanans' text into the PDF file, with no page numbers, no cover, no nothing. They didn't even bold the subheads or chapter breaks.
And their modifications to the format, rightly designed to protect the authors' copyright, also have the dubious side effect of rendering the document platform-specific: if you're not on a Windows machine, you're out of luck, at least for now. No e-book readers, no Macs, no Linux machines or BeBoxes, just that Bill Gates monstrosity.
OK, so I have issues.
In the final analysis, I think the message in this book is a good one, delivered passionately.
While I disagree with some of the specifics, I heartily second the enthusiasm and hope everyone takes their pedestrian mantra to heart.
And while you can hardly beat the $3 cost, I can't help believing that in the hands of a traditional publisher, this book would be better. And then you could actually take it with you when you walk, too.
Kyle Eller is the Budgeteer book reviewer. Submit your books for review to him in care of the Budgeteer News, 222 West Superior Street, Duluth, Minn. 55802. To talk books, call him at (218) 723-1207 or send e-mail to kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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