Introducing October’s Jewish Bookshelf: David King, author of America on Two Wheels. If you fantasize about living life off the beaten path, this book is for you! This book is a personal memoir inspired by a true story about a man and his bike taking on the world one state at a time! ChiTribe had the chance to interview the author and ChiTribe community member, David King, to learn more.
How did you get into writing?
In college (at Swarthmore), I started writing for the school newspaper and realized, Hey! I really like this; I want to try to make a career out of it. I’ve since had magazine internships in a few different cities, and written for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, the Chicago Reader, Newcity, Time Out Chicago, and other publications in the United States and France. I love doing stories on people outside the public spotlight who will make readers think, feel, or consider something in a new way — hopefully inspiring them, too.
Did you do anything Jewish growing up? Do you do anything Jewish now?
We grew up Reform and were more culturally Jewish. It wasn’t really until I studied abroad that I felt more drawn into the community. I arrived in the city of Grenoble, France, and was placed with Jewish host parents, who, in turn, introduced me to their Jewish friends. It was like I’m from all the way across the Atlantic, and yet you’re Jewish, and I’m Jewish, and you automatically accept me! I felt so welcomed. After that, wherever I’d travel, I’d search for the Jewish community to make connections. Here in Chicago, I’ve been involved with the Lakeview synagogues, Mitziut, Mishkan, and (of course!) ChiTribe.
Who are your literary influences? Any Jewish literary influences?
I greatly admire the work of Adam Gopnik. His brilliant Paris Journal essays for The New Yorker, compiled in the book “Paris to the Moon,” all resonate with a confident but gentle with. He has an amazing talent for interweaving micro- and macrocosmic insight, personal through cultural and vice-versa, and I try to borrow from that. Also, Malcom Gladwell, who’s so skilled at synthesizing complex information. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s sweet, enigmatic “The Little Prince” touches me in a way I know it has so many others. For me, his genius is conveying the human condition poetic. The travel writer Paul Theroux, whose slow-burn literary travelogues recounting train trips from London to Japan, or an overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town, captivate you with engaging descriptions, thought-provoking dialogue, and intelligent-but-unpretentious musings. But I’m not ALWAYS that heady! I love Dave Barry’s wackiness. He’s just brilliant.
What does it mean to be a Jewish writer/author?
I wonder about a lot of things. I’m always questioning: Is this true? Why is it the way that it is? I always want to understand, and I bring a ferocious curiosity to the book. Also, as a Jewish person, once you get outside a big city like Chicago, you’re largely an outsider in greater American society. That and having lived abroad have given me a critical lens through which to look back on our country. The vast majority of towns I went through had no synagogue, or mosque or temple, and that can be sobering when you’ve lived most of your life in or near a big city. In my writing, I try to be very honest about what I think, but at the same time, as fair as possible toward those I write about. I love sharing my search for truth.
More about the Book
In 2015, a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic brings the world to its knees, 36-year-old Chicago resident David King finds himself at a personal and professional crossroads. While pursuing his dream of writing, he works a full-time day job generating clients’ corporate training materials. Single and childless, he feels bored and restless, but with a strong impulse for exploration and adventure. He longs to strike out on a crazy journey, searching not only for beauty and kindness, but also for inspiration and clarity about where his life should go from here.
About 15 years ago, I started getting into riding my bicycle these long distances. I really enjoyed the sense of freedom it gave, not to mention the exercise. When a three-day weekend came around, I’d hop on a bus or train and then bike from one big city to another, always loving learning how people off the beaten path lived. One day in 2015, after I had done all these regional rides around the country, I was at work when I thought: Hey — wouldn’t it be crazy to bike across the whole country? That’s ludicrous! But wait… maybe it’s not.
It helped that I was at a time in my life when I felt stuck personally and professionally. I wanted to go out there and truly seek out God, whether in beauty and kindness or in interactions with everyday people. I wanted to remain open to whatever the open road would bring. I had plotted out a route from San Diego to Miami, simply because this was the shortest distance between two major cities on the coasts. In March 2016, having saved up money for almost a year, I left my job and went off to ride about 3600 miles across the country over four months. Along the way, I took lots of notes and pictures and videos, all of which got folded into the book.
What is the most unique thing about America on Two Wheels: Biking Coast to coast in search of human stories?
Believe it or not, a book on riding your bike across America is not the most unique thing! It’s actually been done. In my story, I’m very honest with the reader — about my questions, my longings, my insecurities. I like to think people will be able to relate to a personal search for meaning. I also share tender moments with people I met along the way who left a mark on me, as well as cultural glimpses into a slowly changing landscape across the country. I tried to strike a good balance between my nerdy, sociological left-brain side and the wanderlust-filled, hopeless-romantic part of me.
What stands out to you compared to your other works – or is this your first book!?
While I’ve written a bunch of articles for newspapers and magazines, this is my first book. It was a real lesson in patience. I don’t know how people sit holed up in a library for several years writing dissertations! Lots of respect for them.
Where can we purchase the book?
Two local bookstores that have kindly stocked it are Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview and The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. Online, I suggest bookshop.org, which I love because they help support independent bookstores. The book is also available on Amazon.
Is there an audiobook?
Yes! On Audible, Amazon, and Apple Books.