by Ted Bishop
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An inspiring journey through physical and intellectual landscapes reminiscent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. English professor Ted Bishop is taking one last ride before the fall term. Near Kamloops, British Columbia, he makes the fateful decision to pass a double semi-trailer at 130 kilometres an hour. The bike vibrates out of control, and Ted is flung into a ditch, breaking his back in two places, shattering a wrist and ankle, and collapsing his lungs. When he comes to in the hospital, his girlfriend, Hsing, tells him matter-of-factly, "You were dead in that ditch. You had no pulse when I found you." With limited mobility, Ted finds himself in a most unusual situation: he finally has time to savour the reading experience. He devours everything from Kubla Khan to Fall on Your Knees to War and Peace. He also begins writing about his crash, realizing that two worlds had quite literally come together when his head hit the pavement. These two worlds might seem opposite—the silence and stillness of the archive after the roar of the Ducati on mountain passes and desert highways—but the more he thinks about it, the more it seems that archival work is the inverse, not the opposite, of motorcycling. Ultimately, what surrounds both readers and riders is silence. In Riding with Rilke, Ted Bishop takes readers on the road through some of the richest landscapes in North America and Europe—from Edmonton to Durango, Austin to New York City, London to Bologna, and Geneva to Rome, with numerous stops along the way. Whether describing the archival jolt of holding Virginia Woolf’s suicide note in the British Library or the outlaw thrill of cruising Main Street in small-town America on a bike nicknamed "Il Mostro," Bishop tells a story filled with insight and humour. His quest—to unite the scholar and the motorcyclist, the academic life with the life of the senses—is a reminder of the struggle we all face in reconciling the personal and the professional.
TED BISHOP has authored books and articles on Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and modernist publishing. His literary non-fiction has appeared in Cycle Canada, Enroute, Prairie Fire, Rider, and Word Carving: The Craft of Literary Journalism. He has been twice nominated for National Magazine Awards and in 2003 received a CBC Literary Award for his essay "The Motorcycle and the Archive." He lives in Edmonton and teaches at the University of Alberta.
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