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Walking While Reading

May 11, 2012 | by

I’ve been reading a few things lately on the subject of walking, including treatments philosophical (Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Thoreau’s “Walking”), narrative (Walser’s The Walk, new from New Directions next month), and poetic (O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and some Wordsworth). I’m thinking of writing an essay on the subject and noting that my list so far consists of only dead men. Can you recommend any writers who are female and/or living who have written about walking?

Rebecca Solnit is female and very much alive. You should start with her Wanderlust: A History of Walking. And if city walking interests you—or the subject of walking with one’s mother—you will want to read Vivian Gornick’s modern classic, Fierce Attachments.

As it happens, I’m in the middle of a brand new book about walking: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert MacFarlane. I keep saving it for bed to make it last. The American edition won’t be out until October, but the British edition comes out early next month; if you can possibly wait for it, I would. You will want to read MacFarlane, above all for the wealth of his references, but also for the unabashed, Norsey music of his prose:

I’ve read them all, these old-way wanderers, and often I've encountered versions of the same beguiling idea: that walking such paths might lead you–in Hudson’s phrase–to “slip back out of this modern world.” Repeatedly, these wanderers spoke of the tingle of connection, of walking as seance, of voices heard along the way. Bashō is said to have told a student that while wandering north he often spoke with long-dead poets of the past, including his twelfth-century forbear Saigyo: he therefore came to imagine his travels as conversations between “a ghost and a ghost-to-be.”

With so much to read out there—and more being published all the time—how do you find the time to get through it all?

Please don’t quote my actual name.

Dear “Stefan” (not his actual name),

You’re mixing me up with Kurt Andersen—and I have no idea how he gets through it all. I get through almost none of it. It just sits there on my desk and table and shelves, glowering, until our interns box it up and take it to the Strand.

But the nice thing about books is that they don’t go anywhere. The good ones keep.

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  1. Nicole Rudick | May 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Werner Herzog: he’s white but alive. In 1974, he traveled from Munich to Paris on foot to visit a sick friend. The trek is chronicled in “On Walking in Ice.”

  2. Bryan | May 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Teju Cole released a book not too long ago about walking- “Open City”. He’s not a lady, but he checks the other block.

  3. Jonathan | May 12, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I would recommend Kathleen Jamie’s essays – collected in “Findings” and “Sightlines”, which has only just come out in Britain. They’re mostly set in the beaches and Highlands of northern Scotland and are reflective, gentle, passionate, angry. It might also be worth checking out Alice Oswald’s long poem “Dart” (again, only available in the UK – I think) which is based on the social and natural life of a river in Devon.

  4. GZ | May 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I’ve been curious about that Herzog title for some time. Has anyone here read it? Herzog’s great but not all his output is gold… The book is OOP and I’d like to know a bit more before shelling out thirty bucks.

  5. Felix | May 13, 2012 at 5:24 am

    Tim Ingold has written extensively on walking from an anthropological / cultural geographical perspective and is well worth reading. Also Search for “MAPPING EVENKI LAND: THE STUDY OF MOBILITY PATTERNS IN EASTERN SIBERIA” for a fascinating perspective on how walking practices are culturally specific.

  6. MPK | May 13, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch – Ten Walks/Two Talks. The walks are written by Fitch alone, really, but in any case it’s a wonderful book.

  7. Charli | May 14, 2012 at 1:47 am

    ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ – by Haruki Murakami

  8. Veronique | May 14, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Natalie Goldberg’s idea of “slow walks” (Writing Down the Bones, Thunder and Lightning) is the idea of walking slower than the pace you want to in order to clear your mind for writing. This might help for the second question as well, for productivity in writing can only translate to productivity in reading!

  9. RW | May 14, 2012 at 7:00 am

    I will strongly recommend “Tramp: Or the Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life” by Norwegian author Tomas Espedal (the original title in Norwegian is “Walk”)

  10. FifePsy | May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    A more unusal take on city walking worth investigating is the work of Sophie Calle, particularly ‘Suite Venitienne’ (1979)where she follows a man, whom she meets at a Paris party, to Venice and then follows him around the city in disguise. Re Herzog’s ‘Of Walking in Ice’ my take on it can be found here:

  11. Lee | June 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I wrote about libambulating a few years ago, and now it’s all the rage on the Rumpus, The Paris Review, and Time. What gives!

    My little essay talks about Werner Herzog and the (im)possibility of saving a reading by walking through it . . .

  12. Sven | August 24, 2014 at 7:16 am

    I read my Kindle while I walk, and have found that going around my local high school track works well, particularly along the outer, rather than inner, edge for a smooth, graceful curve that allows an obstruction-free walk. I discovered then that, when I was away from home and there was no track on which to walk, walking a straight line in an open field at a park works well, too. It would be rather mind-numbing to walk out and back in a long field repeatedly without a book, but with one–joyful! Exercise body and mind at the same time.

    Stephen King, it is said, is an avid walk-reader. Thanks again. Sven.

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