Four Key Books on Walking
Literary recommendations on the fruits and enjoyments of the millenary and very human act of walking.
Sometimes walking is such a delight that the destination is a let-down; having to interrupt the walk to reach somewhere. Which is why psychogeography is such a charming concept, it is our excuse for ambling. Walking aimlessly, after all, is to go in consonance with that innate tide that rocks us, from our depths, and throughout our lives.
As Roland Barthes said, “It is possible that walking is, in mythological terms, the most human gesture,” and perhaps for that reason walking is so connected to storytelling: by walking we settle the presence of the landscape into our bodies,” as Robert Gross might say. Not only Wordsworth, but also Dickens and Nietzsche made it clear that – as the latter said – “the best ideas are thought up while walking,” but there are also books about walking that are fundamental to the soul. Those worth reading are, above all, essays that bring back to us what was ours but what we have relegated; they are books that refresh that ancient and empirical knowledge and exhort us into practice.
In no particular order, the following are some of the essential books to think about walking without a destination letting us down, but they are also ultimately books that encourage us to carry out this therapy as often as possible. Perhaps with the help of these stories the simple act of walking to the office will never be the same again.
London Orbital: A Walk Around the M25, Ian Sinclair
Sinclair, the godfather of modern psychogeography, narrates his journey through the desolate outskirts of London. The M25 is a road to nowhere but when the narrator sets out to walk its circular route he finds converted asylums, industrial parks and lost towns. He discovers the physical and metaphysical margin of England, consumed by progress.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit
An ambitious but necessary essay that gives a cultural perspective of the walk as a chosen activity that came into the world relatively recently and is closely linked to 18th century English literature and gardens. The latter, according to Solnit, were invented to contain the walks of thinkers. A beautiful association. In her book she writes, “Walking is, ideally, a state in which the mind, body and the world are aligned, as if they were characters that are conversing. Three notes suddenly playing one chord.”
Walking, Henry David Thoreau
There are few invitations to take a walk as emotive and radical as this one. Broadly speaking, this short text emphasizes a stroll as being derived from a fundamental act of the human spirit; like a “crusade” that everybody should undertake every day. Even the fences and the limits imposed on the territory reveal themselves to be an evil cultural recourse that restricts the impulse of freedom that is going for a walk.
The Walk, Robert Walser
Walser, who spent much of his life whiling away his time on long walks in the snow, infects us with his unmistakable vagrant spirit and the desire to surrender ourselves to the ancient delight of walking. He describes the perfect scenes for walking while reminding us that, like a writer, a walker is a professional observer.
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