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Wanderlust; a History of Walking by Rebecca…

Wanderlust; a History of Walking (2000)

by Rebecca Solnit

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
The first couple of chapters were engaging, but the constant skipping of topics slowed down my reading.

Stopped reading August 4, 2018, p. 77 ( )
  Bodagirl | Aug 5, 2018 |
An interesting demonstration of how a publisher can create a ludicrously overblown subtitle without including a single adjective. You clearly don't need to assert that a story is "extraordinary", "incredible" or even "true" - the simple, unadorned word "history" is already enough to make an extraordinary, incredible (but not, alas, true) claim for the subject-matter of the book that lies behind it...

But that probably isn't the author's fault, and other than on its front cover, this book doesn't make any real claim to be anything other than what it is, an interesting and worthwhile collection of essays grouped around the cultural (mostly literary) significance of Anglo-American attitudes to getting about on foot over the last couple of centuries. Solnit looks at obvious topics like the relationship between recreational walking and garden design; the importance of walking in nature for the Wordsworths and Thoreau and how that led to the later development of access and conservation movements; walking as a political act in parades, pilgrimages and protest marches; and travel-writing and the rise of mountaineering and challenge-walking. And, as a dedicated subversive and feminist, she also looks at some less obvious socio-political aspects of walking - walking and prostitution, exclusion of women and minorities from public spaces in which walking is possible, US cities built without any no provision for getting around on foot, and so on. Most of the essays bring together material from literary sources with reflections from her own personal experiences, and very often lead her to non-obvious insights into the ideological framework within which very familiar texts on walking are actually operating.

I enjoyed sharing Solnit's insights, but I'd (unrealistically) been expecting more, and found it a bit disappointing that so many "obvious" topics didn't get a look in. Wordsworth's walk to Italy gets detailed coverage, but there's no mention of Thomas Coryat, who did much the same walk (and subsequently walked from England to India!) two centuries earlier. One of my favourite 19th century travellers, George Borrow (admittedly, a rider as much as a walker) is also overlooked. Nor is there anything about Heine, Novalis, and the rest of the German romantics with their core idea of the Wanderer - which is particularly odd, because the Naturfreunde and Wandervogel movements they inspired get discussed quite extensively. And given the amount of literature it's inspired, it's surprising how little attention she pays to refugee-walking. Primo Levi's walk home from Auschwitz is mentioned only in passing, and there's nothing much about all the many books about being forced to leave your home on foot in wartime.

A good start, but someone really should write "A history of walking" one day! ( )
2 vote thorold | Jun 17, 2018 |
One of the best books on the history of walking. Solnit does it again! ( )
  Matt.Kay | Dec 9, 2017 |
“The history of walking is an amateur history, just as walking is an amateur act.”

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters, finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”

“Walking is, after all, an activity essentially unimproved since the dawn of time.”

^Yes, I love these quotes, but these four all happen, in the first twenty pages. The rest of the narrative, is more hit or miss. I had to keep reminding myself, that this is a history of walking and all the events mentioned here do not fit snugly into, everything I like about this basic mode of transportation, (I am a mailman for crying out loud!). That said, I found much of this history of walking, a bit dry. Yes, I can be selfish. Sue me, but please, do not get me wrong- Solnit is a fine writer, super smart and has really done her homework here, with meticulous precision. She did leave out bird walking, which has really helped spark my interest in strolling through various meadows and woods but there I go again, being self-absorbed.
To her credit, she does close it out, beautifully:

“This constellation called walking has a history, the history trod out by all those poets and philosophers and insurrectionaries, by jaywalkers, streetwalkers, pilgrims, tourists, hikers, mountaineers, but whether it has a future depends on whether those connecting paths are traveled still.” ( )
1 vote msf59 | Apr 4, 2017 |
This was a pretty great read, an interesting take on the walking culture, geography, and social patterns. It was far more academic than I expected, which when I write it out like that sounds snobbish but really it is neither praise nor criticism, just something of note about my experience reading it. I took a class where spatial theory and psychogeography played a key role and I felt like this book could have been usefully applied there. That said, Solnit's approach is way more accessible than reading de Certeau or especially Lefebre, which is definitely a good thing about this book. It's interesting and readable and educational.

I started reading it before taking a trip to Cuba, and thinking so much about travelling really put me into my pedestrian mind because I'm very much a walker when I'm in cities and when I'm in travel mode. I'm most often walking to commute, but even that type of walking is also so much more than commuting, which is what Solnit points out especially in the first part of the book. Walking as protest and rebellion was also wonderfully detailed, although it kept making obvious for me the sides of the picture that are left out. Because the focus is walking there is always this presumption of able-ness, of an able-bodied reader, and practically nothing said about those for whom walking is not a clarifying, liberating, enriching experience. She says practically nothing about those who cannot walk, or cannot walk easily or painlessly.

And it's strange because she does talk about the geographical restrictions that inhibit walkers, such as suburbs or living in dangerous neighbourhoods. And she talks about walking as a female, a chapter I reached when I was in Cuba after two days of walking alone in Havana, where I was indeed reminded again and again by catcalls and comments that the streets were not for me. It was therefore disappointing not to have anything said about disability and travel, though I suspect, as she says about cycling, it would be a whole separate book. But the lack of commentary on it felt as if she hadn't found a way to make sense of her Walking = Enlightenment philosophy where disability is concerned. It felt as if she hadn't found a way to phrase things that didn't say, "sorry, but this Enlightenment is only accessible to the able-bodied." And I doubt Solnit believes that, but it's the cornerstone of this book, really.

Everything else about it made it such a good read, though, and it would've been five stars if the above were addressed. ( )
1 vote likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140286012, Paperback)

The ability to walk on two legs over long distances distinguishes Homo sapiens from other primates, and indeed from every other species on earth. That ability has also yielded some of the best creative work of our species: the lyrical ballads of the English romantic poets, composed on long walks over hill and dale; the speculations of the peripatetic philosophers; the meditations of footloose Chinese and Japanese poets; the exhortations of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Rebecca Solnit, a thoughtful writer and spirited walker, takes her readers on a leisurely journey through the prehistory, history, and natural history of bipedal motion. Walking, she observes, affords its practitioners an immediate reward--the ability to observe the world at a relaxed gait, one that allows us to take in sights, sounds, and smells that we might otherwise pass by. It provides a vehicle for much-needed solitude and private thought. For the health-minded, walking affords a low-impact and usually pleasant way of shedding a few pounds and stretching a few muscles. It is an essential part of the human adventure--and one that has, until now, been too little documented.

Written in a time when landscapes and cities alike are designed to accommodate automobiles and not pedestrians, Solnit's extraordinary book is an enticement to lace up shoes and set out on an aimless, meditative stroll of one's own. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:19 -0400)

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Discusses walking as a political, social, and aesthetic act, exploring its history and how famous walkers such as Wordsworth, Socrates, and Jane Austen's characters used it, and explains the necessity of walking instead of always driving and hurrying.… (more)

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