You know most of the staff at Booksmith are readers, but did you know we are walkers, too? With the weather finally warming up, with my bike in perpetual disrepair and the 66 bus perpetually 30 minutes away from where I need it to be, I've been taking to the streets, walking to work. And whenever I do decide to foot it, I usually find a co-worker heading my way who has also decided to take the longer way home.
Whether I am in conversation with others or simply letting my mind wander, I am almost always inspired by a walk. I am not the first to note the meditative and thought-provoking powers of the path. Our Destination Literature shelves are full of walkers' testaments to the transformative nature of a good stroll.
The best of these wandering narratives that I've read in recent weeks is Olivia Laing's travelogue To the River. Laing's gorgeous prose floats the reader down England's river Ouse as she walks from its source to the sea. Readers of W.G. Sebald will recognize his style in her textured meditations, at times melancholy and always beautiful. To the River is a survey not only of the river but of the entire landscape of English literature, from Kenneth Grahame and Iris Murdoch to Virginia Woolf, whose complicated relationship to the river in which she drowned is delicately excavated and explored.
England is turning out a lot of walkers these days. You can read about the poet Simon Armitage's 256-mile walk along the "backbone of England," the Pennine Way, in Walking Home. In The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane, who you may know from his book The Wild Places, walks along England's historical byways, dredging up tales of pilgrimage, territory disputes, and other lively anecdotes that spring up from the natural landscape he crosses.
The pleasures and perils of the road as well as the purging, penitential benefits of a good long walk are explored by David Downie (Paris, Paris) in his new travel book, Paris to the Pyrenees. Downie and his wife, photographer Alison Harris, decide to walk the French portion the famous pilgrimage route, the Way of Saint James, reflecting all the while on the nature of religious ritual, local cuisine, and, of course, walking.
For the urban traveler, there's Michael Sorkin's new 20 minutes in Manhattan. This book reminds me of a non-fiction version of Teju Cole's recent novel Open City, in which the narrator meanders along the streets of New York City, musing as he goes. Sorkin's thoughts focus on the architecture he observes along his walk from Greenwich Village to his office in Tribeca, but the tangential nature of a walk allows him to digress into urban planning and the history of the city.
And finally, to remind us of the history of our wandering ways, there's Edmund White's classic The Flaneur. I recently picked up a copy on our remainder table--there may even be a few sale copies left--so walk on in for more inspiration!