I used to dream of a library devoted entirely to walking. Most of the books, spanning the centuries in many languages, would be narratives: accounts of exploration, pilgrimage, jaunts in the countryside, strolls in the city, purposeful journeys, and rambles with no particular destination. The shelves would contain works as various as The Narrow Road to the Deep North and other travel writings by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bash; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s notebooks recording his impressions of the mountains in Britain’s Lake District (when “fell-walking” just for the experience, not for any practical purpose, was regarded as highly eccentric); Werner Herzog’s memoir Of Walking in Ice; and Bruce Chatwin’s genre-crossing foray into the Australian Outback, The Songlines. Surely, somewhere, there must be an enormously wealthy, passionate walker who would like to endow such a project.
Alas, I never found such a figure. More’s the pity, too, since in the past 20 years alone, enough good walking books have been published to fill a number of shelves in that imaginary library: not only superb chronicles of walking but also books about walking, the most influential and widely imitated of which is Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. In recent years especially, there has been a vogue for books that champion walking with considerable fervor. (See, for instance, Antonia Malchik’s A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time, and In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration, by Shane O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin.) And for readers who want to have their cake and eat it too, ...1
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