Book Review: Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

Author: Rebecca Solnit
Title: Wanderlust : a history of walking
Publication Info: New York : Viking, c2000.
ISBN: 0670882097


I like walking and a history of walking intrigued me.  It was not quite what I expected as Solnit takes a philosophical and metaphysical approach to the concept of walking.  The book includes ruminations on the biology of walking, pilgrimages, famed walkers like Peace Pilgrim, meditative walking, poets who walk (Wordsworth), walking clubs, hiking, climbing, walking in the city and the affects of sexual discrimination and racism on walkers, among many other topics.  The last chapter is an interesting contrast of Las Vegas, a notoriously unfriendly city to walkers, developing a pedestrian core.  Solnit insisted that her own story be part of the history by necessity, but I wish she hadn’t as she comes across as preachy and didactic.  Her voice appears throughout the text as one of nagging disapproval and it hampers my enjoyment of this book.

Favorite Passages:

“We talked about the more stately sense of time one has afoot and on public transit, where things must be planned and scheduled beforehand, rather than rushed through at the last minute,and about the sense of place that can only be gained on foot.  Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors — home, car, gym, office, shops — disconnected from each other.  On foot evertything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors.  One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.” – p.9

“The new treadmills have two-horsepower engines.  Once, a person might have hitched two horses to a carriage to go out into the world without walking; now she might plug in a two-horsepower  motor to walk without going out into the world. … So the treadmill requires far more economic and ecological interconnection that does taking a walk, but it makes far fewer experiential connections.” – p. 265

Recommended books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John R. Stilgoe, Lights Out for the Territory by Iain Sinclair and Snowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland

Rating: **

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