Wanderlust

Wanderlust: A History of Walking - Rebecca Solnit

Solnit deserves a big round of applause for undertaking what seems like such a simple but at the same time very complex and ambiguous topic to write about. I know many people who have little to no interest in walking as a leisurely activity, and to have them ever consider the underbelly of walking is unfathomable. However, having absolutely loved "The Field Guide to Getting Lost' and "The Faraway Nearby", I couldn't pass by "Wanderlust", especially not when it offered such a promising look at a topic many overlook.

I, generally, enjoyed "Wanderlust", but found that there were only two chapters that I particularly loved - Chapter 12, about Paris and the history of the city's architecture and how it had undergone reconstruction in the 19th century, and Chapter 14, about women and the limitations to their freedom in association with walking. These happened to also be the only two chapters that I not only gave my full and undivided attention to, but ones that I also read in one sitting because I found them to be so gripping and engagingly written. The rest of the book I could only read bit by bit at a time. It wasn't like Solnit's other essay books where I lost myself in her writing and narrative as soon as I sat down to read. Instead I was thinking a lot about what I was reading, and in some cases rereading passages several times to make sure they registered in my mind. One factor in this is the lack of knowledge I have in the field of walking. Many of the things described in this book, such as the wanderings of the Wordsworths or the alpine clubs, were completely new to me and as something that is encountered for the first time, it was as fascinating as it was confusing. I think this book is best geared towards people with some prior knowledge in the writing about walking, as well as some grasp of the philosophies that Solnit touches upon. That isn't to say that a first-time reader like myself will not enjoy this book, but it will be a slightly tougher reading experience that will take a couple of revisits to the book to fully appreciate the extensive facts and research Solnit has put into this book to enrich her writing.

Also, I would say perhaps that the chapter book format is not the best suited format for this kind of writing. Many of the chapters read as separate essays, despite the visible connections to other chapters, either by mentioning the chapter number or by reiterating some of the facts or names. The book, as it is, is a very good approach to such a scattered, and what turned out to be a rather complex, topic, but it was easy for the mind to wander at certain times and I wonder if maybe a separate essay approach would have been best.

Noteworthy is the last section of the book, "Past the End of the Road", which takes the ideas and facts put forth in the three previous sections and takes them further into musings and debates, albeit a tad wordy ones at times. The writing stimulated me to internally debate the argument that technology and fast transportation has turned human beings into 'parcels', as well as the nature of the contemporary art by people like Abramovic (which is a separate case for me in general, as I have a very conflicting opinion on modern art). This last section offers something more to the reader beyond the typical laid-out facts that make many essay books dry, ad will be appreciated by readers most of all I think.

I am still a huge fan of Solnit despite not being madly in love with this book as I was with the two others I read. However, I am happy to add this to my personal collection and revisit it in the coming years, when I acquire more experience or simply wish to revisit the richly layered writing within the book's pages. It isn't a light book, contrary to my own assumption, and it definitely isn't a book for everyone. But it is rewarding to those who give it the time and energy.