Final thoughts on The Walk

I finished Jeffrey Robinson’s The Walk: Notes on a Romantic Image recently, and I enjoyed it immensely (which won’t surprise you if you follow this blog, as I’ve raved about it a few times before), although I think it’s a rather odd book. The key to understanding the purpose of the book is the word “notes” in the subtitle; it’s really not a developed, detailed argument, but a short, suggestive exploration of the topic. If you come to the book expecting to find depth, you will be disappointed, but if you want an introduction to all kinds of walking literature and the kinds of topics and themes that appear in that literature, this is definitely a good resource.

I say it’s odd partly because of the way it meanders through its topics; I wasn’t always sure where Robinson was heading or why he was discussing a particular work in a particular chapter, and sometimes his arguments get a little abstract, without a whole lot of supporting details to back them up. He also mixed up personal experience with discussions of literature; he opens the book by describing a walk he took in Denver, where he lives, and there’s another chapter made up of numbered notes that describe a walk he took through a Degas exhibit at the Met in NYC. I love this mix of the personal and the academic, when I know a little bit about what attracts an author to the subject and can feel the author’s enthusiasm for the subject in a direct way.

And of course this type of book is wonderful for the recommendations I can glean from it for further reading; I’ve got The Walker’s Literary Companion on the way right now, a book with tons and tons of selections from all kinds of authors, from Dorothy Wordsworth (yay!) to Eudora Welty. I’m actually not super-fond of reading anthologies and selections, but I imagine I’ll find lots to read in this one, and that it will lead me to the longer works that get excerpted here.

Let me leave you with a quotation from the book, one that says surprising things about the benefits of forgetting:

On a walk one is continually encountering the new and, by the “despotism of the eye,” the tyranny of bodily pleasure, willingly forgetting the old. Every forgetting is an assertion of freedom from which the mind goes on another journey. Every forgetting is, in addition, a self-forgetting, an assertion of renewed innocence and pleasure. As we forget, and forget ourselves, we become aware of the gradual fact of hoarding of encounters, impressions, and discoveries. We begin to experience our world as a growing plenitude …

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Nonfiction

6 responses to “Final thoughts on The Walk

  1. I’m going to add this book to my TBR list. Don’t know when I’ll get to it, but it sounds like fun. And that last quote about forgetting, what would Proust think? :)

  2. hepzibah

    Isn’t it kind of sad when a book you grew attached to is finally over? I hate that feeling! But, what a lovely quote from the book… It makes me feel better about the fact that I tend to forget a lot of what I learn and read…so it made me smile :)

  3. This book sounds really interesting. It’s not out here in paperback until November, so I’ll have to wait to get it. Hope I don’t forget! I loved that quote – especially “Every forgetting is an assertion of freedom from which the mind goes on another journey.”

  4. I think this sounds like an interesting book–will have to try and find a library copy of it. I especially like the idea of a walk through an art exhibit. I shouldn’t be surprised, but there are so many books on walking out there!

  5. Good question, Stefanie! He might actually agree …. Hepzibah, I forget a lot of what I read too (alas!), although the blog helps with that — I can at least read what I wrote about something. BooksPlease, I hope you enjoy it when you get to it! I like the way the quotation points out the upside to forgetting :) Danielle, the art exhibit chapter is interesting, not one of his best, I think, but interesting, kind of experimental. I’d be curious to hear what you think.

  6. Have you tried John Stilgoe’s OUTSIDE LIES MAGIC? You might like it – about walking with your eyes open to what is around you.

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