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 …