I read recently a curious little book about walking picked up at my local bookstore for a couple bucks. I wasn’t looking for a book about walking. It was mistakenly shelved in the poetry section and what a happy mistake that was for me. Computers eradicate any chance of happy random mistakes and we are much poorer (and sadder) as a culture for it even though we don’t know it.
The book is called A Philosophy of Walking, written by a French author, Frederic Gros. It was published in 2011 and translated into English in 2015.
I read the 227-page book in two sittings. I urge anyone who regularly walks for fitness or recreation or meditation or for no reason at all to read this wonderful book. It covers all the various philosophies of walking as demonstrated/propounded by some of the great walkers of all time, from Thoreau to Nietzsche to Wordsworth to Gandhi. Interestingly enough, I wrote a book about walking that demonstrated my philosophy of walking and my philosophy was not represented in Gros’ tome. That didn’t bother me in the least and I feel no need to expound my philosophy here. You can read the book if you want.
I’ve read a lot of essays and books about walking, and even taught a walking-themed writing workshop to teenagers and adults, but I was delighted to learn some fantastic new anecdotes about walking, such as Nietzsche saying that a question a writer should always ask of a book he or she is writing is: does it walk? I love that! And it’s very true.
Some other thoughts generated by reading this book were:
I never got my writing life going until after moving to the Oregon Coast in 1997 and I started walking with my dogs, on the wildlife refuge, on beaches, in clearcuts, thousands and thousands of miles, almost exclusively with dogs. When the dogs passed away, I kept walking and the writing kept coming. And when my life blew up to smithereens, I kept walking and walking, for survival, and the writing kept coming and coming.
Now I am walking and walking into the homeless crisis and writing and writing about it. Walking is how I discovered it, several years ago on a remote stretch of the Southern Oregon Coast, and walking is how I almost exclusively encounter it now in the big city. Whatever the literary outcome that results of these encounters, which are always random, I must consider how walking into, through, and around the homeless and their various domiciles and encampments has shaped the writing about them, if such a thing is possible. It is certainly a unique way to tell a story, by walking right into it, but I used exactly the same approach with my book about walking, which wasn’t about walking at all.
Finishing A Philosophy of Walking made me wonder: If I couldn’t walk anymore, would I stop writing?
Here’s an arresting line written by Gros: writing ought to be this: testimony to a wordless, living experience.
Is that what I am doing with this subject? I’m going for a walk to think about it.