I went out walking...
05 February 2009
Geoff Nicholson's The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism is a very strange little book.
I liked it a lot.
I'd never heard of Nicholson but I did pick the book up based simply on its title. I love to walk. It's the only exercise I've truly ever enjoyed, probably because it's not very strident exercise. Nicholson loves walking too; the entire book is nothing but a collection of ruminations onwalks that he's taken, walks that other people have taken, how walking has been portrayed in writing and music, and a variety of other topics. He opens his narrative with an account of how he fell when walking in Los Angeles and managed to break his arm in three places, which made further walking surprisingly difficult. He describes the sick sensation of falling perfectly:
"The older you get, the bigger a deal it is to fall down. When you're age five you can hit the deck, skin your knees, bleed profusely, and be up playing again in five minutes. The older falling man is so much more vulnerable...
Even as I was falling I thought, Oh crap, I'm not really going to go all the way to the ground, am I? I'll stop myself somehow. I'll kepp my footing. I'll regain my balance. And then I knew I was wrong about that. I was going all the way. I'd passed the tipping point. Oh crap, indeed."
The narrative drags a bit in some points, but that seems only appropriate in a book about walking. (Sometimes, midpoint on a walk, it feels like you've been slogging for a while.) But overall it's a great read, and describes such great cities as New York, London, and L.A. from the sidewalk. (I'm particularly grateful to Nicholson for finally helping me understand the British phrase "council estates": "An English council estate is similar to, but culturally very different from, an American housing project, and I think the name says a great deal. Both are places where the poor, underprivileged, and undereducated live, but Britain likes it to sound as though its poor people are on some grand country manor, while America prefers to think they're part of a science fair experiment," p. 218.) And he includes a wonderful bibliography of walking books.
Hm, in looking over the book I see that Nicholson is also the author of some interesting-sounding titles: Sex Collectors, Female Ruins, Bleeding London, Everything and More. Further bulletins on those books as events warrant.