on 7 September 2011
The book starts with, what I thought, was a very interesting introduction. It hooked me in and made me want to keep reading.
I found myself becoming involved in the theories of why we walk on two legs and the way we view walking. I've always liked things like this - studies show this and that and then someone else has a counter-theory or there are new findings. I think it would be a good topic to debate! There's even a brief dip into the environment argument and health benefits.
I have to confess that I never realised how many words are associated with walking or thought about my own style. My favourites have to be strolled; mooched; sauntered; shambled, hiked and marched. What do the first four say about my style do you think?
I also have to admit that I've never noticed all the walking written into novels but on reflection in my recent meanderings I've walked through many fields and alongside ditches/riverbanks - I've sauntered along dusty roads in India and along High Streets.
I am intrigued by the thought of letting the environment guide you - to let your feet take you where they will with no destination in mind and by the label psychogeography. I can understand having different walks to solve different problems (as Ian Sinclair does) as when my husband and myself walk (or should that be stroll) we choose places for how they make us feel.
The walks themselves are connected with popular people ie Richard Long, Captain Barclay, Guy Debord, to name a few. The author intersperses these walks with his own experimental challenges that parallel these and also with his own personal anecdotes. At the end is a mini biography, which Geoff Nicholson also relates to walking. There is a bibliography and online resources.
I disagree with how the author feels about the label `walking in nature' - not that it is `managed' nature but how it has the power to affect on a spiritual level. I believe in the spirit of place having experienced it for myself. I don't `walk in nature' to assert morals or a spiritual superiority but for my own personal reasons. I certainly don't feel smug or superior! Having said that, Geoff Nicholson does go on to note that he `lacks the spiritual gene' ...
One thing really did intrigue me, the long pedestrian races that were popular in the 19th century. I can imagine the crowds gathering for these (and some of them are bizarre to us today) and punters making their bets.
There is a lot of interesting information contained in these pages. It's written in a humorous style. The writing flows and content keeps you entertained whether you are a serious walker or if like me, you just want to expand your horizons.
I enjoyed some parts of this book enormously, others were not so successful. I guess the thing about this book is that walking is the glue that holds together this travelogue, and like all travelogues its success for you depends largely on whether you are familiar with, or are interested in the place he is describing. The part I enjoyed most was actually the closest to home, where the author described his home stomping-ground of Sheffield.I found this part of the book much more revealing than his walks in LA or other parts of the world. But I yawned over the authors lengthy ruminations about Sax Rohmer and Richard Burton which strayed too far from the walking path for me.The front cover promises The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism - a lofty claim and one not quite substantiated by this series of anecdotes.That said, there is probably something in this book for everyone, so definitely worth a try if you are a walker of any kind.
on 21 January 2012
This is a stimulating and thought provoking book about a subject that is familiar to just about everyone. What is particularly interesting is the means of approach taken by the author; rather than putting walking into the extreme sports category he examines the everyday, in some cases seemingly mundane trips that he takes on foot. Location plays a big part in the text, almost making where the walking is taking place as important as what is being done. References and explanations are clearly explained and thoroughly elucidated and the author provides the inspiration for more wide ranging reading on the subject. I've yet to replicate his walking experiments (or feats of endurance) and I probably never will, that said it is good to have had the opportunity to learn from a patient and good humoured teacher. Having read this book my daily steps have taken on a different resonance. Highly recommended.
Geoff Nicholson is best known as a writer of fiction who occasionally forays into writing non-fiction books about subjects which interest him - The Lost Art of Walking being one of the latter. This book is both an anthology of walking and walkers, while also being a set of personal stories aobut Geoff's walking life.
Geoff isn't one of those serious walkers who kit themselves up with serious equipment and attempt record-breaking distances or timings. But walking is a vital part of his life, even though it often he has "strolled, wandered, pottered, mooched, sauntered and meandered". He's certainly done some serious stuff too - a chapter on desert walking describes a more committed type of walking than many of us would attempt, but on the whole, there is more in this book about walking around cities than in the great outdoors.
Geoff is interested in psychogeography which Joseph Hart describes as "a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities...just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape". And I think that's quite a good description of this book too - the range is vast but certainly focuses on urban walking, the deliberate launching out on a walk through a city with no other purpose than to see something new and to be open to any new insights that come at you along the way.
The book covers a vast range of walking topics. There are chapters on particular cities - London, Los Angeles, New York, in which he describes his own urban walks. He includes more thematic chapters such as "Eccentrics, Obsessives, Artists", and "Music, Movement and Movies". I particularly enjoyed Geoff's chapter "Walking Home" which describes his return to his home town of Sheffield where he walks the streets and routes he used to take as a child, and also walks the hill that contributed to his mother's death from heart failure.
I particularly liked his in-depth exploration of Oxford Street during which he made six transits of Oxford Street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch and back again over the course of a single day. I certainly had various routes which I walked repetitively and over the course of several traverses over them you definitely absorb the distinctive atmosphere, perhaps something to do with the history of the places you pass through.
This is a book which would be of great interest to walkers of all descriptions and I found it inventive and varied, well worth spending a few days with. It will probably inspire you to think a little more carefully about the everyday act of walking and how you canmake more of it.
on 20 July 2012
If, like me, you are looking for a serious work on walking, don't be taken in by Nicholson's sub title: "The history, science, philospohy, literature, theory and practice of pedestrianism." This book is mainly an uninspiring regurgitation of stuff to be found elsewhere. Exceptions include a rather snidey and graceless account of a meeting with Iain Sinclair, a trip to view J.G. Ballard's old neighbourhood, and the reproduction of some unilluminating email correspondence with Will Self. I'd love to learn the words that exploded in Self's brain when Nicholson got back in touch with him. Despite its sub-title, then, you have to hope that this does not imagine itself to be in any way an academic endeavour. I guess if you enjoy writers like Bill Bryson and Ian Marchant you might like it. You might not, though, because, although Nicholson aspires to their brand of laddish humour, he fails to deliver a punch line. In fact it is so jejune in places that I was taken aback to discover the author is in his latter 50s and has a string of books to his name. One final observation: if I were writing around the topic of walking and topography, and enjoyed taking potshots at authentic voices like Sinclair, I'd make sure I didn't commit schoolboy errors like advising folk to steer clear of the Isle of Dogs when Millwall are playing at home. Yes, Millwall Dock is on the Isle of Dogs, but Millwall FC has lived south of the river since 1910. My advice would be, if you see this book, walk away.
on 20 November 2010
If there's one thing this book leaves you with, it's a sense of permanence which our psychographic trails will leave behind, long after we have passed, through the beautiful art of walking. Splicing an informal and educative ramble of Baudelaire with Will Self, and many others inbetween, from metal music to symphonies of the mind, the magic of our feet taking us places that sort out our heads can NEVER be estimated. Never have I felt like such a walker - it reminded me of the epiphany felt by the common man, walking through the night to the glory of nature in Howard's End. A great walking partner, I'm going to buy one for my dad, and probably many more - and Nicholson doesn't advocate ridiculous boots, synthetique crotch skimmers or sticks. I love a mad walk. I love a long road. I love this book.
on 22 January 2012
One of my favourite ever books is Charles Sprawson's The Haunts of the Black Masseur. It's a book about swimming - the whys, hows and wheres and whens, swimming as a pastime, as a sport, as a lifestyle choice. I recommend it highly. I was glad to find that Geoff Nicholson has come up with a work of equal quality that focuses on walking. You'll find crazy adventurer walkers like Harry Bensley, who took on a bet that he could walk around the world fulfilling all kinds of weird conditions, including that he find a wife without showing her his face. Disputes go on to this day as to whether he managed any of the conditions. GN uncovers many dishonest walkers, such as Chairman Mao, who didn't do much walking on his so-called Long March but bragged it into a myth. He does the hows, whys, wheres and whens very thoroughly, but doesn't make it into a history book.
GN enlists famous wanderer Iain Sinclair to appear in his pages - Sinclair can be said to have made a living out of walking - but thankfully he is reticent about theorising about and systemising even his psychogeographic legwork. GN doesn't appear to have too much time for psychogeography as a `discipline', and also sees off `back to nature' afficionados with certainty. Though GN has systemised his walks at times - up and down Oxford Street, for example, at different times of the same day - the book's mainly about `ordinary' walking, what you see when you walk, and the people you might run into, what goes through your mind when engaged in an activity that is free, in general, and leaves you the leisure to think.
The subtitle to this book is: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism. This makes it all sound much more grand and serious than it is. This is a chatty, funny, discursive look at walking. He reflects on walks he has done, and how walking has influenced writers, poets, artists and musicians. We learn about competitive walking, walking as a religious experience and walking as an endurance test. He is self-deprecating - even confessing to us how he got lost for several hours in the Australian bush. This was because he was only setting out for a short stroll but quickly lost all sense of direction.
He makes fun of those who claim incredible benefits from "walking in nature" and asks what they mean by nature: "Frozen wastes? Disease-ridden jungle? Malarial swamp? Flood plains and tornado alleys?" But many of us prefer a few miles with grass underfoot, surrounded by trees and fields with distant views rather than the same distance round our local city streets.
The Lost Art of Walking is written with lots of wit and good humour. I loved the chapter on Psychogeography and the New York festival devoted to it that he attends. As I suspected this subject is more psycho than geography!
An excellent read for all pedestrians!
on 2 February 2012
While it is a VERY thorough piece of research it misses so many opportunities of being a good read. I'm comming at this as an avid reader and enthusiastic walker. It is such a rich topic that I suppose I found that it was frustrating to see so much potential ( enough for at least 10 books in there) just touched upon and not really explored on the page. I would not recommend this for anyone unless they are researching the subject area for a college paper- the bibliography alone would be very useful for that.
on 5 January 2012
I was given this and thought "huhhh" but having taken the plunge I was hooked. It's an easy,gentle and full of interest. A great slightly off-beat present for anyone who actually reads or if you like walking will add to your enjoyment of doing so.