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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Think on your feet with books about walking

Classic tales have emerged as fictional characters and authors have walked across cities and countries, painting idyllic and thought-provoking scenes to the readers. Here are the books that follow a journey on foot.

travel Updated: Oct 05, 2019 17:26 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
What Dempster comes away with is a celebration of the journey – funny accounts of people met, drunken haircuts, bathrooms visited and meals.
What Dempster comes away with is a celebration of the journey – funny accounts of people met, drunken haircuts, bathrooms visited and meals.
         

Whether you’re strident about striding or prefer the gamble of an amble, somewhere, a writer has felt the same as you and put those feelings down in a book. Literature has been concerned with walking, right from The Canterbury Tales when Chaucer compiled 24 stories in Middle English between 1387 and 1400. Those tales emerged as a fictional group of pilgrims walked the well-worn path from London to the Canterbury Cathedral, leaving readers with not just elaborate stories but a picture of English society of the time. Take a look at other books that follow a journey on foot:

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012)
by Cheryl Strayed

Some readers know Strayed from her insightful, meditative Dear Sugar advice columns, But most know her from Wild, her account of walking across North America’s Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 with no experience and nothing but her wits for company. This isn’t a heroic adventure. Strayed crosses 1,100 miles not to find a destination but to find herself. There are flashbacks from her life but no heroes or villains. But the story is inspiring enough to have made it to Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and was made into a film starring Reece Witherspoon in 2014.

The story is inspiring enough to have made it to Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and was made into a film starring Reece Witherspoon in 2014
The story is inspiring enough to have made it to Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and was made into a film starring Reece Witherspoon in 2014

Into the Wild (1997)
by Jon Krakauer

This is the book everyone was reading in 2007, when a film version of the story came out. Krakauer traces the path hitchhiked by Christopher McCandless, who, in 1992, gave his college fund to charity and headed off on a solo trip across America. His malnourished body was found in an abandoned bus in Alaska roughly 100 days later. Krakauer’s story traces the last two years of McCandless’s life – including his last hikes, his struggle to find acceptance, and man’s unending quest for enlightenment.

Open City (2011)
by Teju Cole

Over a year, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor walks the streets of New York City, looking back on his life, his breakup with a girlfriend, and the nature of his present. He sees the big city, sure. He meets several types of people, of course. But what Cole does is (in long paragraphs that often go unpunctuated) is create a physical and mental worlds full of public and private nooks, surprise sights and insights.

Ulysses (1904)
by James Joyce

The book every English Literature student claims to have read. Joyce covers a single day in the life of Dubliner Leopold Bloom, and manages to squeeze in history, geography, nutty characters, puzzles, puns, parodies, Bloom’s internal ramblings, and meditations on the nature of life. Fans of the book follow Bloom’s paths through the city centre, from Middle Abbey Street to the National Library. They stop, where he did, at restaurants that made him think of the social, political cultural and religious significance of food. They take in the architecture he saw. And on June 16, when the book is set, they celebrate “Bloomsday”.

In Praise of Walking (2019)
by Shane O’Mara

O’Mara’s stance is that walking upright on two feet is a skill that defines our species. Walking is what got us to spread out across the globe. In freeing our hands, it freed out minds too. This is more than a doctor’s list of why walking is physically and neurologically good for you. He cites research that suggests walking originated in creatures under the sea, and also look sat the newest studies on how our inner GPS system orients us. This is the kind of book you need to get up and go.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012)
by Rachel Joyce

As plots go, this one makes a great movie trailer. At 65, Harold Fry, mowing his lawn at Kingsbridge, receives a letter. A woman he worked with 20 years ago, is in a hospice, dying of cancer. Fry composes a reply and walks to the nearest post box. But he has second thoughts and keeps walking to the next box and the next, eventually covering 627 miles in 87 days hoping the woman is holding on. The journey (and the book) becomes an act of faith, and a homage to people he’s met along the way.

The journey (and the book) becomes an act of faith, and a homage to people Fry’s met along the way.
The journey (and the book) becomes an act of faith, and a homage to people Fry’s met along the way.

The Road (2006)
by Cormack McCarthy

If walking in the real world is reflective, in a post-apocalyptic future, it’s emotionally devastating. An unnamed father and son walk towards a safe warm coast in an ash-dusted American wasteland, with a supermarket cart filled with their possessions, trying to avoid vandals and cannibals. Over months, they hunt for supplies, encounter horrific instances of humans bend hunted for meat and bond anew as a family. The novel won a Pulitzer and was made into a film in 2009.

Neon Pilgrim (2009)
by Lisa Dempster

Dempster’s account covers her decision (at a depressed, overwrought, overweight, broke, age 28), to walk 1,200 kilometres of a trail first laid by the monk who brought Buddhism to Japan. The walk, around the mountainous island of Shikoku, is arduous. Dempster isn’t looking for enlightenment, weightloss or a cure from depression – and never finds it, anyway. What she comes come away with is a celebration of the journey – funny accounts of people met, drunken haircuts, bathrooms visited and meals. As all walkers know, the destination doesn’t matter.

Flaneuse - Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London (2015)
by Lauren Elkin

What happens when women take back the streets? They change the very places they walk. Elkin’s novel looks at famous women who have used the city to create their work and their public identity. You follow each of them on a rich walk, peppered with very snide, barbed takedowns of patriarchy, and work out how a woman’s place in the world connects to cultural history, biography, literary merit, and memoir.

Out of Eden walk (ongoing)
by Paul Salopek

When he’s done, Salopeck will doubtless have material for several volumes of books. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is on a 21,000-mile, multiyear on-foot journey from Ethiopia to the tip of South America, retracing human migration. The walk is an exercise in slow journalism – Salopek tells his story in chapters published online, covering everything from climate change to how local cultures are changing. He’s meeting everyday people, but connecting them in extraordinary ways. It’s as much a walk of discovery and rediscovery.

With inputs from Dipanjan Sinha

First Published: Oct 05, 2019 17:26 IST

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