Once more around the block

Robert Walser died doing what he loved: walking.

Last week's post, in which I mentioned a handful of non-fiction books on the "Art of Walking," got me thinking about walking and writing. Isn't walking, after all, as much an imaginative act as a physical one? There's a ruminative and voyeuristic aspect to walking that makes it not unlike the task of the novelist: to be both inside and out, to pay heed to the soul and the city... Indeed, there is a long tradition of walking fiction.

Perhaps the golden age of the walking story was the early 20th century, when writers as diverse as Henry Miller, whose perambulations (and of course his sexual escapades) around Paris formed the basis of Tropic of Cancer and other works; Raymond Queneau - ex-Surrealist and founding member of the Oulipo - who spoofed the pretensions of the former group in his novel Odile, in which a band of revolutionaries set out to change the world - by walking; and Robert Walser, whose long short story "The Walk" (in NYRB's Selected Stories) is a gem of the genre that starts off in typically Walserian fashion:
I have to report that one fine morning, I do not know for sure anymore what time it was, as the desire to take a walk came over me, I put my hat on my head, left my writing room, or room of phantoms, and ran down the stairs to hurry into the street.
My favorite walking novel, though, is of more recent vintage: W.G. Sebald's melancholic Rings of Saturn, a strange mix of history, photography, and the workings of memory. The Rings of Saturn is a troubling book and not a happy one, but through its twilit gloom something of hope shines through; perhaps it's the consolation instilled in us by the act of solitary walking: that of the illusion that we are, at least for a time, moving away from our problems.

Please feel free to share your favorite walking novel with us.