Ten Outstanding Books That Combine Walking and Thinking

Inspired by Verso Books’ excellent Guide to Political Walking, below is my guide to books that effortlessly combine walking, with musing about culture, literature, politics and geography, a form of exercise that I endorse.

  1. Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
  2. A Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh Fermor
  3. Wildwood – Roger Deakin
  4. The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane
  5. The Arcades Project – Walter Benjamin
  6. London Orbital – Iain Sinclair
  7. Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways – Phil Smith
  8. A Field Guide to Getting Lost  – Rebecca Solnit
  9. Psychogeography by Will Self
  10. The Lost Art of Walking – Geoff Nicholson

I’ll also point you to Paul K. Lyons’ compelling straight line walk across London, which some enterprising publisher ought to pick up.

Please make suggestions of any books that ought to expand this list.

Empire of the Sun and Literary Adaptations

From this discussion with Iain Sinclair about J. G. Ballard:

I saw Empire of the Sun again the other day, and it’s Spielberg more than Ballard though it’s reasonably close to the book.

I recently saw the film again and came to the same conclusion. It was a polished, Disneyfied interpretation, with overtones of Merchant Ivory. I’d love to see a Peter Greenaway rendering. Greenaway’s obsession with sex and death is well matched with Ballard’s themes. Ballard’s book Crash, interpreted faithfully (but ultimately disappointingly) by David Cronenberg is frequently juxtaposed with Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, as controversial films.

It is a cliché to discuss how a particular film is a disappointing adaptation of a particular book. Is there a film that has aesthetically advanced the original text? Perhaps Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire or The Great Gatsby, almost certainly The Third Man.

In Julien Gracq’s discerning book Reading Writing he offers this insight:

But the reader of a novel is not a performer following notes and tempo step by step: he is a director. And this suggests that, from one brain to another, the sets, cast, lighting, and motion of the performance become unrecognisable. Whatever the explicit precision of the text-and even against it, if he so desires-the reader decides (for example) on the acting of the characters and their physical appearance. And the best proof of this is that the interpretation of a film adapted from a familiar novel almost always jars us, not because of its arbitrary nature, but most often because of its fidelity to the formal indications of the text, with which, while reading it, we have taken the greatest liberties.

This, of course, must be correct. The conclusion is that one should never, never watch film adaptations of books that you love and know intimately. But, of course, it is always impossible to resist.

15 London Books in 15 Minutes

Kate’s Book Blog offered a challenge I thought fun:

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

I’ve adapted the meme to London, rather than Kate’s Toronto.

  1. Iain Sinclair – London Orbital
  2. Iain Sinclair – Lights Out for the Territory
  3. Peter Ackroyd – London: The Biography
  4. Patrick Hamilton – Hangover Square
  5. Martin Amis – London Fields
  6. Zadie Smith – White Teeth
  7. Robert Louis Stevenson – Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  8. Julian Barnes – Metroland
  9. Ian McEwan – Saturday
  10. Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist
  11. Will Self – Gray Area
  12. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
  13. Jules Verne – Around the World in Eighty Days
  14. Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Conan Doyle
  15. William Gibson – Pattern Recognition

Is it cheating to include two Iain Sinclair books? It would have been easy to fill half the list with Sinclair’s books. My edition of Lights Out for the Territory, with the enigmatic photography of Marc Atkins, is somewhat reminiscent of Sebald.

Loiterly Intentions

The recent edition of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, the first I have read (with thanks to Vertigo for the introduction), introduced me to the ugly but useful new term loiterature. Coined by Ross Chambers to signify the digressive, category-blurring style of writing of authors like W. G. Sebald, Geoff Dyer, Roger Deakin, Javier Marías and Iain Sinclair.
Warren Motte’s excellent article in the magazine is framed around a story by French author Jean Rolin, yet to find an American publisher, unfortunately). Writing about this “loiterly novel“, Motte explains:

What may be less immediately obvious is the idea of digression as a deeply purposeful narrative technique. However counterintuitive this notion may appear at first glance, upon further consideration it is perfectly reasonable – especially in the context of literary discourse. We easily accept that an author and the narrator that he or she constructs may be quite different in voice, character, purpose. Why should that difference not express itself in the attitude that each evinces with regard to digression? Or as Montalbetti and Piegay-Gros suggest, “If the narrator goes astray, the author, undoubtedly, knows where he’s going. In a literary text, digression is less a sign of going astray; it is not the sign of a lack of mastery in writing, but rather the fiction of a lack of mastery”.