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Time for another report on walking with my wife Wendy in the neighborhoods near our house, plus notes on a couple of new walking-related books. I’ll start with the latter.

On this particular subject, I try to keep up with what’s published, even if it’s not my cup of tea. Hence I found myself reading a book I very much disliked, Matthew Beaumont’s How We Walk: Frantz Fanon and the Politics of the Body. I’ve read a couple of earlier walking-related books by Beaumont, not without profit despite basic differences in outlook. Reading this one, however, although it’s quite short, was a tremendous slog, like a long hike carrying a heavy pack on dicey terrain. All the more ironic, then, that the introduction begins with a quotation from an essay I love and have often praised, “Walking While Black,” by my dear friend Garnette Cadogan! (If you haven’t read it yourself, please do look it up.) And Chapter 1 is titled “The Racialized Body: Fanon Walks with Garnette Cadogan.” Ah, well.

The second new book, by contrast, was a great pleasure. Globetrotting: Writers Walk the World, introduced and edited by Duncan Minshull, is the third in a series he’s doing for the splendid Notting Hill Editions, following Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking and Sauntering: Writers Walk Europe. These slim little books fit easily in the pocket of a jacket or a tweed coat; they are designed to be readable as well as portable. The selections are admirably eclectic. Pick up a copy for yourself and a couple of more to put in someone’s Christmas stocking.

Now to an update on walking with Wendy. As I mentioned in a recent fiction column for Prufrock News, Wheaton, Illinois, is in the region currently experiencing a rare conjunction in which two “broods” of cicadas emerge at the same time. What gets under my skin is the horror movie soundtrack they relentlessly produce, but Wendy is very troubled by the sight of them in a way that wasn’t remotely the case in the past; they intensify an underlying anxiety that she feels routinely now. For several weeks, instead of walking every day, as is our near-invariable practice, we have only rarely taken our familiar jaunts in the neighborhoods nearby. Blessedly, in the last several days, she’s been willing to walk.

This is a lovely time of year (cicadas excepted). In a half-hour, we see an astonishing profusion of flowers. The leaves of the trees move with the breeze. Birds are abundant (robins above all). And as always, especially after the hiatus in our routine, we notice changes: A house that wasn’t for sale several weeks ago now has a realtor’s sign out front; another house has new occupants; yet another is getting a new roof.

Much more, of course, is unchanged: The two flagpoles are still there outside a house on a nearby block, one bearing a large American flag, the other an equally large Trump flag (the only one we see during our routine excursions). We pause to admire the Midwest Modern homes we love (mostly old but a couple recently built in that style) and others that stand out for us, and I remember a walk with Garnette several years ago along those very streets; I wanted him to see those houses we treasure.

One recent morning, I had been reading online before we set out for our walk, seeing reports and images from Gaza. While Wendy and I were walking, those scenes were in my mind. What a strange world we humans share, the reality of which utterly exceeds our grasp. Is it grotesque for me to prattle on about the flowers and the birds and the trees?

I don’t think so. Walking along this or that block with Wendy, holding her hand, I listen to her exclamations of delight, alternating with outbursts of dismay (“Oh, this is terrible,” said as we pass a run-down place with bits of trash scattered about). She waves to and greets everyone (mostly people we don’t know), sometimes quite insistently, hoping for a response, while I stoically proceed. We pause and look down at the waterway where we hope to see duck couples, the male and the female serenely gliding together (“Just like us,” I say). Wendy loves the ducks and abominates the mess people leave, having casually tossed some junk into the water.

I return to Matthew Beaumont’s book, to a passage from the conclusion:

Let’s persist in an apparently unfounded hope, then, and fight for a society in which, because the current conditions of material exploitation and social oppression will have been collectively, systematically abolished, everybody is free to loosen or soften their facial expression and to walk the streets both as fluidly as they are able and as unhurriedly as they like.

Dear readers, forgive me: I laughed. Indeed I almost “shrieked with laughter.” Laughter is good medicine, after all, and I was grateful for the prompt.

John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books

Image by Matti Blume, licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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