Not so long ago I had an idea for a kind of “travel book” to be called something like “The Road Never, Ever Travelled.” I was partly inspired by Pascal’s familiar old line “All of humanity's woes stem from one thing; the inability to sit quietly in a room.” (“Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne pas savoir demeurer en repos dans une chambre.”) And further inspired by Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage Around My Room (Voyage autour de ma chamber) a parody of travel literature, in which the author explores his own room as though it were some exotic foreign land.
The idea was that my book would try to deter people from going anywhere, tell that travel wasn’t good for the soul, didn’t broaden the mind, and that they should simply stay home and live quietly.
My agent thought this wasn’t a good idea. She thought a book that spent all its time telling people not to do things was a non-starter. People she said, like books that tell them to DO things. I’m sure she had a point.
My book The Lost Art of Walking has supposedly been published in Korea – by “supposedly” I mean that I signed a contract, got a small advance and have heard absolutely nothing since. The book by no means tells you “how to walk” but I was talking to a Korean expert (Colin Marshall, op cit) and he said the Koreans love books that tell them what to do. I only have his word for this, and it surely isn’t only Korean walkers who need instructions.
I remember when the Arthur Frommer travel guides were at their peak of popularity – how to see Europe on $5 a day, kind of thing. They gave ruthlessly precise instructions on where people should walk, and even the very spot where they should stand, if they wanted the best view of, say, the Acropolis, and if you went there you’d actually see people standing on that exact spot, with the book in hand.
All this seems some way from the freewheeling exploits of our own dear Yoko Ono --- and yet, and yet.
I was browsing (re-browsing?) her book Grapefruit, which I first read decades ago, and I’d pretty much forgotten that part of its subtitle is “a book of instruction.” And, I’d completely forgotten that it contains some instructions for walking. Both of these pieces are actually doable, which is not the case with many of her instructions. Only the second one “City Piece” will make people think you’re a bit nuts, depending (of course) on which city you choose to do it in.