to walk/explore/amble i an unplanned or aimless way with a complete openness to the unknown
The Wander Society by Keri Smith is a book that encourages wandering freely, just going out and having a look at your surroundings, leaving distraction behind. If you should need something to structure your wanderings there is a whole section with assignments/research/field work (this is my favorite part of the book really, wandering practice).
The look and feel of the book, the art on the pages, the instructions and assignments (even if the DIY section seemed a bit redundant) are wonderful. Then there is the interactivity of looking up the websites mentioned (I did not call the phone number) etc. I’m a sucker for that and it wasn’t overdone. I did apply for access to the “underground” on the website (though have yet to receive any kind of email). Smith’s handwritten notes and comments also added to the overall impression of the book, and made some parts less dry.
To wander is to seek the unexpected (pp. 16)
I didn’t like talk of “excessive” use of technology and only seeing the world through screens, though certainly this is the case for some, but as a lover of technology and the sharing of things online it annoyed me. The book relies upon tech to document (and it wants you to document everything) so complaining about it read hypocritical to me, even if the book never meant to state that technology is a bad thing in general. On page 117 (“Wandering by Bicycle”) one suggestion is that one has a portable library on the rack, and I found myself shouting at the book “It’s called a smartphone or an ereader!” because that must be far more practical than lugging around a bunch of books. Smith also writes that she discovered the society though a used copy of a Walt Whitman book, that there is no way to recognize the members on sight, that it is underground and secret, yet at the same time she made a book about it, with instructions on how to make a easily recognizable patch, pamphlets, stickers, symbols to put out into the world, there’s a printable membership card on the website. All of this is fine, if it wasn’t supposed to be “secret” in the first place. I get that this book is built around this secret society (that the reader is encouraged to join), but as a frame for the narrative it just doesn’t sit right with me. I love the name “The Wander Society” it is poetic and beautiful (and I’m taking it an adapting it to my own uses, which is encouraged), but does it have to be secretive? I don’t think so.
In the introduction Smith said that she had “limited training in literature” (only a college class, or was it two?) and then proceeded to list a lot of writers she had read and enjoyed that suggested a familiarity with literature that, regardless of academic training, was more than limited. A false modesty, or if we’re reading her with kindness (which is something I try to do) a clumsy way of explaining her background. I like that this book seems to have grown from a fondness of Walt Whitman, and I get the inclusion of a lot the writers (sorry, “fellow wanderers”) that are listed in the book. I love the reading suggestions, even if a few more modern ones would have been appreciated, especially as I am in fact working through a list of books about walking myself (probably why this book intrigued me in the first place to be honest, even if I found it because of an Instagram hashtag).
The book also harps the point that society wants us to follow a certain path, but that wandering can break it, but it isn’t really more specific than that, aside from the fact that wandering is rebellious because it isn’t productive. That’s it. So take a walk and pay attention to things around you (the assignment section was full of good ideas). I like this, but I think perhaps there wasn’t enough to say so the book became bloated with elitism and cliches. There are also a few instances where one is encouraged to “summon the spirit of your favorite writer or thinker” (page 91) , on page 35 there is a whole section about this, followed by a list of “fellow wanderers”. I get that thinking about the works and lives of these people can be interesting and helpful, but “you will conjure the souls an energy of the great thinkers, creators, and writers during your wanderings” turns on my “new age bullshit” radar, and made me sigh and shut the book for a bit.
Wandering can make you feel closer to nature, and to other people, fictional or otherwise, this is true. What this book advocates is a bit meditation and a bit awareness of your surroundings, this allows you to get really introspective and philosophical. I know this state of mind, and it isn’t “conjuring” anything, except perhaps your own ego, some peace of mind and if you’re lucky the solution to a problem you’ve been puzzling at. What is happening is this: You are thinking, and having removed yourself from some distractions the mind is free to wander. It’s lovely, but not magic.
I did really like the assignments though, and I will be bringing them with me on my walks, and if found myself inspired to look at the ordinary with new eyes. Page 63 has the section “Secrecy, or how to be invisible” which appealed to me a lot, I like to think that I am pretty good at going unnoticed (though this I think is just me deceiving myself). If you can stomach the repetitions and pretensions of the texts, and embrace the enjoyment of the assignments and the base of the writing this book is for you. If your eyes threaten to roll out of your head at mentions of dead white male authors, a slight new age touch, and the suggestion that literature is somehow better than other forms of narratives then perhaps avoid this.
I brought the book, a notebook and my phone on a walk around the neighborhood (left my headphones at home, normally I’d listen to music or an audio book while walking, the latter is a great way to experience nature and get in some reading time) and it was really enjoyable. I decided to walk slowly and look at things I would otherwise just glance over. What I saw was: flowers, early blueberries (yum), driftwood, shells, trash, other people, bugs. This post contains some of the pictures I took while I walked.
Before I go: I have an assignment or suggestion of my own to add:
Bring a plastic (or otherwise) bag plus a pair of gloves and pick up the trash you see on your walk. I made notes of the things I saw during mine today. Here are some things I found: beer/hard cider cans (lots), plastic cups (with Disney princesses on them), Empty candy wrappers, empty cigarette box (and some cigarette butts), a concrete tile, a tarpaulin, a used bus ticket, two plastic bottles, plastic bag, little bits of plastic and paper. On a more positive note: I saw two cats (who didn’t want to say hi, but oh well), and someone had planted flowers in their hideous stone wall.