nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Born to Walk – a book review

with 8 comments


 

 

‘… Marooned at my desk, I swiveled round and round, drowning in digital static …‘ (page XIII).

So many of us can relate in a personal way to Dan Rubenstein’s description of his work life in the field of journalism. When he talks about managing his stress by checking emails every few minutes, I can say, I’ve been there! Dan’s book, Born to Walk, shows us a way to change our lives in a very simple way … just walk!

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my first Shelf Monkey book

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Born to Walk – The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act (Dan Rubinstein, 2015, ecw press, Toronto) is a book of non-fiction with a strong narrative component.  It could be described as a self-help book of the environmental kind.  Born to Walk describes the health benefits of walking, fitting this into the context of what it is to be human in the natural world. This book would be interesting for those who walk already and those who are thinking about taking up or accelerating a walking program. As I was reading, I often wanted to quit reading and start (you guessed it) walking.

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In a discussion of the benefits and pleasures of walking, Dan considers walking a key life strategy. He tells the tales of people who feel compelled to walk or who walk for a living. Dan’s credentials for writing this book become more obvious as we read – the writer has learned through doing. Over the course of the book, we learn about his interviews with some of the most outstanding walkers in the world – interviews conducted while on foot and on the trail! The walkers he tells us about include a postal ‘delivery agent’ in Ottawa, a police officer walking the beat in Philadelphia, a photographer in New York City, and a medical doctor walking between Native communities in eastern Canada.

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The book considers, chapter by chapter, specific topics about walking: the effects of walking on the body and mind; how society can benefit from pedestrian ways; the economic and political connections of walking; and the influences of walking on creativity, spirituality and family life.

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My interest in the book sparked when I read the sub-title – ‘The  Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act’. My struggle with arthritis and the inactivity that accompanies mobility problems, has convinced me that activity and walking should have been a focus of my life, especially in my thirties and forties when I started sitting more than walking. The book points out that isolation and sitting are the new smoking.

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In opposition to the ‘sitting disease’, Born to Walk explores the benefits walking can deliver. Dan describes the positive effects of being in nature. Sneakers, he says, are as important as medications in dealing with our many health issues. With careful consideration of the sage advice of the walkers of our time, backed up by health statistics and epidemiological studies, Dan explains how walking can improve our sense of ‘personal mastery’ and ‘self-regard’.  I was intrigued by his descriptions of the experiences of those who are serious walkers – for example, the ‘green blur’ overtaking those who have been on a difficult trail for days.

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As a planner, I was most interested in Dan’s insightful ideas about planning for a ‘walkable city’. He describes new approaches to creating urban areas where cars and people can coexist in safety.  Some of the ideas he explores include development of road-skinny cities, the benefits of ‘walking meetings’, and the possibility of finding tranquil urban spaces to make up for our lack of being in more natural locations.

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Reading this book was a pleasure. The narrative lines are engaging, the stories are often funny and Dan’s style is sensitive and not at all condescending. He writes with the conviction and knowledge of one who practices what he advocates.  My favourite chapter of the book was definitely ‘Creativity’. As a writer, I have often noticed that the rhythms of walking inspire both the metre and cadence of poetry.  Born to Walk describes ‘participatory art walks’ in Brooklyn and the ephemeral art of an ‘X’ walked into a field of daisies.  ‘People get ideas when they are out walking’ (page 190).

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My only problem with the book is related to the way I personally prefer to read. I found the chapters long (eight chapters plus prologue and epilogue for a book of 251 pages with about 300 words per page). I tend to read in chunks and consider it a smooth read if I can take in a full chapter at a sitting.

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As a person with mobility problems, I applied much of what Dan said to my preferred mode of exercise (the stationary bike). While the stationary bike gives me some of the physical benefits of walking out-of-doors, I realise I am missing out on other benefits. For this reason, I am motivated to walk to the extent of my ability. One truth I read in the book is the idea of embracing and putting up with some pain as long as I am not doing damage to my joints.

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Born to Walk The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act is a thought-provoking, walk-inspiring book.  I am eager to read other books by Dan Rubenstein!

Dan has an interesting blog describing some of his adventures leading to the writing of Born to Walk ( http://borntowalk.org/ ).

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

May 1, 2015 at 7:09 am

8 Responses

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  1. Thank you for the review and the link to the author’s blog. As someone who takes a lot of walks, I am very interested in this book. As I was reading your review, I was reminded of a quote about having two physicians, “my left leg and my right leg.” Just looked it up and it’s two doctors, not physicians. I think of that sometimes when I walk.

    Liked by 1 person

    Robin

    May 6, 2015 at 8:59 am

    • Hi Robin. Great quote. Our bodies are definitely the best indicators of our health and we should ‘listen’ to them! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 10, 2015 at 8:56 pm

  2. Hi Jane thanks for telling us about this book. I am also an avid walker and love to find out about others who also love walking through life. I hope you will get our and walk a bit during these loveliest days of the year. Cheers, Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

    SingingBones

    May 3, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    • Hi Leigh. I just visited southern Ontario for a week and enjoyed walks to see the birds and vegetation, everything just a few days ahead of us in New Brunswick! Jane

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      May 10, 2015 at 8:59 pm

  3. As someone who has never succeeded at any other form of exercise but walking – and I’ve had a life long love of walking! – this book appeals to me. I’ve just taken up the David Suzuki challenge of spending 30 minutes daily for the month of May outside. Well, I would be walking, of course. Plus, I usually spend at least that much time out of doors a day. Still, good for those days I might consider shirking.

    Liked by 1 person

    francisguenette

    May 1, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    • Hi Fran. I found the book inspiring for its stories of those who have made walking a passion. You have such a beautiful area to do your walking! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 10, 2015 at 9:02 pm

  4. I’ve been thinking that I should simply overcome the ridicule of just walking once round the block (or in this case, my riding path around our property which is about 900 meters). We seem to think – or I do – that it’s not a proper walk unless you go for an hour! And then fight the exhaustion for a week after….

    I get so many ideas when walking. It’s almost as good as a shower! When I dabbled in haiku for a couple of weeks, every single one formed in my head in the forest. But now that both dogs are gone I don’t seem to be able to get out the door. Hopefully summer will make that easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    Pia

    May 1, 2015 at 8:17 am

    • Hi Pia. I agree … walking generates ideas. For me that means the rhythms of poetry. I struggle with walking any distance because of arthritis, so any walking is great. Whatever time I spend walking is an adventure in experience and sensation. Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      May 10, 2015 at 9:05 pm


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