Books on Walking
Translated by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky.
New Directions, 2012.
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In certain literary circles, one of the worst things you can say about a writer is that he or she, like it or not, was a Christian, even when that was quite obviously the case. On the other hand, it’s true that many Christians don’t want to admit this or that writer to the church universal, so the fault goes both ways. The Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) was not widely read in his lifetime, but his idiosyncratic fictions have achieved posthumous fame (Susan Sontag was a great admirer), if not a commensurate following. He held a number of relatively menial jobs while writing steadily; in middle age, he suffered a nervous breakdown and lived in institutions until his death, on Christmas Day in 1956, while out on a walk. His long story “The Walk” (be sure to get this specific edition) begins quite wonderfully: “One morning, as the desire to take a walk came over me, I put my hat on my head, left my writing room, or room of phantoms, and ran down the stairs to hurry out into the street.” I hope you like it as much as I do, but if not, no blame.