Editor's Choice

The OverstoryClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Richard Powers

Summary

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers--each summoned in different ways by trees--are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest.

In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of--and paean to--the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours--vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? "Listen. There's something you need to hear."

BookBrowse Review

Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, mesmerizing. But one word succinctly captures the feeling I come away with every time I put a novel of his down: awe. Of course, given that I look forward to a new Powers novel just as eagerly as my daughter waited for the next in the Harry Potters series, I will be the first one to admit I come to the table already biased. But Powers meets my ridiculously high expectations every single time. He does it again with The Overstory, a sprawling, messy, breathtaking and yes...awe-inspiring tome about trees.

If you're wondering how on earth an author can write a 500-page literary fiction volume about trees, consider this: Margaret Atwood is a huge fan. "It is not possible for Powers to write an uninteresting book," she once said. To its credit Overstory is more than merely not uninteresting: its very format – Roots, Trunk, Crown, Seeds – hints at the sprawling epic that is to come. Tucked in between the chapters Root and Trunk are the nine human branches: Nicholas Hoel, Mimi Ma, Adam Appich, Ray Brinkman and Dorothy Cazaly; Douglas Pavlicek, Neelay Mehta, Patricia Westford and Olivia Vandergriff, whose life histories intertwine to tell the story of how trees, in one way or another, profoundly root their everyday concerns. Nick Hoel, for example, is the scion of the Hoel family, generations of which have watched a single chestnut survive on their Iowa farm as the blight that scourged the rest of the country missed their precious tree. Mimi Ma is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant, an engineer who plants a mulberry in their Illinois backyard as a tenuous connection to her homeland.

If there is one flaw in this brilliant novel, it is that Powers throws in one or two characters too many. We could have easily done without Neelay Mehta or Ray and Dorothy, especially as it becomes clear that their stories are only tangential to the narrative that begins to take shape after we're a third of the way into the book.

As the story slowly gains momentum, five of the characters' paths intersect when they take a stand against indiscriminate logging in the Pacific Northwest. These sections are where the awe factor particularly kicks in. Powers is able to describe the breathtaking beauty that is being plundered and, equally important, he drives home the sobering scale of loss. As the five characters take on the Goliath, Powers zooms in and out to paint a picture of activism molded in the '90s that has urgent takeaway lessons for today.

Geeky details about trees – how sakaki tree is sacred in Shintoism, India's bejeweled wishing trees, Mayan kapoks – stud the narrative and never feel forced.

Readers will come away with a new respect for trees, and maybe even have some of the novel's activism brush off on them. Powers, a National Book Award winner for one of my all-time favorite novels, The Echo Maker, is to be commended for keeping the story front and center and not drowning it in his call to action. To apply a relevant metaphor, he does not lose the forest for the trees.

You don't have to be an environmentalist to love The Overstory. You will, however, come away with an overwhelming sense of awe. At one point, a character points out: "Humankind is deeply ill. The species won't last long. It was an aberrant experiment. Soon the world will be returned to the healthy intelligences, the collective ones. Colonies and hives." This will make you sit up and take notice. And surely that can only be a good thing?

Book reviewed by Poornima Apte

Beyond the Book:
India's Chipko Andolan

Chipko MovementIn The Overstory, a few of the characters become environmental activists in order to save the wealth of forests in the American West and Pacific Northwest. In the novel, Richard Powers refers to many save-the-trees efforts around the globe, including the Chipko Andolan in the 1970s in the Himalayan region of India.

Chipko Andolan literally translates to Stick (as in cling) Protest, as the mostly women who took part in the struggle against logging companies stood their ground by wrapping their arms around the trees that were scheduled to be felled.

The Chipko Andolan was born in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (the region of the Himalayas where it originated is now part of a new state, Uttarakhand). India and China went to war in the early '60s. An extensive network of roads giving access to the rugged forests at the foothills of the world's tallest mountain range, the Himalayas, was a leftover from this conflict. Over the next decade, the region saw logging companies rapidly depleting tree cover to a dangerous extent. Devastating floods and landslides became increasingly common.

Chipko Movement 30 Years LaterEqually worrisome, the local inhabitants had no say in how their land was being apportioned. A rural scheme that promised cottage industries to small communities in the region gave residents access to a few trees every year so they could use them to create farming tools for sale. It was when the government denied the locals access to three ash trees and, instead, granted an inland logging company permission to fell hundreds of trees for sporting goods that the seed for rebellion was sown. Local residents protested in droves, beating drums and other equipment, and driving the companies away.

Polish Tribute to Chipko MovementPredictably, the proceedings escalated to a game of whack-a-mole with loggers and residents staring each other down in different villages in Uttar Pradesh. Women activists from villages all over this region adopted Gandhian principles of satyagraha (non-violence) and clung to trees by the dozens, refusing to budge, taking turns defying the Goliath. The Chipko Andolan was in full swing in 1973. The activists began winning the fight, which further emboldened them. The movement won another shot in the arm when then Chief Minister (the equivalent of Governor) of the state took up the cause and set up a committee to explore the matter, which ruled in favor of the activists. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi eventually passed a law to ensure sustainable logging in the area, although threats to the edict continue to surface.

The Chipko Andolan was significant – and not just because David won over Goliath by adopting a simple non-violent strategy. With the help of additional heavyweights such as the Chief Minister and activist leadership including many women, the movement was also effective in instituting laws that gave residents first dibs in local contracts and brought up other issues affecting the mountain people, including fair wages and access to jobs. The Chipko Andolan is repeatedly referenced as a model by which people who had otherwise no agency, in this case, women, made inroads in a fight they seemingly had little chance of winning.

Chipko movement
Participants of the first all-woman Chipko action at Reni village in 1974, reassembled thirty years later.
Tribute to the Chipko movement in Poland, courtesy of www.thehindu.com

American HistoriesClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by John E. Wideman

Summary

In this singular collection, John Edgar Wideman, the acclaimed author of Writing to Save a Life, blends the personal, historical, and political to invent complex, charged stories about love, death, struggle, and what we owe each other.

"JB & FD" reimagines conversations between John Brown, the antislavery crusader who famously raided Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and orator, conversations that belie the myth of race and produce a fantastical, ethically rich correspondence that spans years and ideologies.

"Maps and Ledgers" eavesdrops on a brother and sister today as they ponder their father's killing of another man.

"Williamsburg Bridge" sits inside a man sitting on a bridge who contemplates his life before he decides to jump.

"My Dead" is a story about how the already-departed demand more time, more space in the lives of those who survive them.

Navigating an extraordinary range of subject and tone, Wideman challenges the boundaries of traditional forms, and delivers unforgettable, immersive narratives that touch the very core of what it means to be alive. An extended meditation on family, history, and loss, American Histories weaves together historical fact, philosophical wisdom, and deeply personal vignettes. More than the sum of its parts, this is Wideman at his best — emotionally precise and intellectually stimulating — an extraordinary collection by a master.

BookBrowse Review

In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present and its divisive racial history as the direct consequence of a political and economic system that depends on man's inhumanity to fellow human beings. Wideman refers to this system as "empire," a word fraught with connotations of imperialism and slavery. "We wait and wait for the moment to arrive," he writes, "Wait for the time to celebrate. Time to love. We understand empire a chimera, a bad idea. Same bad idea over and over again. Empire dead. Long live empire." The collection is an impassioned condemnation of an empire that thrives on inequality and injustice. This condemnation is evident in Wideman's rhetoric, but also in his nuanced and empathetic explorations of his characters.

The 21 stories alternate between contemporary and historical settings. Two historical pieces, "JB & FD" and "Nat Turner Confesses" (see 'Beyond the Book') relate incidents of violence during the Civil War. In the former, abolitionist John Brown writes to Frederick Douglass with accounts of the murders of slavery supporters at Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas in 1856 and about the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry in Virginia. In the latter story, Nat Turner stands at the gallows from which he is to hang and narrates the bloody details of the 1831 slave rebellion he led. In "Collage," the author imagines a conversation between collage artist Romare Bearden and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In the expertly crafted "Writing Teacher," an African American professor recalls giving advice to a white student writing a story featuring a black protagonist. The narrator astutely defines the task inherent in creating credible fiction, "Who believes they can experience what another person experiences. Wouldn't a person be many people if such an exchange possible." But the best authors, a group to which Wideman certainly belongs, can competently step outside of themselves and directly into the heart and mind of a protagonist. This is what makes Wideman's work so compelling.

"Williamsburg Bridge," is an extended meditation on life, love, death, and history by a narrator clinging to the edifice, intending to jump. The contemporary story is a moving, poetic, but also darkly comical piece full of absurdity, as the narrator repeatedly draws attention to the fact that he is wearing only his boxer shorts and posits that the Houston airport is the epicenter of the afterlife.

Wideman's depictions of violence and frank commentary on race are occasionally discomfiting, and sensitive readers may find it upsetting. But the truth he is attempting to convey is harsh — racism breeds monstrous acts and perpetuates terror. Wideman's fictional Nat Turner explains eloquently, "I decided to kill white people when the voice I hear sometimes...said you don't need them...Do not need the heaven and hell in their churches. Not the hell on earth they make of this Virginia."

In a story titled "Empire," Wideman presents a fable about Capitalist ills and mass complacency, where a group of people called "Gratefuls" is kept docile and compliant by their overlords, the "Givers." The Gratefuls are "fascinated by whatever they see or punch into devices inexhaustibly patient, inexhaustibly responsive with infinite reams of pictures and games." The story ends with one Grateful trying to catch the eye of another Grateful to exchange a look of dissatisfaction. This is not a subtle allegory. Though the Grateful's small moment of protest is quashed, the message here—and in many of the other stories—is that we must rebel against oppression by any means necessary. While this makes for dark, occasionally difficult reading, Wideman excels at providing poignant portraits of people engaging in struggles that are insightful and thought-provoking.

Book reviewed by Lisa Butts

Beyond the Book:
Nat Turner's Rebellion

One of Wideman's most vivid stories is centered around the confession of Nat Turner, an enslaved Virginia man who organized a revolt in 1831, involving upwards of 50 other slaves. The rebels killed 51 people (mostly slave owners and their families). The rebellion began in the late hours of August 21 when Turner and his fellow slaves murdered their master, Benjamin Travis and his family. They then fanned out across the countryside, killing any white people they encountered. They marched to Jerusalem, Virginia where they hoped to take control of an armory, but the authorities had by then gotten word of the rebellion and it was quickly stanched. Turner and 16 of his co-conspirators hid out for roughly six weeks, intermittently clashing with local militias, before being captured on October 30. Turner and 56 of his co-conspirators were found guilty of "conspiring to rebel and make insurrection" on November 5, 1831 and executed on November 11.

Depiction of Nat Turner Rebellion Turner was a deeply religious man and believed that God had spoken to him as he had to the prophets in the Bible. Turner believed he was "ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty," and that he had seen a vision of "whites and blacks engaged in battle." The rebellion was largely a result of his interpretation of God's message – that he should "fight against the Serpent." Turner also took the 1831 solar eclipse as a cosmic sign that the time to revolt had come.

Wideman takes Turner's real-life confession to his defense attorney Thomas Gray as the springboard for his story. Gray published Turner's confessions as a book titled The Confessions of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia. Despite being Turner's attorney, Gray made no effort to portray his client in a positive light by toning down the violence in his account and scholars have questioned the veracity of the published version.

In the South, the response to the rebellion was swift and harsh. Roving bands of white vigilantes perpetrated acts of violence against slaves who had nothing to do with Turner, and state legislatures enacted harsher laws intended to outlaw the education of and restrict the movements of slaves, making further rebellion more difficult. There were numerous slave uprisings in the decades leading up to the Civil War, including the Louisiana Revolt and the raid on Harper's Ferry, but Turner's revolt was one of the most dramatic and largest in scale, both in terms of number of participants and fatalities.

19th Century woodcut depiction of the Nat Turner Rebellion from U.S. Library of Congress

I Found My TribeClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Ruth Fitzmaurice

Summary

Ruth's tribe are her lively children and her filmmaker husband Simon who has ALS and can only communicate with his eyes. Ruth's other "tribe" are the friends who gather at the cove in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and regularly throw themselves into the freezing cold water, just for kicks.

The Tragic Wives' Swimming Club, as they jokingly call themselves, meet to cope with the extreme challenges life puts in their way, not to mention the monster waves rolling over the horizon. Swimming is just one of the daily coping strategies as Ruth fights to preserve the strong but now silent connection with her husband. As she tells the story of their marriage, from diagnosis to their long-standing precarious situation, Ruth also charts her passion for swimming in the wild Irish Sea - culminating in a midnight swim under the full moon on her wedding anniversary.

An invocation to all of us to love as hard as we can, and live even harder, I Found My Tribe is an urgent and uplifting letter to a husband, family, friends, the natural world, and the brightness of life.

BookBrowse Review

Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her last name to her husband's, Ruth, along with Simon, pictured a fairy-tale life in the Irish countryside. They lived a romantic existence in a cottage with "rolling hills and apple trees," and had three children together before Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) just four years later. Those afflicted by the incurable and fatal disease, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease in the United States, gradually lose motor function until all bodily systems fail. Ruth Fitzmaurice's memoir, I Found My Tribe, chronicles her emotional journey as Simon becomes completely paralyzed and eventually succumbs to his illness.

As Simon's condition worsens, the couple decide to return to Greystones, Simon's hometown on the Irish coast. It is here that Ruth discovers her love of the ocean and finds friends who help her cope, forming what she calls The Tragic Wives' Club – her "tribe" of women who have also experienced loss. Together they dive into the ocean on a near-daily basis year-round, as a way to bond and, for a few minutes, forget the realities of their lives and just be.

I look at my friends coping and surviving. Like the rolling of waves, the thrill of the dive, the rush of cold, they choose to stay unchained. This is as free as we can all possibly be…Swims like this clean the cobwebs from my mind, like clearing the laundry basket with a good run of hot washes. I am a woman restored.

Fitzmaurice's writing is at its best as she pours her pain into her prose, which at times reads like poetry:

We live our lives in fragments and that's just the way it is. Clocks circling time have little meaning for me. From days and months to moments, fragments of time swing solely between good and bad. I never dare to presume, beyond a hunch, what is coming next…I feel sadness on a deep level, deeper than skin and veins and death. Clock hands circling time are overwhelming and endless.

The book is laid out in short chapters, each loosely held together by a theme, throughout which the author ruminates on a specific aspect of her life. For example, in a section called "Bed," Ruth's narrative moves from her first encounter with Simon at a drinks-heavy student party, waking up next to him on a couch; to the day their "marital bed became a hospital contraption" with "multiple tilts and reclining functions" to make Simon more comfortable. Eventually Ruth decides to leave their bed because she can't sleep with all the electronic beeps and whirrs of the equipment needed to keep her husband alive. The text has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it that renders it raw and honest. It can also be a bit confusing, as it's not always clear which period of their lives is being discussed at any one moment.

The memoir focuses primarily on Fitzmaurice herself, specifically her internal struggles as she remembers the good times and grieves over what their lives have become and how Simon's illness has impacted their children. It's heartbreaking reading her pain as she tries – unsuccessfully – to explain to her four-year-old daughter why her father can't go back to "the old Dadda" who walked and talked.

Interestingly, using an eye-gaze computer (see 'Beyond the Book') as his sole means of communication, Simon wrote a memoir of his own, It's Not Yet Dark and wrote and directed a film, achievements that are only glancingly touched upon in this book. Ruth's memoir also has very little to say about her communication with Simon as the disease progresses. One assumes they would continue to "talk," but there's little here about their interaction.

I Found My Tribe is a beautiful, haunting work throughout which Fitzmaurice bares her soul. Readers who enjoy memoirs will likely find this a must-read and book groups will discover multiple topics to discuss within its pages.

Book reviewed by Kim Kovacs

Beyond the Book:
Eye-Gaze Computers

Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband Simon, who had Motor Neurone Disease, communicated using a type of adaptive technology known as an eye-gaze computer. The author mentions its use as a critical part of their lives throughout her memoir, I Found My Tribe.

Adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology and while the two terms are often confused, they are different in scope. Assistive technology can be defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacities" of those with a physical impairment. Items such as a large-print book or Bluetooth headset used to hear one's TV at a louder volume fall into this category, and often those who wouldn't consider themselves disabled, rely on this type of device. Adaptive technology is "any object or system that is specifically designed for the purpose of increasing or maintaining the capabilities of people with disabilities. Adaptive technology would seldom be used by non-disabled people…[A]daptive technology often refers to electronic and IT-related systems – like systems that help blind or deaf individuals use a computer."

An eye-gaze computer is a type of adaptive technology that allows an individual with profound disabilities to communicate via a computer using only eye movement. By projecting harmless infrared light onto the eye, the device pinpoints the pupil center and also the corneal reflection, which is an accurate indicator of where the person is looking. The user can then communicate by looking at the relevant "key" on the control screen and "pressing" that key, which is achieved either by looking at the key for a specified period of time or by blinking, or if the user has sufficient mobility, pressing a switch.

Add-on software packages facilitate an interface with mainstream programs such as word processors, Skype, Facebook, etc. Microsoft has been working closely with eye-gaze hardware manufacturer Tobii to incorporate native eye tracking technology in Windows 10. The software can be set for voice output, and to control appliances like one's TV, wheelchair or hospital bed.

An eye-gaze computer needs to be calibrated to the measurements of the individual using the technology. It can be used with very young children with disabilities, not only to teach them and allow them to communicate, but to help identify undetected visual or cognitive issues.

Technological advances have improved the usability of eye-gaze systems over the past decade. A basic eye-gaze computer can be purchased for $1500 and often some or all of the cost is covered by health insurance. However, a few challenges remain. These systems may be difficult to configure and some find them too frustrating to learn. They are also slower than speech, which often leads to emotional challenges as one tries to communicate with others. Nevertheless, many with devastating illnesses find the technology crucial for maintaining a reasonable quality of life.

This fascinating video shows an individual with MND using an eye-gaze computer:



The Art of the Wasted DayClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Patricia Hampl

Summary

The Art of the Wasted Day is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of "retirement" in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne--the hero of this book--who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.

Hampl's own life winds through these pilgrimages, from childhood days lazing under a neighbor's beechnut tree, to a fascination with monastic life, and then to love--and the loss of that love which forms this book's silver thread of inquiry. Finally, a remembered journey down the Mississippi near home in an old cabin cruiser with her husband turns out, after all her international quests, to be the great adventure of her life.

The real job of being human, Hampl finds, is getting lost in thought, something only leisure can provide. The Art of the Wasted Day is a compelling celebration of the purpose and appeal of letting go.

BookBrowse Review

Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time alone in the midst of who and what you love, like Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, two Irishwomen from upperclass families who, in 1778, escaped together to live in Wales where they spent 50 years simply studying language and literature and collecting woodcarvings. Their home is one of a few that Hampl visits on her many travels to investigate where "leisure lives are lived." She also visits the home of Michel de Montaigne, widely regarded as the inventor of the personal essay, who slipped away from the world into a room of his own to simply let his thoughts and writing come. In this context, the wasted in The Art of the Wasted Day is hard to accept. Instead, the title of these essays-as-memoir should use the word leisurely. Of course, Hempl is trying to make a point here – that a great swath of society, American society, might think such things as daydreaming to be frivolity, to be a - yes - waste of a day. But Hampl's goal is to prove that it's not. She mostly succeeds.

Hampl threads The Art of the Wasted Day with a steady presentation of beautiful imagery, both in descriptions of place and her ongoing "relationship" in widowhood with her late husband, who encourages her to be her best self, and also teases her. This is the thread that holds the book together; the reader wants to see what her husband will say next, and wants to learn more about the relationship that clearly was a great marriage.

Patience is the watchword here. Hampl's comment on one vignette could apply to the book as a whole: "It leads down the rabbit hole of thought, not to the taut wire of narrative." Fair enough, in instances like exploring the lives of Ponsonby and Butler, where she offers all of the reasons they fascinate her as she describes her trip to see where they had lived, what their rooms were like, and how they kept to a strict schedule which ironically made their leisure possible. But there is a real leap of faith she asks the reader to take in her section about Michel de Montaigne, who wrote about whatever struck his fancy in that very moment. She seems to mimic his style in this essay. For instance, she introduces genetic pea pioneer and monk Gregor Mendel, one of her "monastic heroes," but then indulges in a highway-wide tangent into two visits to Prague, her ancestral homeland. "Where's Mendel?" one might ask, even as there are some interesting tidbits about Soviet-saturated Prague. When he shows up ages later, the reader is done with this meandering stream of consciousness.

Finally, in her best and last essay, Hempl describes a trip she and her husband took aboard their "1940 Chris-Craft cabin cruiser." They visted Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, two hundred miles south of St. Paul, Minnesota, where she still lives. This river trip could last much longer for the reader; it is poetic and personal and brings together her relationship with her husband and the joy of unscheduled, relaxed time. This final chapter makes the sometimes-frustrating The Art of the Wasted Day worthwhile and inspires us to find our own version of peace that comes with "a wasted day."

Book reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

Beyond the Book:
The Art of the Flaneur

The word flaneur sounds like a term for a connoisseur of flannel fabric but, in fact, the Oxford dictionary defines flaneur as "A man who saunters around observing society." It is derived from the French word flâner which means "saunter, lounge."

According to an article in the New Republic, Charles Baudelaire gave birth to the term in an essay called "The Painter of Modern Life", describing a person who is a "passionate spectator," open to and interested in all that's around him. Not a real person, at that point, as it came from Baudelaire's imagination. But the flaneur has become real enough through many subsequent people, real and fictional alike.

Virginia Woolf took a walk in Tavistock Square, London that inspired To the Lighthouse. She later wrote "I cannot get my sense of unity and coherency and all that makes me wish to write The Lighthouse etc. unless I am perpetually stimulated." And indeed, her Mrs. Dalloway said, "I love walking in London. Really, it's better than walking in the country."

Sophie Calle, a French artist, began her life as a flaneur one day when, out of boredom, she began following and photographing people at random. This went on for months. Then at a gallery opening one evening, she spotted a man whom she had followed that same afternoon. Upon overhearing that he was going to Venice the next day, she went to Venice too and followed him yet again under the disguise of a blond wig, until he recognized her. All this was compiled into a book and installation called Suite Vénitienne.

Paris appears to be the city most associated with the flaneur. Author Edmund White, who lived in Paris for 16 years, wrote a book called The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, about all his wandering through its streets and avenues. In the 18th century, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who was the first street reporter of Paris, walked around the city, noting everything he saw, from prostitutes to greengrocers, washerwomen to street vendors, servants to priests. He said about his Tableau de Paris, which spanned 12 volumes "I have run around so much while drawing my 'Tableau de Paris' that I may be said to have drawn it with my legs."

In this day and age, with technology ever more pervasive, there's crucial value in getting up and getting out for a while. Sure, the internet can be useful for seeing faraway places, but sometimes going out to the intersection at your corner and just watching the cars passing by or walking up the street in your neighborhood and noticing something you haven't seen before can give you a new perspective.

Paul Gavarni's Le Flâneur, 1842
Sophie Calle's photographs of a man in Venice

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