The Next Chapter

5 intriguing books about walking

Shelagh Rogers and columnist Randy Boyagoda discuss why the act of walking fascinates writers, and suggest some great books that explore the subject.
A wooded walking trail in Canmore, Alta. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

The act of walking has been the subject of a great deal of literary contemplation over the years. In this segment, The Next Chapter columnist Randy Boyagoda joins Shelagh Rogers in the studio to talk about several books that explore the theme. 

On Trails by Robert Moor 
Robert Moor is the author of On Trails. (Simon & Schuster/

"Robert Moor's book On Trails is a beautiful and thoughtful exploration of trails — what it means to make a trail and to follow a trail. Moor is an American writer who lives in Halfmoon Bay, B.C., and one day he's walking on the Appalachian Trail and he has that great moment that writers sometimes have, of curiosity. He wonders, where do trails come from? And the book is an exploration of trail making, which has both human and non-human components. He talks about deer paths, elephants, ants and other animals. He keeps looking back and back, and he finds the first recorded trail in earthly history — 560 million years ago, a tiny organism known as an Ediacaran crawled across a part of Newfoundland and left a trail in the fossil record."

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400. (Everyman's Library/British 17th century portrait)

"This is basically a walking poem-slash-joke. It's about a group of pilgrims who set out on their way to Canterbury and they tell stories along the way as they follow a well-travelled route. They deepen it and extend it, and the whole point of their journey together is that they entertain each other, they argue, they inspire each other as part of the experience of that route."

The Divine Comedy by Dante 
Dante's Divine Comedy was completed one year before his death in 1321. (Penguin Classics, Bibliothèque et fondation Martin Bodmer/Wikimedia Commons)

"Dante, in The Divine Comedy, takes a journey through Hell, Purgatory and up into Paradise with a guide. He doesn't do it alone, he is following a route that is laid out before him, but he adds to it and contributes to it. This is something that writers have been interested in in lots of different ways for centuries."

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 
A Walk in the Woods is Bill Bryson's 1998 travel book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. (Doubleday Canada/Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

"This is a lovely book about Bryson's decision to walk the Appalachian Trail. It's a very funny book, because it takes him only a few steps to realize it's a very long walk, it's a very serious thing. It is very funny, absolutely. It's also a book that, again and again, looks at the relationship between physical experience and interior life and the way in which walking and route-making and following a trail has to do with your physical endurance as much as it does with your mental, psychological and spiritual endurance."

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin 
Bruce Chatwin was an award-winning travel writer. He died in 1989. (© Penguin Classics (TR) 2017)

"Chatwin is the perfect example of someone who is walking and thinking about it and writing about it and it's this lovely, integrated experience of the physical world and your interior life that then plays out on the page."

Randy Boyogoda's comments have been edited and condensed.