“I’ve joked for a long time that if you walked up to people in the street and asked them whether we could own our greatest treasures collectively and trust people to walk away with them and bring them back, a lot of people would say that’s impossibly idealistic and some would say it’s socialist, but libraries have been making books free for all for a very long time. They are temples of books, fountains of narrative pleasure, and toolboxes of crucial information. My own writing has depended on public libraries and then university libraries and archives and does to this day. I last used a public library the day before yesterday.”

— Rebecca Solnit, In Praise of Libraries and the Forests That Surround Them

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Rebecca Solnit

Back in April, Rebecca Solnit contributed to Cosmopolitan‘s ‘Get that Life’ series, where she talks about her career as a writer, historian, and activist. She discusses how she came to turn a vocation into a profession, and ends by reflecting on the role that writing continues to play in her life:

“My life has been startling to me. Nobody had ambition on my behalf when I was young. Nobody led me to have high expectations of myself or even to think about some of the things that have happened, about being something of a public figure, playing a role in some of the conversations in the culture, making a living by writing. I just wanted to do this thing, which was about describing the world as I saw it, about the art of telling stories, working with language, finding relationships and patterns in the world, intervening on behalf of the things I’m committed to — and here I am.”

samuelbeckett-walking“As a literary structure, the recounted walk encourages digression and association, in contrast to the stricter form of a discourse or the chronological progression of a biographical or historical narrative. A century and a half later, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf would, in trying to descrive the workings of the mind, develop the style called stream of consciousness. In their novels Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway, the jumble of thoughts and recollections of their protagonists unfolds best during walks. This kind of unstructured, associative thinking is the kind most often connected to walking, and it suggests walking as not an analytical but an improvisational act. Rousseau’s Reveries [of the Solitary Walker] are one of the first portraits of this relationship between thinking and walking.”

— From Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

An essay published in The New Yorker
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Virginia Woolf, née Stephen
by Vanessa Bell (1912)

The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal on January 18, 1915, when she was almost thirty-three years old and the First World War was beginning to turn into catastrophic slaughter on an unprecedented scale that would continue for years. Belgium was occupied, the continent was at war, many of the European nations were also invading other places around the world, the Panama Canal had just opened, the U.S. economy was in terrible shape, twenty-nine thousand people had just died in an Italian earthquake, Zeppelins were about to attack Great Yarmouth, launching the age of aerial bombing against civilians, and the Germans were just weeks away from using poison gas for the first time on the Western Front. Woolf, however, might have been writing about her own future rather than the world’s. [Read More]