Cars, trains and feet: talking, reading, thinking

That thought about trains, as mentioned previously, again from my piece on Resonance FM (hear it here, 13:30mins in):

the walk is to thinking as the car is to listening, and talking, and as the train is to reading, or writing

There’s something about the movement of a train that acts as an analogue to the narrative trajectory of a novel, and this surely makes it a perfect environment for reading. No, not a perfect, the perfect environment for reading a book. The steady, straight feel of motion (compared to the twists and turns and sudden accelerations and decelerations of a car journey), the subtle rhythm of the track, the information flowing in from the peripheral vision, and the long glances up out of the window that allow you to pause and assimilate what you are reading. It’s such a cliché to say that a novel offers the reader ‘a journey’ but at some deep level the two activities are harmonic partners.

(An aside on The Future of Publishing. I recently took a commuter train from London out to Essex along the same route that I habitually took 15 or more years ago. Very few people were reading books, they were listening to music [or possibly audiobooks] or, a lot of them, watching films or television programmes on their phones. Back when I used to take that train into London, the only way to listen to music or audiobooks on the move was with a Walkman or Discman, something that your average suited-and-booted adult office worker would have considered beneath them: it is the stylishness of the iPhone and BlackBerry that has sounded the death knell of the physical book, as much as their convenience. The brute fact is, people just want something to distract them on their journey to and from work. Ten years ago the best option was a paperback book. Now, faced with the additional options of a a free newspaper or catching up on a favourite TV programme on their phone, the book loses out, badly.) 

With a car journey it’s different. Obviously there’s the problem of motion sickness, but as I said above the stop-start, twisty-turny aspects of car journeys militate against reading, and narrative. Car driving does, of course, go perfectly with listening to music, especially when alone, but, when taken in company, they are the ideal environment for conversation. A long car journey with just two people, driver and passenger, is the place for life stories, confessions and in-depth debates. The two and fro of talk.

Walking, lastly, can also throw up good, long conversations, but, taken on its own, is a marvellous generator of ideas. A walk, even to the shops, can break a writing block, can give a fresh perspective on a page or a scene. I think it’s partly down to the element of monotonous physical activity in walking, that is absent in other forms of transport – the repetetive action of the legs allows you to go over and over the same bit of prose, or dialogue, until you get it right.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Reading as scree-running, reading as sex – Stefan Zweig’s Journey into the Past | Tiny Camels / Jonathan Gibbs

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