Have you come across the French word, flâneur? According to the book The Art of Flaneuring by Erika Owen, it is used to describe well-to-do French men who would stroll city streets in the 19th century. But it has evolved to generally mean someone who wanders with intention. As with most things in life, the flâneur was long been seen as a man’s role. If you want to read about people exploring cities, it had to almost always men writing about it. But in the past couple of decades, women have been breaking that stereotype. So it is time we recognised the 'flâneuse'. Women travelling, alone. Their stories are always different from the solo male traversing the world, which is why women travel writers have a very distinct narrative.
These 5 books by women writers will open up whole new worlds, and change the way you travel and explore different spaces. You will find most of these at independent boosktores such as Rachna Books in Gangtok, Champaca in Bengaluru, and more. And they all deliver across India. Take a look at our list of indie bookstores here.
A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
You can think of this as a guide to how we should travel, and view the world. An activist, historian, feminist, and writer-philosopher, Solnit explores tales of travels and stories we use to navigate our way through the world, and the places we traverse, from wilderness to cities, in finding ourselves, or losing ourselves. She muses upon the concept of “getting lost”, embarking on a journey with no fixed destination, wandering through places open to stumbling on discoveries, that are never put down in guidebooks. She meanders through subjects, linking them all in an unifying thread. It is like a reflection on the interconnectedness of things. And the perfect book to read before, during, or after an immersive journey. We suggest that you add to this another book by her, Wanderlust, as a companion. In it, she traces the relationship between walking and culture and politics. She explore the walks that many poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, undertook. And she looks at women fighting for the right to wander as men do, without attracting attention or scandal. If walking supplies “the unpredictable incidents . . . that add up to a life,” Solnit writes, anyone dissuaded from it is denied a “vast portion of their humanity.”
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About to start rereading this book for the dozenth or so time. I’ve read it over and over in the past 13 years; every time I feel like I’m going through a transitional period in my life. #books #bookstagram #afieldguidetogettinglost #rebeccasolnit #amrereading #booksthatsavedmylife
Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia
From Karachi to Tibet, Alice Albinia journeys along one of the oldest and largest rivers in the world, the Indus, to experience the people, history, and cultures along the route. This is a river that has fostered civilisations and religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. She travels through the 2,000 miles it flows through, exploring geographic and cultural landmarks of eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwestern India, and the Tibetan plateau. Her narrative links the past and present, as she navigates borders in four different countries.
British journalist Alice Albinia has written a book about the #Sindh Civilisation and the various empires that ruled Sindh over the centuries.— Sabena Siddiqi (@sabena_siddiqi) September 14, 2018
It is an excellent travelogue of her journey from Karachi to Tibet. pic.twitter.com/BemABIdS3L
Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin
A writer, translator, professor, traveler, and urban wanderer, Elkin has written about women walking, exploring their cities and the world. If the word flâneur conjures up visions of Baudelaire, boulevards and bohemia – then what exactly is a flâneuse? In this book, Elkin defines her as ‘a determined resourceful woman keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk’. Part cultural meander, part memoir, Flâneuse traces the relationship between the city and creativity through a journey that begins in New York and moves us to Paris, via Venice, Tokyo and London, exploring along the way the paths taken by the flâneuses who have lived and walked in those cities.
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"I walk because, somehow, it's like reading. You're privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can eavesdrop on them. You are not alone. You walk in the city side by side with the living and the dead.” Lauren Elkin - Flaneuse: Women Walk the City. I took this photo outside the house in Gordon Square which, according to this fascinating memoir/cultural history by Lauren Elkin, is the exact address a young Virginia Woolf and her family moved to from Kensington, back when Bloomsbury was still known as a fairly shabby area of London. Woolf is just one example of the many 'flaneuses' featured in this study of women who love to walk the city - Elkin's answer to the popular masculine figure of the 'flaneur', AKA the men who have historically enjoyed the relative ease of being able to move through cities untroubled by street harassment and the general conspicuousness of being a woman. Throughout, Elkin makes a persuasive case for the joy of walking for both men and women. She retraces her own steps through various cities: New York, Paris, Venice and Tokyo, weaving her experiences between a blend of cultural history, biography and literary criticism. She examines the connection between the city and creativity, using everyone from filmmaker Agnes Varda to author Jean Rhys as case studies of women whose lives and work are intertwined with the streets of their chosen cities - and leaving you itching to take to the streets yourself. A post shared by Sian | Women I’m Reading (@womenimreading) on Jul 8, 2019 at 6:27am PDT
Around The World In 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
This book follows the writer on an adventure around India in 80 trains, covering 40,000km (the circumference of the Earth). Monisha Rajesh is from England. Sometime in the 90s, she lived in India for a short while, about two years. The 80 train journeys across India are her way of trying to understand a country that is part of her roots. and yet very much a stranger. From luxury trains, regular trains to toy trains and Mumbai's infamous locals, she boards them all and in the process, gets to know many interesting characters. For all those women who think train travel is tedious or dangerous, please get a copy and rediscover the romance of rail. This was one of The Independent's Top 10 Books About India.
Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan
Most people view Kabul, and Afghanistan, through the lens of conflict and war. Khan paints a lyrical, personal, and meditative portrait of the city through its bookstores, cinemas, the glittery wedding halls, its graveyards and poppy palaces. A woman walking around post-Taliban Kabul isn’t something you come by every day. And yet, Khan did it daily, and for years. The stories start from 2006, when she first arrived in Kabul, five years after the Taliban regime was overthrown. And end in 2013, when she returned to India. Read our review here.
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Thank you @penguinindia @penguinukbooks for sending me this copy of Taran N. Khan's @_tarankhan SHADOW CITY.Very excited to read the chronicles of her journey through Kabul. Can't wait to get a guided tour through her book of a place far away and has always piqued my curiosity. #penguinindia #shadowcity #awomanwalkskabul #books #taranAkhan