Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
This book was not for me. Parts of it were very interesting, and parts of it I really liked, but the author’s style and organization annoyed me. And she is unfortunately a fan of Rousseau, and I am not, so that was kind of a deal breaker. I wanted a more straightforward narrative about the modern history of walking, and instead I got a sort of hippyish paen to the magic that happens when you put one foot in front of the other and let your mind go slack and give in to the joy that is your body’s primitive poetry of motion and AUGH! No. The parts of the book that weren’t like that I enjoyed. So I would carefully recommend this to particular readers who like Rousseau or who seem like they might like hemp. Or perhaps very patient vegans. (My vegan friend that I’m thinking of right now would rip this book to shreds and then give to her cats.)
Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us by Rachelle Bergstein
I wanted to like this book, I really did. It’s a book about shoes! I love shoes! But there were, in my opinion, two rather large flaws with it. Firstly, it didn’t have any pictures. None, not one single solitary one. And it’s about shoes! How can you not have any pictures?! There were little tiny drawings at the beginning of each chapter, but that isn’t enough to count. Secondly, it only covered 20th century US shoes, mainly couture shoes. Which is fine, those are interesting, but the subtitle led me to expect a very different book, a book about the history of shoes since the dawn of time, or at least since the Renaissance. Or the French Revolution. And also pictures. But on the plus side, the book did inform me of the existence of the Bata Shoe Museum. Which: I WANT TO GO TO THERE. So I guess I’d recommend this to shoe and fashion lovers, with a huge caveat as to what it does and does not cover.
To sum up:
What I found to be most interesting about these books was that they all referred to each other in unexpected ways. The only book of these ten that made no reference to any other was Just My Type, and I think that was only because it was so very narrowly focused on fonts and the men and women who created them, and didn’t really look at all beyond that.
I am glad that I selfishly chose microhistories as my topic. I’m sure that reading ten biographies or ten books about Bollywood adaptations of Western films would have been interesting, but this gave me so much more scope to read whatever I wanted–as long as the book I chose was about ONE THING. Because the working definition I was going with for a microhistory was from the OED: a ”[h]istorical study which addresses a specific or localized subject; a historical account of this nature, a case study. Also, a short account, a ‘potted’ history.” One book, one thing; ten books, ten things.