Flâneur is a French word used to denote a saunterer — a careful observer whose slow pace and sharp eye allow him to cut through the hustle and be inspired by the city more profoundly. A flâneur was, during the rebuilding of Paris under Napoleon III, a vital archetype of poets, writers, and thinkers in the new, modern metropolis. Here’re some of the best reads to add to your bookshelf to learn from the best saunterers and celebrate World Saunter Day this Monday, June 19.
1. Flaneur: The Art of Wandering the Streets of Paris
By Federico Castigliano
Part fiction, part non-fiction, Federico Castigliano’s book teaches a walker to enjoy the simplicity of the city and discover something entirely new or amazing. Catigliano considers himself to be on the last remaining flaneurs, a man who has broken ranks of mainstream thought, and now devotes himself to the study of his association with urban space. He holds a PhD from the University of Turin, and has resided in Italy, France, and now China.
2. The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris
By Edmund White
Having spent seven years in Paris as a writer, from 1983 to 1990, Edmund White found himself wandering the city, much like a flaneur, with little other purpose but to enjoy it. His book is a first hand, on-foot journey through the most unknown and unseen parts of the city — even to most Parisians themselves — to give readers a glimpse into its most prurient, spirited and human elements. There are stops in cafes, bookshops and boutiques, even gossip between lawmakers and local ladies. White’s affection for Paris is apparent; through each walk, which we can assume there were hundreds if not more, he assembled a story as rich and exuberant as the city itself.
3. Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London
By Lauren Elkin
Writer Lauren Elkin rebuts the belief that flanerie is a gentleman’s pastime. Her latest book is exploring the historic figures of flaneuse: Virginia Woolf, Holly Golightly, Patti Smith, George Sand, Sophie Calle, Martha Gellhorn, and Jean Rhys. The book is part memoir, part biographic anthology, part call for new flaneuse; but, in its entirety its a recollection of those women who were overlooked as vital parts of flaneur culture and literature.
4. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays
By Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire, a poet and writer, as well as the founding father of the literary use of flaneur, wrote eclectic poems and short stories. His poems documented the urban world around him, namely Paris, and the experience of being, what he referred to as, a connoisseur of the street. This stimulating volume gathers together some of his most celebrated critical writings.
Buy on Amazon: Hardcover
5. On Photography
By Susan Sontag
“The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own,” Susan Sontag once said. She was a famed writer, film-maker and critic. One of her less-known works, “On Photography,” is an in-depth study and historic analysis of photography and observation as a skill. She was an opponent of intervention in photography and believed that “the individual who seeks to record cannot intervene, and that the person who intervenes cannot then faithfully record, for the two aims contradict each other.” This idea, though it may not have originated in Sontag’s studies, was a vital part of her belief that photography, as a medium, instilled a sense of awareness and relationship to the world around us.