Do you ever get the feeling that there should be more to life? That what’s expected of you is in no way connected with who you are? That our connectivity – as we increasingly relate to each other’s lives through television, social media and video chat – tends to leave us feeling remote and out of touch? That what we experience in daily life no longer involves using our senses, wasting our eyes and ears, touch and smell – not using any of them as acutely as we used to do when we were little, and the world seemed fresh and new?
You have arrived. Join author and contemporary artist Keri Smith, who – through an old and forgotten volume of poetry – comes to discover the existence of something called the Wander Society. Following her through her diary of paper clippings, scribbles and daily musings, we see her drawn closer into this enigmatic and private circle of anonymous people engaged in a free-for-all, open-ended experiment to re-affirm a sense of personal joy of living, in calm rejection of today’s social standards and modern media projections of what we all should aspire to. Along the way, she learns how members of this society use the meditative activity of wandering to consciously stray from the beaten path and explore the great unknown – both out there as well as inside us.
Joined by her high-minded friend, cultural anthropology professor J. Tindlebaum, Smith embarks on a personal voyage of rediscovery, asking us to partake in the adventure of our lifetime.
So, before you ask: Yes, I received this book as a Christmas present because it had my name all over it! Coincidentally, I really found myself enjoying it, being positively surprised by how easy it is to join in on Keri Smith’s soul searching expedition. However, being vaguely familiar with her previous hit, the deliciously anarchic Wreck This Journal, I was a bit unsure about the level of veracity that underpins The Wander Society from a literary perspective.
Well, the book encourages readers to question everything, so after reading the first few chapters of The Wander Society, I immediately followed my instincts and wandered over to my computer to look up a bit more about this elusive group. And they are there; drifting about the recesses of Twitter and Facebook, keeping a low profile, not standing out, but conspicuous in their post-Luddite silence. Also, I did in fact manage to track down professor Tindlebaum for myself; the dear professor’s online presence appears to be equally slim, apart from clearly devoting most of his scholarly efforts to studying the emergence and precepts of the Wander Society. In fact, exclusively so… How odd.
So I kept searching and discovered a bit more about “wanderer extraordinaire”, Walt Whitman, who is presented as the society’s patron saint. I found that he was a perambulating poet and philosopher of life in America at the closing half of the 19th century, celebrated and reviled for his deep-seated sense of authenticity and disregard for the rules and mores of civilized society. He became best known for his life’s work, Leaves of Grass, a collection of plucky and weatherworn poems that exude a sense of makeshift and thorny romanticism, and indeed, wanderlust.
Anyway, there is either a lot you can get from reading The Wander Society, or alternatively; nothing at all. When read as an adventure novel, it feels quite personal and genuine. As a philosophical treatise, it’s very hands-on, tactile and accessible. As a self-help book, it’s refreshingly universal and unassuming. And finally, as an instruction manual, it is very artsy and clever. One way or the other, you can either opt to inwardly enjoy the book as an enlightening bit of pseudo-journalism, or you can jump in at the deep end and actually join the Wander Society – turning yourself into a colourful extension of a globe-spanning mental arts & crafts project. In the end, it’s what you do with it that makes the story worthwhile. It’s all up to you.
The Wander Society is a piece of resistance in the truest and best sense of the word, with Smith’s art cheerfully refusing to be packaged as a distantly complacent and neatly framed product; instead offering readers and fellow life-artists something keenly heartfelt to latch onto in a world increasingly devoid of natural meaning and first-person perspectives. This is the book’s bottom line: You are the best life hack you can ask for. Feel free to perceive your own mind, dare to delve into what you really want, use your body as the multi-purpose all-terrain vehicle it is meant to be, and you will find that your daily world is a much more beautiful, interesting and open space than you could have imagined. Solvitur ambulando.