Jun 14, 2011

On travel writing

From the Daily Beast:
Apsley-Gerrards, and Matthiessens—were explorers almost in the same sense that Marco Polo was an explorer. Until then, there were plenty of places and people yet to be found and written about. People read travel books almost like news stories, for the fresh information they revealed about exotic climes and customs. After all, until the advent of the car and the airplane, most people simply did not get out much or go very far when they traveled—the travel book predates the travel guidebook by several centuries. But in an age where you can book a trip almost anywhere, from Angkor Wat to Antarctica, when China alone is in the process of building some 250 new airports, the world shrinks by the day, and so does the possible itinerary of the travel writer itching to go off the map.
 Theroux's book has a whiff of the post mortem about it, but it banishes more gloom than it generates because it makes us pay attention to what matters most—not what lies waiting for the travel writer but what lies within. Travel writers—and this is the book's real lesson—cannot help themselves. They will always have the itch to be going, whether the going is good or not. In a headnote to one of his chapters, Theroux makes perhaps the most impassioned declaration in the whole book: "The nontraveler seems to me to exist in suspended animation, if not the living death of a homely routine or the vegetative stupor known to the couch potato. From an early age I longed to leave home and to keep going. I cannot imagine not traveling." He goes to note a couple of authors famous as homebodies, Immanuel Kant and Philip Larkin, quotes Larkin ("I wouldn't mind seeing China if I could come back home the same day") and then, with the contempt almost dripping from the page, observes that Larkin "lived for much of his life with his mother." Clearly here is a man for whom hell is a round-trip ticket. 

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