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travel literature

Jonathan Raban: one of our greatest writers on place

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Jonathan Raban (Photo by Julia Raban) Jonathan Raban wrote about human landscapes rather than uninhabited ones, and the borderlands between what a place professes to be and what they are. An Englishman who emigrated to Seattle at the age of 47, his status as an outsider gave him a unique perspective on America as the land of perpetual self-reinvention. Many of his books involved water — from the...

Sarah Anderson: Founding The Travel Bookshop

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Sarah Anderson (Photo by Sebastian Latala) Many readers think of owning a bookshop as some sort of dream job. Sarah Anderson founded the iconic Travel Bookshop in 1979. You might be familiar with this place even if you’ve never been to London. It was the inspiration for the bookshop in the 1998 Hugh Grant / Julia Roberts film Notting Hill.  But that’s not our concern here. I’ve never seen...

New edition with new foreword by me

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My friend Lawrence Millman believes stories are essential to our survival. He’s spent his writing life tracking them down and preserving them, from East Greenland to the forgotten corners of the Canadian North. This obsession was present from his first book, Our Like Will Not Be There Again, in which he sets out to record the “wonder tales, jokes, violent opinions, and self-contained monologues”...

The Best Books I Read in 2022

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Do you have a book addiction? I’m here to make it worse. It’s that time of year when I tempt you to obliterate what remains of your savings on an out-of -control book buying bender. What can I say? It could be worse. At least you’re not spending it on commemorative spoons. I’ve got some great reads to recommend this year. As usual, I read and re-read a lot of great travel literature to prepare...

The Best Books I Read in 2020

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Do you have a book addiction? Well I’m here to make it worse. I love a good reading list like a hobo loves Aqua Velva. As the year comes to a close, and as dark Berlin huddles beneath a pandemic sky, I’d like to take a moment to share my top reads from the past twelve months. Each book made my list because it was memorable, important, or just thoroughly enjoyable. And each is worth your time. I...

Do you believe in the spirit of place?

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The novelist and island writer Lawrence Durrell believed we are each aligned with certain places. This is where we do our best work because we resonate with the Spirit of Place.  He believed landscape is not a projection of the psyche — an interpretation of your surroundings based on your interior — but a tutelary spirit which guides the growth of personality and art. This isn’t an original...

Will travel writing survive COVID-19?

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The future looks bleak for travel writing — at least, for the highly commercialized side — but I don’t think this is true for travel literature. They aren’t the same thing. What’s on the ropes? Most commercial travel writing exists symbiotically with the tourism industry, living off press junkets, review writing and advertising. It’s designed to sell a product or a destination. This side of...

The Riverbones

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It’s been a while since I reviewed a recent travel book. This one stood out among the books I read last month. The Riverbones by Andrew Westoll Andrew Westoll spent a year as a primatologist chasing monkeys through the jungles of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. He returned five years later as a writer obsessed with finding the secret soul of this poorly understood country. Few...

The Saddest Pleasure

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Born in 1915 to great wealth in Seattle, Moritz Thomsen died miserably poor in the tropics, of cholera, in 1991. He served as a bombardier in WWII, farmed in California, and at age 44 gave it all up to join the recently-formed Peace Corps. His book about that experience, Living Poor, is ranked as one of the best Peace Corps memoirs ever written. When his service was over, he chose to remain. He...

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