Good Reading : September 2006
18 goodreading ı SEPTEMBER 2006 Have you ever looked lazily out of a train window and wondered what would happen if you kept on travelling instead of getting off at the next stop? Or pondered wistfully what it would be like to pack it all in and take off somewhere, unencumbered by all those possessions and relation- ships you’ve collected along the way? You could go anywhere, be anyone you like, make a new start, and do all those things you’ve only dreamed of … Well, you don’t have to bother. Others have already been there and done that. All you need to do is pick up their travelogue, relax with a cup of cocoa, and the world can come to you. And when you feel you’ve had enough adventure for the day you can just mark the page and hop into bed, con tent that you don’t have to spen another night with a broken leg in a snow cave, or wor ry about bears coming into your tent, or that your feet hurt and Istanbul is still another two months’ walk away. Travel writing can range from guidebooks, through gazetteers purged of anecdote, such as Steve Davey’s Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die and Lonely Planet’s Blue List, to the most harrowing tales of survival under dangerous circumstances, such as Joe Simpson’s remarkable account of mountaineering mishaps in Touching the Void. In between is a ream of offerings, from the bestselling good-life-abroad books – popularised by the likes of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun, and Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons – to highly personal accounts of pilgrimages, either religious or not. Among the best of these is Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, an extraordinary spiritual journey through the Himalayas by a ent of Zen Buddhism. a tale that nicely strikes lance between showing place he’s travelling rough, and letting his aders get to know him. s the Holy Grail that l travel writers should each for. Across the broad spectrum of travel writing there are p p travelling remarkable distances on foot, or by bicycle, motor- bike, tour bus, sailing boat, train, camel or horse. I’m still waiting for someone to travel the world by pogo stick, but I’m sure one day it will happen, and a book will leap off the press to celebrate it. Readers are generally picky about what kind of travel books they will read. My theory is that their choices depend on what they might see themselves doing, even if it is just in their wildest fantasies. Most people with some imagination believe they could manage to live a year overseas eating olives and truf- fles, or even longer if the wine were cheap and the house already built. Hence the best- sellers that have thrived for decades, including Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, Charmian Clift’s Peel me a Lotus and DH Lawrence’s The Sea and Sardinia. Others may see themselves setting off on a journey that would take them out- side their usual comfort zones, but which they know they could probably do if only there weren’t a thousand reasons not to. So, they can join Paul Theroux as he follows the railway tracks from his home town to the tip of South America in The Old Patagonian Express, or sit beside him on every train from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central in The Great Railway Bazaar. Interestingly, when Theroux wrote evocatively about travelling overland hrough Africa in his fabulous Dark tar Safari, or the Far ast in Sailing Through hina, he found his es were down on earlier works. haps it was because potential readership ldn’t commit to spending even their mental time in those destinations. Still more people see themselves as adventurous types at heart – gypsies even. They could imagine taking off around the world for several years on a motorbike as Ted Simon did in Jupiter’s sweet dreams categorical Travel writing is a genre that swings precariously from eating olives in Provence to falling into a crevasse on a remote South American mountain. MARC LLEWELLYN takes an armchair look at why we like it and how it came about.