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Posts Tagged ‘travel writing’

Take a Mental Vacation—Listen to Travel Writers

March 24, 2014 | by

Theroux on Train

Paul Theroux on a train, doing what he does.

What do Paul Theroux, Ryszard Kapuściński, Peter Matthiessen, and Jan Morris have in common? All four have advanced the art of travel writing, or writing that foregrounds a sense of place. And over the years, all four have been interviewed at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, where The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Now, 92Y and The Paris Review are making recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review.

As yet another cold front shunts frigid air in our direction, it’s especially nice to hear smart people talk of exotic climes and faraway places. So you can listen to Paul Theroux, who spoke to our beloved founder, George Plimpton, in December 1989:

I came from, not a small town, but basically not a very interesting place. I felt that the world was elsewhere and that nothing was every going to happen to me, or that I wouldn’t actually see anything, feel anything, any sense of romance or action, or that my imagination wouldn’t catch fire until I left home. So it was very important for me not to rebel but simply to get away, to go away …

Or a conversation with Jan Morris, who appeared at 92Y that October:

I resist the idea that travel writing has got to be factual. I believe in its imaginative qualities and its potential as art and literature. I must say that my campaign, which I’ve been waging for ages now, has borne some fruit because intelligent bookshops nowadays do have a stack called something like travel literature. But what word does one use? … I think of myself more as a belletrist, an old-fashioned word. Essayist would do; people understand that more or less. But the thing is, my subject has been mostly concerned with place.

Or Peter Matthiessen, another cofounder of The Paris Review, from 1997:

It’s broad daylight, good visibility, yet mountains move. You perceive that the so-called permanence of the mountains is illusory, and that all phenomena are mere wisps of the cosmos, ever changing. It is its very evanescence that makes life beautiful, isn’t that true? If we were doomed to live forever, we would scarcely be aware of the beauty around us …

Or Ryszard Kapuściński, from 1991:

If we write about human beings, in the most humanly way we are able to, I think everybody will understand us. I find humanity as one family. People really are very much the same in their reactions, in their feelings. I know the whole world. I can’t find much difference in the way men react to others’ unhappiness, disasters, tragedies, happiness. Writing for one man, you write for everybody.

These recordings are the next best thing to a vacation. Their release is made possible by a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, who worked in the art department at The Paris Review and volunteered as an archivist at 92Y’s Poetry Center.

 

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Locker Room Freud; Travel Writing

December 2, 2011 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I have an etiquette question. Is it permissible to tell a complete stranger in a gym locker room that he looks like Sigmund Freud? And, if so, how does one tactfully go about it? The relevant details include: this man is usually naked, he has a giant shlong, and he looks exactly like Sigmund Freud! He even has some kind of foreign accent. Part of me is just curious to know if he gets this a lot, but part of me is curious to know whether he may in fact be Dr. Freud.

—Avi Steinberg

It is permissible, of course. The most tactful approach, in our view, is to just lie down and start free associating. If he is in fact Sigmund Freud (which strikes us as unlikely), your confession will be met with an icy, yet obscurely liberating, silence. You could also offer him a cigar.

What's the best way to structure a memoir or personal narrative?

Is this the sort of memoir that involves being stuck in a crevasse? If so, lead with the crevasse. If, on the other hand, this is the sort of memoir that's interesting all the way through, we suggest that you begin with your feelings about your mother and take it from there (see “etiquette question,” above).

What travel writing would you suggest for someone dealing with a recent loss and exhausted by urban living? I want to take a trip to refocus and regain a sense of daily hope. There must be something more literary and nuanced than Eat Pray Love?

While neither of us is a great aficionado of travel writing, we agree that it's a genre at which the English are particularly adept, be they heroic polymathic questers like T. E. Lawrence or Patrick Leigh Fermor, or comic bunglers along the lines of Graham Greene’s Henry Pulling, or more recently, Geoff Dyer.

Sadie says: In times of distress, while I'd like to turn to the former, I’d probably lose myself in the latter—Our Hearts Were Young and Gay: An Unforgettable Comic Chronicle of Innocents Abroad in the 1920s. I do love Leigh Fermor, however. His A Time to Keep Silence is thoughtful and inspiring without making a fuss about it. In all frankness, though, whether at home or on the road, I find nothing more soothing than a tried-and-true “comfort read,” which for me means Barbara Pym and for you might be something completely different. Lorin recommends Travels with a Donkey and Life on the Mississippi—but then, he always recommends those.

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