Tag: Bruce Chatwin

How Bruce Chatwin ‘Saved Travel Writing’

I was catching up on some back issues of Harper’s a few weeks back, and this quotation about the author of “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” caught my eye:

He saved travel writing by changing its mandate: After Chatwin, the challenge was to find not originality of destination but originality of form.

Among those who have followed Chatwin, the most interesting have forged new forms specific to their chosen subjects: thus Pico Iyer’s sparkily hyperconnective studies of globalized culture and William Least Heat-Moon’s “deep maps” of America’s lost regions. Perhaps most important were W.G. Sebald’s enigmatic “prose fictions”—particularly “Rings Of Saturn”—that likewise hover between genres, make play with unreliability, and fold in on other forms: traveler’s tale, antiquarian digression, and memoir. What Sebald, like so many of us, learned from Chatwin was that the travelogue could voyage deeply in time rather than widely in space, and that the interior it explored need not be the heart of a place but the mind of the traveler.

(It’s from “Voyagers: The restless genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin,” by Robert Macfarlane, in the November 2011 issue. It’s available online to subscribers only.)

New Travel Book: ‘Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin’

A collection of the author’s letters is due out in February. Many were sent to family and friends—including fellow travel writers Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Theroux—during his travels around the world. Nowness.com has a few brief excerpts; here’s a tantalizing favorite:

To Francis Wyndham, Lima, Peru, 1974

I have done what I threatened. I suddenly got fed up with N.Y. and ran away to South America… I intend to spend Christmas in the middle of Patagonia… I’m working on something that could be marvelous, but I’ll have to do it in my own way.

Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” both made our list of the 100 most celebrated travel books of all time.

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In Patagonia, In Patagonia

Patagonia logo Photo by Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson packs his fleece and long underwear, and enters the Twilight Zone where corporate branding meets the multilayered reality of place.

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World Hum’s Top 30 Travel Books

We recently counted down the best travel books of all time. Here's the entire list -- and loads of picks from World Hum readers.

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No. 12: “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin

To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Published: 1987
Territory covered: Australia
Early on in The Songlines, British-born Bruce Chatwin recalls his childhood as one of “fantastic homelessness.” His most treasured possession was a conch shell his father brought back from the West Indies that he called Mona, which he held to his ear to listen for crashing waves. Perhaps this accounts for the peripatetic life Chatwin would go on to lead, and his journey to explore the traditionally semi-nomadic Australian Aborigines and their “Songlines”—creation myths that “tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path…and so singing the world into existence.” With its sharp dialogue and philosophical digressions, Chatwin’s evocative account reads almost like a novel—some people he included in the book, in fact, accused him of playing fast and loose with the facts, writing more fiction than fact. Chatwin is among the most enigmatic of modern travel writers, and one of the few to be recalled in a biography. He died of AIDS-related causes in 1989 at the age of 48. “The Songlines” endures as a travel-lit classic from a writer whose life ended all too soon.

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