Tag: Paul Theroux

Interview with Andrew McCarthy: A ‘Strange Second Act’

Jim Benning asks the actor, director and writer about his new book and his second career in travel writing

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What are Paul Theroux’s Favorite Travel Books?

The author—whose latest novel we recently excerpted—gave his top picks, plus explanations, to The Browser’s Alec Ash. And they are? Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s Antarctic memoir, “The Worst Journey in the World”; “Following the Equator” by Mark Twain; Anthony Trollope’s “The West Indies and the Spanish Main”; Carlo Levi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli”; and “An Area of Darkness” by V.S. Naipaul.

The Cherry-Garrard and Naipaul titles are both on our list of the 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time (along with four of Theroux’s own books)—I’ll confess I’d never heard of the other three.

Before getting into his book picks, Theroux also shared his thoughts on what drives people to read about travel:

I think people read travel books either because they intend to take that trip, or because they would never take that trip. In a sense, as a writer you are doing the travel for the reader. I get emails from people saying: I loved your book about Africa, but we went to Venice instead. So I get the impression that people who read my books don’t intend to take that trip themselves. In an ideal world they would like to travel alone and go to malarial swamps, but they haven’t got the time. They only have a couple of weeks vacation. So the idea that I’m in New Guinea, facing down boys with spears saying they are going to kill me, is a thrill for them. People read travel books for the same reason that they read novels. To transport them.

Now all we need is for Paul Theroux to make a music video extolling the virtues of Trollope and Twain, and we’ll have come full circle. (Via @iainmanley)

The Lower River

An excerpt from the new novel by Paul Theroux

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Music Video: ‘Paul Theroux’s My Hero’

Because there just aren’t enough songs about reading travel books.

The things you stumble across when you’re waking up, randomly searching for a video of Paul Theroux talking about his new novel.

It’s a nice little ditty. More of the uke-player’s ouvre, including a song about the first dog in space, can be found here.

The Critics: ‘The Lower River’ by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux’s new novel, The Lower River, is about an American named Ellis Hock who returns to the African nation of Malawi nearly four decades after working there in the Peace Corps. The book got mixed reviews over the weekend. The New York Times critic liked it:

“The Lower River” is riveting in its storytelling and provocative in its depiction of this African backwater, infusing both with undertones of slavery and cannibalism, savagery and disease. Theroux exposes the paternalism of Hock’s Peace Corps nostalgia, his “sense of responsibility, almost the conceit of ownership.”

The Los Angeles Times’ critic was less impressed, finding the story “predictable, peopled with stock bit players, and disappointingly familiar.”

Theroux spoke about the novel on NPR over the weekend. The six-minute segment is worth a listen:


Paul Theroux, V.S. Naipaul and the End of a Feud

Paul Theroux’s long-running feud with Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul has apparently come to an end. The two authors shook hands in the green room at the Hey Festival late last month in Wales. Writer Reza Aslan was there. He not only posted a message on Twitter about it—“Holy Cow! I caught first face to face reconciliation of Paul Theroux & VS Naipaul. Magical moment.”—but he just happened to capture it on video:

What caused the feud? Accounts vary. According to The Telegraph, Naipaul suspected that Theroux had seduced his first wife. A New York Times report, however, emphasized Theroux’s anger over a book he’d signed: “His decades-long friendship with Mr. Naipaul imploded some 15 years ago when he discovered that a copy of one of his novels, lovingly inscribed to Mr. Naipaul, had been put up for sale.”

Whatever the cause, Theroux went on to write a great book exploring their friendship and its demise, Sir Vidia’s Shadow.

Amazingly, Naipaul was back in the headlines days after the handshake, offending countless people, when he told the Royal Geographic Society that he doesn’t think much of women writers: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

Retracing Paul Theroux’s ‘The Old Patagonian Express’

Retracing Paul Theroux’s ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ Rachel Pook
El Turistren, Colombia (Rachel Pook)

My favorite Paul Theroux book is The Old Patagonian Express, in which he chronicled his journey by train through the Americas. Theroux had a grand time, enduring irritating travelers, witnessing a soccer riot in El Salvador and reading to the late blind Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

So I was happy to hear the other day from Rachel Pook, who is retracing the route Theroux followed in the book—at least from Costa Rica southward—and blogging about it.

As she explains on her site:

An urge for adventure teamed with huge admiration for Paul Theroux’s travel writing has led me to this project.

After seven years working at News International for The Times I decided to escape the confines of Fortress Wapping and do some exploring.

She embarked on the trip in August. Her last post, on Sunday, titled Altitude Sickness and a Tortoise, was from Peru.

Riding The Little Engine That Could

Riding The Little Engine That Could Illustration: Bill Russell

What if travel writer Paul Theroux had been aboard the train journey that became a classic children's book? Jim Benning imagines the account.

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Theroux: ‘The Netherlands has Struck Me as the Most Robust Literary Culture in the World’

Paul Theroux weighs in on the state of fiction in the age of eBooks—and touches on travel—in an interview in the Atlantic.

Not a Tourist

On the evolving role of the travel writer in the age of mass tourism and YouTube

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The Old Patagonian Express Rumbles On

I’ve always thought “The Old Patagonian Express,” Paul Theroux’s book about his trip from the U.S. down to South America by train, was one of his best.

I’ve sometimes wondered what became of the old train he writes about near the book’s end—the one he seized on for the title. It turns out, it’s still operating.

The same starkness of place that struck Theroux in the high Patagonian desert remains. Like a photograph from an earlier era, the train and the landscape remain unchanged.

Paul Theroux’s New Novel: ‘A Dead Hand’

Paul Theroux’s new novel isn’t scheduled to be released in the U.S. until February 2010, but it’s already getting mixed reviews in the British press. It’s a mystery of sorts set in Calcutta and featuring a down-on-his-luck travel-writer-protagonist named Jerry Delfont.

Intriguingly, writes Doug Johnstone in The Independent:

Midway through the book, Delfont meets a fictional veteran US travel writer called Paul Theroux, a more successful and famous version of Delfont, whom he despises. The next 20 pages amount to a diatribe by Delfont about the act of travel writing, describing it as an emotionally stunted, puerile and selfish pastime, and brutally denouncing anyone who is stupid and arrogant enough to do it. This remarkable interlude is compelling, like rubbernecking a psychological car crash - but the rest of the novel is distinctly patchy, the bad points eventually outweighing the good.

Apparently the sex writing in the book leaves something to be desired. Once again, Theroux has been nominated for the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction award.

Paul Theroux Gives Advice to Aspiring Writers

"Leave home, travel alone, and stay on the ground"

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Paul Theroux: ‘The Cross-Country Trip is the Supreme Example of the Journey as the Destination’

Yet one of the most intrepid travel writers alive had never driven across the U.S. So when the Smithsonian asked him and five other travel writers to take on their dream assignments, he picked the cross-country trip. He delivered a beautiful story. He writes:

In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I’m glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

The other five writers involved are Susan Orlean (Destination: Morocco), Francine Prose (Japan), Geoffrey C. Ward (India), Caroline Alexander (Jamaica) and Frances Mayes (Poland). Here’s Jan Morris’s introduction to the project.

Happy 50th Birthday, Hawaii

Happy 50th Birthday, Hawaii Photo by mandolin davis via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by mandolin davis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The islands are celebrating five decades of statehood today. In the New York Times, Paul Theroux offers a very, well, Theroux-like tribute to his adopted home: “I have lived in Hawaii longer than any other place in my life. I have murmured to myself in Africa, Asia and Britain, ‘I’d hate to die here.’ But I wouldn’t mind dying in Hawaii, which means I like living here.”

Happy Birthday, Paul Theroux

Contemplating and celebrating the world of travel

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Morning Links: Paul Theroux Spits From Trains, Swimsuit Issue Locales and More

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Morning Links: America’s Dirtiest Hotels, London From Above and More

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Interview With Paul Theroux: Invisible Man on a Ghost Train

Paul Theroux Photo by Yingyong Un-Anongrak

Jim Benning asks the author of "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" about his new book, aging and the challenge of disappearing in the age of the BlackBerry.

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Unsentimental Journeys: Wrestling With Paul Theroux

Bronwen Dickey considers "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: 28,000 Miles in Search of the Great Railway Bazaar"

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