Travel Blog: Literary Travel

Travel Dispatches From a Hidden Mumbai

I’ve been working my way through Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s much-lauded book about life in a precarious Mumbai slum. It’s an incredible work of reporting, and beautifully written too: The book tells the story of a group of families in Annawadi, a semi-legal settlement whose economy revolves around recyclable garbage.

It’s not what most people would call travel writing—Boo is absent from the story, which reads like a novel with an omniscient narrator—but as I read it, I’ve been thinking about how it might fit into the genre. It’s drawing me into a part of the world I’ve never visited, and likely never will; it’s teaching me about lives led on the other side of the world, lives that are both wildly divergent, and yet not so different, from my own. Isn’t that one of the tasks of great travel writing?

Interestingly enough, Annawadi is located right next to the Mumbai airport, which means its dramas have unfolded under the noses of every tourist and travel writer who’s ever visited the city.

NPR has a short excerpt.

A Visitor’s Guide to ‘Infinite Boston’

Calling all “Infinite Jest” tourists: This blog has you covered. (Via The Millions)

A Writer’s Window

The Paris Review is running a series of blog posts called “Windows on the World”—each one features a writer describing the view from their window, with an accompanying illustration, and so far, Binyavanga Wainaina (of “How to Write About Africa” fame), John Jeremiah Sullivan and other familiar names have joined in. Here’s a bit of Sullivan’s entry, from his home in Wilmington, N.C.:

This is the back view from my office. It’s raining. You can see a wall of the old garage (which still has a deep oil pit inside, from when more people worked on their own cars). The magnolia that hangs over the backyard is blooming. When it does, we open the door to the sleeping porch upstairs, and the whole house fills with the smell.

(Via The Rumpus)

‘Travels With Harley’ and Other Travel Books With Missing Letters

Last night on Twitter, a fun, silly hashtag made the rounds: #bookswithalettermissing. Naturally a few travel-focused titles popped up, and we’ve collected nine of our favorites:

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans. Love, friendship, cookery…. #bookswithalettermissing

Travels with Harley: Steinbeck criss-crosses America by hog. #bookswithalettermissing

Eat, Pay, Love: What really happened. #bookswithalettermissing

Our Ma in Havana: Memoir of Cuban childhood. #bookswithalettermissing

The Canterbury Ales…a guide to the finest brews in the land. #bookswithalettermissing

Notes From a Mall Island. (Somewhat less charming than Bryson’s original book.) #bookswithalettermissing

Fear and Lathing in Las Vegas. Gonzo tales from the machine shop. #bookswithalettermissing

A Moveable East: Hemingway recalls his years in Paris with a broken compass. #bookswithalettermissing

On the Rod. Kerouac’s other adventure. #bookswithalettermissing

The last time we had this much travel-themed fun on Twitter, we were talking #faketravelquotes.

Famous Writers Wrote Here

Over at National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog, Charles Kulander has a roundup of eight hotels where big-name writers—from Graham Greene to Louis L’Amour to Hemingway—did their work. Some of the entries even include specific room numbers for traveling writers looking to borrow some leftover inspiration.

He writes:

The greatest hotels—those places that summon up the culture, history, and character of a destination—are the modern equivalent of a muse, inspiring writers and guests alike to look at the world from a new perspective.

Writer’s Block at Norman Mailer’s House

The Smart Set has a dispatch from Provincetown, where freelancer Amy Rowland spent a month as a fellow at Norman Mailer’s house-turned-writers’ retreat—and found herself unable to write. Here’s Rowland:

We were encouraged to write in Mailer’s house, but I found I couldn’t. Sitting in the living room, where Mailer kept dinner companions waiting while he finished writing in the attic, was like trying to write in a shrine. There were photos on the wall: Mailer with Vidal, Mailer with Plimpton, Mailer with Castro, Mailer with Vonnegut, Mailer with Jackie Kennedy.

Once, I wandered out to the porch and plopped down in a white rocking chair with faded pink cushions.

“That was Mailer’s chair,” someone said. “That’s where he sat to watch the water.”

I jumped up from the chair and went back to the wall of photos.

Stieg Larsson Tourism Hits Sweden

The AP has a rundown of the key Stockholm sites from Larsson’s monster bestseller, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” We’ve written before about traveling the world through crime fiction—I suppose this closes the circle? (Via The Book Bench)

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.

Are New York and Chicago the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky of American Fiction?

Andrew Seal makes his case over at Blographia Literaria:

Sorry, Boston. Sorry, L.A. Sorry, D.C. Sorry, San Fran. Sorry, the South. You have your claims, no doubt, but they are as the claims of Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov, or Gogol. To be sure, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky do not account for the entirety of Russian literature, certainly do not exhaust all options, but they are irreplaceable, irreducible forces upon the landscape of the national literature, and so it is with New York and Chicago, Chicago and New York.

There’s plenty to chew on in the comments, too. (Via The Book Bench)

The Grateful Dead: Airplane Book Fodder?

Loved this aside in Joshua Green’s terrific story in The Atlantic about the Grateful Dead’s business prowess:

It can be only a matter of time until Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead or some similar title is flying off the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere.

Turns out the members of the Dead were business visionaries and masters of social networking.

The band knew a little something about travel, too. 

The Critics: ‘The Routes of Man’ by Ted Conover

Hard-traveling journalist Ted Conover’s latest, The Routes of Man: How Roads are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today, hit stores last week. The book sees Conover traveling six different roads, some official and some unofficial, from Peru’s mahogany export routes to China’s new superhighways, in an effort to understand the way they are “reshaping the world.”

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley is skeptical of the concept. He writes that “what we have here essentially are a half-dozen magazine pieces, stitched together in such a way as to resemble a real book but missing the thematic core that Conover strains to locate.” However, Yardley adds, “Conover’s six reports are variously interesting in and of themselves, and one shouldn’t expect any more from them.”

Over at NPR, Maureen Corrigan notes that the “vivid armchair travel aspect of Conover’s book is undeniably a great part of its appeal,” but wonders where the women are—the book, she writes, takes place in “a road warrior universe that is pretty much all male.” The Los Angeles Times’ Taylor Antrim is less conflicted, describing “The Routes of Man” as “refreshingly nonromantic road writing.” He goes on:

What Conover has brought back is a clear-eyed understanding that roads confine as much as they liberate, that they make the world more accessible but also infinitely more dangerous and exploitable. Perhaps the only certainty he offers is that these “paths of human endeavor” are inevitable: “They are the infrastructure upon which almost all other infrastructure depends.”

Recommended Reading in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Millions asks its contributors to recommend reading material suited to different modes of transportation. Sample recommendation for travel by train: “I like the Russians for train travel. When you’re watching the natural landscape—the largely uninhabited regions—of a country fly by in flashes, it just feels right to be reading stories that take place over the great land mass of Mother Russia.”

Orwell Birthplace Museum in the Works

The New York Times looks at the development plans for a remote Indian location where the author was born, and rounds up a few other visit-worthy writers’ residences too. (Via The Book Bench)

More Great Travel Books From 2009

Writer Rory MacLean—whose latest book made our list of the best of 2009—has his own fine selection in the Guardian.

Travel Writing and the NYT’s ‘Notable Books of 2009’

The annual list is out, and some familiar travel writing names are on it: Geoff Dyer’s “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi” and Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” appear in the fiction section, while a few travel-related titles made the nonfiction list—Bill Streever’s “Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places,” Greg Grandin’s “Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City” and David Grann’s “The Lost City of Z” among them. (We interviewed Grann about his book earlier this year.)

In slightly less prestigious book-list news, Hudson Booksellers has also released its picks for the best books of 2009. Take a good look, frequent flyers—these are the titles that will be front and center in airport bookstores for the next while. (Via The Book Bench)