My aim on TraveLit is to introduce readers who share my love of travel literature to good books they may not know about. Mostly classics, some new, the books cover travel in its many forms, from exploration to tourism. Along with reviews, TraveLit also brings together provocative, entertaining travel quotations and reader recommendations. I welcome comments on the readings, the reviews, the quotations, or the fascinating enterprise of travel itself.

TraveLit--A blog about travel literature

Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Travel Quotation

March 28, 2014

“One feels in his presence that the best guide-books are far more than informational aids, more even than literature, but are manuals of sensibility.”
―Jan Morris, “Through My Guide-Books,” (on Richard Ford, Handbook for Spain, 1845), in Travels

Book Review

March 28, 2014

A Little Tour in France.
By Henry James. Illustrations by Joseph Pennell. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987, 256 pp.

Useful as they are for information about other countries, travel books are also valuable as guides to travel itself. At their best, these books suggest ways of perceiving foreign countries and cultures. By revealing what others have made of their journeys, they also help us think about our own.

Henry James set off on his Little Tour in France in 1882, to explore the country beyond Paris or, as he put it, to demonstrate that “though France might be Paris, Paris was by no means France.” Heading south from Paris through Tours, James circled through Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Vaucluse, and other towns and cities, observing chateaux, Roman ruins, and scenery, and concluding his journey at Dijon. (more…)

Book Review

March 19, 2014

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals: The Journals of Fanny Parkes.
By Fanny Parkes. Edited by William Dalrymple. Originally published in 1850 as Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque. Eland Books, 2002, 392pp.

“Can you imagine anything so detestable?” writes Fanny Parkes in an 1835 journal entry about the behavior of Europeans at the sacred Taj Mahal. “European ladies and gentlemen have the band to play on the marble terrace, and dance quadrilles in front of the tomb!” Earlier on her pilgrimage to the Taj, she remarks: “A place is spoiled by European residence.”

These are not the attitudes we expect from a memsahib of the British Raj. But Fanny Parkes defied most stereotypes, which is one of the reasons her journals are so remarkable. (more…)

Book Review

March 10, 2014

The Head-Hunters of Borneo: A Narrative of Travel Up the Mahakkam and Down the Barito. Also: Journeyings in Sumatra.
By Carl Bock. Introduction by R.H.W. Reece. Oxford University Press, 1986 (USA), 360 pp.

In the 1980s travel literature became so popular that publishers, while bringing out new titles, also began to reissue old ones. Surveying the genre’s rich and curious past, they sought out books that were successful or important in their own time and might interest contemporary readers. One of these notable books, reclaimed by Oxford in Asia Paperbacks, was The Head-Hunters of Borneo, by the Norwegian naturalist Carl Bock. (more…)

Travel Quotation

March 6, 2014

The greatest travelers travel alone.
―John Julius Norwich, A Taste for Travel

Book Review

March 3, 2014

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Where Nights Are Longest: Travels by Car Through Western Russia.
By Colin Thubron. Originally published in England (1983), as Among the Russians. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987, 212 pp.

“Nobody from the West enters the Soviet Union without prejudice,” says Colin Thubron at the start of Where Nights Are Longest. “But I think I wanted to know and embrace this enemy I had inherited.”

In many ways, these sentiments evoke another era. Indeed, setting off in the summer of 1980, Thubron was traveling before Glasnost, and it isn’t surprising that his exploration of attitudes—the Soviets’ and his own—found his negative biases confirmed. But his depiction of Soviet power provides a good background for thinking about Russia today. (more…)

Travel Quotation

March 1, 2014

“And yet it is every traveler’s conceit that no one will see what he has seen: his trip displaces the landscape, and his version of events is all that matters. He is certainly kidding himself in this, but if he didn’t kid himself a little, he would never go anywhere.”
―Paul Theroux, Kingdom by the Sea

Selected Works

Travel Memoir
"Loved this book, which appears to be but is more than an account of an anthropological expedition, more than a travel book, more than a memoir."--Barbara Beckwith, author of What Was I Thinking?: Digging Deeper into Everyday Racism,
"It is undoubtedly the best written account of, and reflection on, fieldwork I have read, and --perhaps -- the best book on fieldwork (period) I have come across. --Joel Savishinsky, Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus), Ithaca College, author of Trail of the Hare.
“An impressively insightful, deftly written, accessibly articulate, expertly knowledgeable, and decidedly analytical survey of…book reviewing today.”
Midwest Book Review
“Captivating stories in an anthology of epistolary fiction from the last 50 years.”

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