North to Katahdin
By Eric Pinder. Milkweed Editions, 2005, 178 pp.
Katahdin—a name derived from the Abenaki Indian words kette adene, which is said to mean “greatest mountain”—is the highest point in Maine. It is also one end—for most thru-hikers, the endpoint—of the Appalachian Trail which extends 2160 miles to Georgia. In North to Katahdin, Eric Pinder rambles throughout the Katahdin region, ruminating on the mountain’s history and symbolism, and meditating on America’s relationship with wilderness.
Pinder takes as his starting point Henry David Thoreau’s 1846 visit to Katahdin, which he intended to climb but decided to abandon instead. Throughout the book, the author returns to this naturalist-philosopher, as he reflects on the popularity of mountain hiking today—an activity rare in Thoreau’s day—and wonders about the draw. “What is it—philosophically, aesthetically, and biologically—that attracts us to nature in the first place?” he asks. “Can the natural world still satisfy crowds in search of solitude?” Read More
TraveLit--A blog about travel literature.
Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.
North to Katahdin
―Henry David Thoreau
Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey With His Son
By Peter Carey. Knopf, 2005, 158 pp.
I turned to Wrong About Japan with great curiosity. Many reader reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads were negative, even hostile, to the book. Yet the ABE included it in its list of “50 Essential Travel Books.” So which was it? “Boring,” “shallow,“nauseating”? Or “essential”?
The book chronicles a short trip to Japan that Carey took with his 12-year-old son, Charley, to explore manga and anime, with which Charley was obsessed. Carey himself, through his son, became interested in these art forms—the extraordinary Japanese comics and animated films—which he briefly defines for the uninitiated reader. Before leaving the States, where the Australian writer now lives, he contacts people he knows in Japan—and, needless to say, the famous author, a two-time Booker Prize recipient, has terrific contacts, who set up interviews with celebrated directors, including the most celebrated of all, Miyazaki. Read More
One Boy's Boston 1887-1901
By Samuel Eliot Morison. With a Foreword by Edward Weeks. First published in 1962, by Houghton Mifflin. Northeastern University Press, 1983, 81 pp.
This charming book about a charmed boyhood provides an occasion for time travel. In 81 pages filled with historical detail, anecdotes, even limericks, the historian Samuel Eliot Morison takes us back to a Boston where horses, not cars, rode the streets, where houses were lighted by gas, not electricity, and where—hard to imagine in our own time—telephones were rare.
Morison, the author of more than 25 books—including The Maritime History of Massachusetts and Admiral of the Ocean Sea, a recreation of Columbus’s voyages—paints a portrait of the city as well as one of his own childhood, and he finds delight in both. As a boy, he loved the horses, the colorful trolleys, the winter sledding, and his rambles downtown with friends. He also takes great pleasure in depicting the eccentricities of the adults who surrounded him. Read More
The Way Winter Comes: Alaska Stories
By Sherry Simpson. Photographs by Charles Mason. Sasquatch Books, 1998, 164 pp.
For the armchair traveler, books about place provide a kind of journey, and in The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson takes readers deep into Alaska. In these 8 essays, she writes her way through an icy landscape, describing, reflecting, and pondering.
Alaska, of course, is not all one place. As Simpson observes in the title essay, a meditation on winter, “The fundamental grammars of darkness and cold seem familiar enough throughout Alaska, but the idioms of climate and geography make each place exotic and difficult in its own way.” Growing up in Juneau, now living in Fairbanks, she finds that in the high Arctic—Barrow—where she is visiting an archaeological dig, she is a “stranger.” Read More
On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan
By Lesley Downer
Summit Books, 1989, 280 pp.
In travel literature there is a strong tradition of writers following in the footsteps of earlier travelers: to try see what they saw, to in some sense share their experience, perhaps to see what has changed. In On the Narrow Path: Journey to a Lost Japan, Lesley Downer enters this tradition, following the path of the great Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, who in 1689 set off on a 5-month, 800 mile journey to the “wild north” of Japan and in 1693 published The Narrow Path to the Deep North, a book studied and loved throughout Japan.
Basho’s purpose, Downer says, was poetic: he wanted to visit places that had inspired poets in the past. His journey was also “a pilgrimage to the places associated with Yoshitsune, the greatest and most loved of Japanese heroes.” Traveling nearly 300 years later, Downer’s own aims were to see if the old “wild” north—said to have disappeared—could still be found, and also to get close to Basho himself. Read More
―Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes