instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

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

Travel Writing Upgraded

According to a review in the Times Literary Supplement, the new academic term for travel writing is "literary-mobility studies." Only in academia! I love it!
Be the first to comment

Review: Two Years Before the Mast

Two Years Before the Mast
By Richard Henry Dana
(This book is available in many editions. I read it online on The Project Gutenberg.)

Richard Henry Dana is buried in an old Cambridge churchyard just down the street from my house, and I’ve passed his gravestone hundreds of times. Yet I never paid much attention to it, and until a friend recommended Two Years Before the Mast, I had never read his classic work. Indeed, not only had I never read it, I thought it was a novel!

In fact, of course, this wonderful book is an account, in journal form, of Dana’s two years—1834-1836—as a sailor in the American merchant marine. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he had suffered from a case of measles that so damaged his eyes that he was forced to drop out of school. He then signed up on a Boston brig, the Pilgrim, heading round Cape Horn to California, where it would trade its goods for hides.

Young Dana is entirely ignorant of what he has signed up for, and as he says, “There is not so helpless and pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor’s life." Read More 
Be the first to comment

Abroad, by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton

Abroad
By Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton. 1882. Reprinted in various editions.

Abroad is a beautifully illustrated children’s book in verse that tells the story of an English family’s trip to France. Their mother died three years earlier, and every spring their father tries to give them “some tour, or treat, or pleasant thing”—and their journey is this year’s gift.

Their trip takes them to Boulogne, Rouen, Caen, and Paris, where they visit the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens, the zoo, and the markets, see a Punch and Judy show and elegant, snobby swans, and enjoy a ride on a merry-go-round. Along the way they experience boat, trains, and hotels, and a great variety of French people at work--sharpening knives, making lace, or washing clothes. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Scott Expedition to the South Pole: New Information?

After all that has been written about the Scott expedition to the South Pole, can there really be new information? Maybe so. Those who, like me, continue to be fascinated by the question of what really happened, might want to look at this article from the Daily Mail. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Walking, by Henry David Thoreau

Longitude Books‏: Recommended Reading for Travelers recommends Walking, Henry David Thoreau's "meditations on the spiritual benefits of this most civilized form of travel."
Be the first to comment

Review: White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World.
By Geoff Dyer. Pantheon Books, 2016, 233 pp.

The stories in White Sands find Geoff Dyer on journeys in various parts of the world: on a book tour in China, researching Gaugin in Tahiti, reflecting on “The Lightning Field” in New Mexico, making a pilgrimage to Theodore Adorno’s house and contemplating the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Each piece is preceded by a brief prologue relating to the author’s past that provides an associative context for the story that follows.

Dyer doesn’t just travel. He’s a writer who probes the experience of place and of travel itself, looking for meanings. Sometimes he finds them. His essay on the Watts Towers draws on jazz musicians and various writers to create an intriguing portrait of the man who built them, Sabato Rodia, and their import.

On the other hand, his story of seeking out Adorno’s house struck me as mainly pretentious. “I have this need to show off, to show that I know things,” he says, and this piece seemed to me to suffer from that need. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
By Douglas Preston. Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 326 pp.

For centuries a legend flourished about a lost city located somewhere in the Mosquitia region of Honduras: Ciudad Blanca—the White City—or the City of the Monkey God. Although the dense rain forest made exploration a challenge, various artifacts discovered in the area seemed to reveal a culture unknown to researchers. Adding to the mystery, indigenous people believed that the city was cursed: anyone who entered this “forbidden place” would die.

Did this city even exist—or was it just a myth? Douglas Preston first became interested in the subject in 1994, when, while working on a different article, he learned that new sophisticated radar technology could penetrate jungle foliage to reveal what lay beneath and that someone was planning to use it to find the White City. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Longitude Books Newsletter

New reading suggestions in August Newsletter of Longitude Books: Recommended Reading for Travelers
Be the first to comment

Review: Oaxaca Journal

Oaxaca Journal
By Oliver Sacks. Drawings by Dick Rauh. National Geographic Literary Travel Series, 159 pp.

It’s hardly surprising that Oliver Sacks kept journals on his journeys. How else would he keep track of his many observations, clarify his many thoughts, or create his many stories? Oaxaca Journal is the diary (somewhat embellished) of the 9-day fern-tour he took with the American Fern Society to Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2000.

Although the tour was organized by professional botanists, many members of the group, as in the American Fern Society itself, were amateurs, and this was the draw for Sacks, who had great admiration for amateur naturalists (or birdwatchers, or astronomers, or archaeologists)—their passion, their erudition, the fact that they are inspired by a “sense of adventure and wonder rather than by egotism and a lust for priority and fame.” Though not himself a fern expert, throughout the book he expresses his respect for the botanists he is with, and though generally a “singleton,” he says, he finds real joy here in becoming “one of a group.” Read More 
Be the first to comment

Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
By Mark Adams. Penguin, Plume, 2012, 333 pp.

Between 1911 and 1915, Hiram Bingham, Yale professor and swashbuckling explorer, made three trips to Peru, where he came upon the ruins of the Inca empire, then largely unknown to the outside world. A century later, explorers and archeologists are still trying to understand these sites, constructed to align with the sun, stars, and one another, and to comprehend something about the superb engineers who built them.

Mark Adams is not an explorer. As he tells us at the start of his book, he has not even been much of an adventurer. Indeed, though he worked at Adventure magazine, which ran articles on “extreme expeditions,” he himself “had never hunted or fished, didn’t own a mountain bike and couldn’t start a fire without matches if ordered to do so at gunpoint.” Married to a Peruvian woman, he had been to Lima many times, visiting her family, but he had rarely traveled outside the city. Reaching the age of 41, he decided it was time: he would follow Hiram Bingham’s route through the Andes to Machu Picchu.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu alternates between the story of Bingham’s explorations and Adams’s own, and though the former carries the historical weight, both are engaging.

With Adams, we are on the ground, Read More 
Be the first to comment