Westward Ha! or Around the World in Eighty Clichés
By S. J. Perelman. Drawings by Hirschfeld. Simon and Schuster, 1947, 1948, 159 pp.
Travel provides rich material for satire. From the misinformed plans, to the mishaps en route, to the boring photographic record foisted on friends, journeys offer boundless scope for mockery—of oneself (the traveler), of others, of the ways of the world, and of travel itself.
S. J. Perelman takes all of these on in his wild romp Westward Ha!, the story of the world tour he and his friend Hirschfeld— theatrical caricaturist for the New York Times—undertook for Holiday magazine in the 40s. In 9 months, they visited 27 countries, “all the areas celebrated by Kipling, Conrad, and Maugham,” including Shanghai, Hongkong, Thailand—Siam at the time—Malaya, India, Egpyt, Italy, France, and England.
Everywhere, they suffer, and always extremely: Read More
TraveLit--A blog about travel literature.
Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.
Westward Ha! or Around the World in Eighty Clichés
If you love humor in travel books, you might want to have a look at CNN's list of "The 15 Funniest Travel Books Ever Written (in English)." (Just click on the photo for the link.) There are some excellent titles here, perhaps including some that you haven't read.
Of course, I don't entirely agree with their selection--wasn't Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country funnier than his Walk in the Woods? And how could a list like this omit Eric Newby? But as Barnaby Rogerson, chair of the Donlan Travel Book Prize and publisher at Eland, says, "each and every passionate reader will have their own list."
I'd love to hear your own choices.
Salisbury Cathedral is the "single most beautiful structure in England."
―Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
Dun Aengus is "not only one of the wonders of Ireland, but of the entire western world."
―Eric Newby, Round Ireland in Low Gear
Round Ireland in Low Gear
By Eric Newby. Viking, 1987, 308 pp.
It’s doubtful that you’re planning to bicycle through Ireland in the winter. But if you want proof that it’s not a good idea, you’ll certainly find it in Eric Newby’s Round Ireland in Low Gear.
In 1985, Newby and his wife, Wanda, remembering Ireland in the 1960s as “idiosyncratic and fun,” decide to return. Their aim is mainly to enjoy themselves. But this is Eric Newby, former Travel Editor of the Observer and travel writer par excellence, so of course there will be a book.
The trip shapes up with a logic of its own, as trips tend to do. Since the requirements of their extensive gardens prevent them from leaving their Dorset home in summer—the obvious time to go—they decide they will set out in winter. Most modes of transportation don’t suit, for a variety of reasons, including Ireland’s poor bus and train service in winter, Wanda’s rejection of walking, and their agreement that in a car, as one drives and one reads maps and guides, no one sees anything. So they settle on mountain bikes, though neither is an expert rider. Read More
Australian Aboriginal art is so often about place that, like maps, it seems to me a kind of travel writing.
This work is from "Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia," a terrific exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums.
The Travellers' Dictionary of Quotation: Who Said What, About Where?, by Peter Yapp, is a great resource for travel writers and researchers--and it's also great fun to read. If you can get hold of a copy! Published in 1983, the book now seems to be out of print--I hope some publisher will bring out a new, updated edition. Read More
By John Steinbeck. First published 1961. Penguin Edition, 1986, 277 pp.
John Steinbeck’s account of the American road trip he took in 1960 with his French poodle Charley is surely a classic that all travel book reviewers should have read. So it’s with some embarrassment that I confess I’ve only gotten around to it now. Why had I never read it? After all, you don’t simply miss such an acclaimed and popular work in your field. Clearly, I had avoided it.
In retrospect—and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this as well—I think my problem was the dog. When I was younger, I wasn’t overly fond of dogs. The only dog I’d had anything to do with was the one my parents got after I’d left home, a neurotic Scottie who growled at me on visits, and bared his teeth. I sympathized with the neurosis—a family trait!—but kept my distance all the same. He was not a friendly soul.
I also think I felt—without having read the book—that Steinbeck might have used the dog as a gimmick. And I find that travel book gimmicks—designed, I always feel, to sell books—can be annoying.
In any case, before I turn off all dog lovers—which seems to be most Americans—let me say that having lived with and loved a dog in recent years, my attitude has entirely changed. Read More
The Innocent Anthropologist, by Nigel Barley, is a terrific book about the reality of doing fieldwork: intelligent, funny, and very honest. Highly, highly recommended for all readers, not just anthropologists.
Traveling with Elizabeth Bishop's evocative poem, Questions of Travel:
"Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?"