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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

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

Book Review: Biking Ireland in Rain, Sleet, Snow, and Gale Winds

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 

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Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia

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.

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Book Recommendation: Who Said What, About Where?

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 

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Book Review: Travels with Charley:Dog On Board!

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
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.

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Book Recommendation

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.

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