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‘The world is the size it always was, much of it unvisited,’ says Thubron

Following the receipt of a lifetime achievement award, Colin Thubron was asked by Telegraph Travel to look back on his 60 years of travelling and writing. In his article, published in print yesterday, he reported on his latest project, a book about the Amur river, and reflected on the current state of his trade:

Old travel writers like me (but I am only 79) may be assigned to a double irrelevance. The travel book is dead, it is said, along with the printed word itself. One theory has it that the Internet allows such access to the universe that travelling has become irrelevant for anything but holiday pleasure. Another affirms that the globe has shrunk, that all is familiar now, that tourists have blanketed the world and that nothing is left to astonish us. All this is illusion. The world is the size it always was, much of it unvisited, and a little human enterprise (with a dash of obtuseness) can take you into pure wilderness.

RSL Ondaatje winners to summon ‘spirit of place’

At the British Library in London next month (April 16), four former winners of the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize will speak on “the challenges and delights” of evoking the spirit of a place. Non-members of the RSL may now book through the British Library website.

Macfarlane on Lopez’s ‘Horizon’

In The Guardian, Robert Macfarlane, who has said that reading Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams at 21 made him decide to become a writer, reviews Lopez’s Horizon (Bodley Head) — “a deeply wounded book about ‘the throttled Earth’.”

What lies beneath

My review of Underground, an impressive debut on the subterranean world by Will Hunt (Simon and Schuster), appeared in The Daily Telegraph yesterday. It’s not up on the Telegraph site, but you can read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Judah nominated for Kapuściński Award

Ben Judah has been nominated for the 2019 Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage — a Polish prize named after a writer whose example, Judah has said, he has long tried to follow — for his book This Is London (published in Britain in 2016). It’s a fizzing, buzzing, choral account of the forgotten people of the capital. It reminded me of the work of Orwell and of Studs Terkel, who gathered oral history in Chicago from sharecroppers and signalmen as well as models and judges because he believed that “ordinary people have extraordinary thoughts”.

Can we love the wild enough to… stay at home?

I now have another book to add to an already-tottering must-read pile after seeing an interview with Amy Irvine in Orion magazine. Irvine’s third book, Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, is a conversation with the ghost of Edward Abbey — conducted 50 years after Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness was published. During the interview she tells Nick Triolo: 

Fidelity is the backbone of marriage, and in our conjunction with a place, we must act in ways that endure. This means reducing our carbon contributions—every single one of us in a radical way. What if we each took a vow of environmental chastity? Could we be faithful enough to turn down the weekend fling with the wild—to put the survival of a place above satisfying our pleasures? Can we love it enough to…gulp…stay home?

There was an extract (which you can read online) from Desert Cabal in the Winter 2018 issue of Orion

Railway or reindeer: the choice for Lapland

A proposed new railway could bring more industry and jobs to Lapland — but it could also wreck Europe’s last great wilderness and spell the end of the traditional reindeer-herding life of the Sami people. Tom Wall and the photographer Joel Redman produced an excellent report for Guardian Weekend (which I’ve only just got round to reading because I was busy the Saturday it appeared — February 23).

Competition winners

Happy reading to Angela Rogers and Grace Lajoie, winners of the Deskbound Traveller competition for a copy of Graham Coster’s The Flying Boat That Fell to Earth

Harris wins RBC Taylor Prize for ‘Lands of Lost Borders’

I’m delighted to hear that Kate Harris, whose debut Lands of Lost Borders was one of my books of the year, has just collected C$30,000 as the winner of the RBC Taylor Prize for Canadian literary non-fiction. You can read a brief extract from the book here on Deskbound Traveller.

A lost world between Scotland and England

I noticed yesterday in my nearest branch of Waterstone’s that the paperback is now out of Graham Robb’s The Debatable Land (Picador). This history of a territory that once straddled borders, that was neither Scottish nor English, is both a scholarly work of revisionism and an entertaining read. Robb and his wife are keen cyclists, and his book was researched as much on the road as in the library. One of the pleasures of reading it is to watch the author, like a frontier-dodging reiver (or robber), slip so easily between past and present, between manuscript and moor, between battlefield site and the 127 bus (“a transnational village hall on wheels”).

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