Author Archive

Barry Lopez: wisdom-keeper turns wisdom-sharer

If you have any interest in what we’re doing to what Barry Lopez calls the “throttled Earth”, and how we might begin to ease our deadly grip, you ought to read his latest book, Horizon. My review appeared in print in The Daily Telegraph on May 11 and is now online. You can also read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Aida Edemariam wins Ondaatje Prize for ‘The Wife’s Tale’

The £10,000 Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, was awarded last night to Aida Edemariam for The Wife’s Tale (4th Estate).

García Márquez: born to be a journalist but not to fly

Gabriel García Márquez  once said: “I do not want to be remembered for One Hundred Years of Solitude, nor for the Nobel Prize, but for the newspapers.” A new collection of his journalism, Dwight Garner writes in The New York Times, shows how seriously the novelist took reportage — and how scary he found flying.

Airplanes figure often in García Márquez’s journalism. He hated to fly. About air travel after he became famous, he wrote: “I always fly so frightened that I don’t even notice how anyone treats me, and all my energy goes into gripping my seat with my hands to hold it up in order to help the plane stay up in the air, or trying to keep children from running in the aisles for fear they’ll break through the floor.”

Robert Macfarlane on dark places, deep time — and books to get buried in

Back out in the light: Robert Macfarlane, in front of the Oriental plane at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Picture © MICHAEL KERR

In his latest book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Hamish Hamilton), Robert Macfarlane travels into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it — physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends. It takes him from Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, via the catacombs of Paris, to a nuclear bunker in Finland. It’s a book that expands our notions of what constitutes landscape. It’s one full of wonders — in Kulusuk, Greenland, he celebrates “the wildest land I have ever seen” — but also of warnings of the harm we are doing in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

  A week before publication, I went to Emmanuel College in Cambridge, where Macfarlane teaches, to talk to him about  what he calls “the hardest book I’ve ever written”. He’s spent a lot of time recently in dark, poky places, so I wasn’t surprised when he wanted to make the most of a sunny day and sit outside. We talked in the Fellows’ Garden, yards from a celebrated Oriental plane that was planted some time in the 1800s and seems to have as many branches reaching down as up. I wrote a piece for Telegraph Travel that appears in print today and is also online (though you’ll have to register to read it). You can read a fuller version of our chat here on Deskbound Traveller, including Macfarlane’s recommendations of new writing on travel and place. It runs to more than 4,000 words, so you might want to read it on something other than a phone.

The under-story of ‘Underland’ with Robert Macfarlane

My interview for Telegraph Travel with Robert Macfarlane about the wonder-filled Underland — the book he published this week — is now online and due to appear in print tomorrow. I’ll be putting a longer version up here on Deskbound Traveller a bit later.

RSL Ondaatje winners tell how they summoned ‘spirit of place’

I mentioned recently an event at the British Library in London in which four former winners of the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize talked of “the spirit of a place” and how they set about evoking it. You can now listen to an edited recording of it in the “Free Thinking” slot on BBC Radio 3.

‘Underland’ Book of the Week on Radio 4 from today

Book of the Week on Radio 4 from 9.45 this morning is Robert Macfarlane’s latest, Underland (which Hamish Hamilton publishes on Thursday), in which he drops into deep, dark and narrow places, and in the process broadens our notions of what constitutes landscape.

Sailing the St Lawrence Seaway

Sixty years ago today, the first cargo ship began sailing the 2,300-mile length of the Great Lakes St Lawrence Seaway System, the world’s largest inland waterway, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the western tip of Lake Superior. Traffic is no longer what it was at its height in the mid-1970s, but the seaway remains an important waterway, and one increasingly used by pleasure craft. I travelled part of it last autumn on a cruise ship, the Canadian Empress, for Telegraph Travel.

‘Robinson Crusoe’ at 300

Three hundred years ago today, Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe. Or, rather, a book that purported to be written by Crusoe. The actual title of the first edition was: 

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself.

  Charles Boyle, marking the anniversary for The Guardian, argues that “Defoe infantilised [Crusoe]. Crusoe in turn can infantilise his readers.” Chris Moss, who travelled to Robinson Crusoe Island, off the coast of Chile, for Telegraph Travel, disagrees; in his view, the book “has a timeless power and the virtues it celebrates are universal”.

Lopez and Catholicism

An article in America: The Jesuit Review, pegged to the publication of Barry Lopez’s latest book, Horizon, explores how the writer was influenced by a Catholic upbringing — and what the Church might learn from what he has written.