Travel books 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.

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.

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.

Extracts from the RSL Ondaatje short list

Extracts I chose from the six books short-listed for the RSL Ondaatje Prize — for a book “evoking the spirit of a place” — appeared in the travel pages of The Daily Telegraph at the weekend and are online.

The vanishing island

There was an email from The New York Times in my inbox this morning headed: “Climate: The most important story of our time.” It’s a story that’s certainly receiving some attention this week in Britain, thanks to the demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion in London and last night’s BBC1 programme presented by David Attenborough, Climate Change — The Facts. During that programme, a campaigner representing Gulf Coast communities declared that people of that region could become “the first climate-change refugees” in the United States. 

  Equally endangered is a settlement in the middle of America’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay — the subject of Earl Swift’s Chesapeake Requiem, published in the US towards the end of last year. Swift’s is a story of a small and singular place seeing changes that will soon affect the whole world. At the broadest point of the bay, “at the mercy of nature’s wildest whims”, sits Tangier Island, whose inhabitants for generations have harvested crabs and oysters. The very water that sustains their community — one of 470 conservative and deeply religious people — is also slowly erasing it. Scientists say that the island, which has lost two thirds of its land since 1850, could become the first American town to fall victim to rising sea levels caused by climate change; the locals say the problem is erosion — and they have been told anyway by Donald Trump, who is hugely popular on Tangier, that there is no reason to worry. Swift lived among the islanders, and his account, at once affectionate and inquiring, is a superb piece of reporting. If you have any interest in writing about place and/or climate change, you ought to read it.

Read an extract from ‘Skybound’, out today in paperback

Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine, which was one of my books of 2018, is out today in paperback (Picador). It’s a hymn to glider flying; an extraordinary book in which the writer, for whom the world had been closed down by cancer, feels it reopen, and carries the reader up on the thermals with her. You can read an extract from it here on Deskbound Traveller

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

The short list for the RSL Ondaatje Prize was announced last night, at the end of a fascinating session at the British Library in London in which four former winners of the prize talked of “the spirit of a place” and how they set about evoking it.

The books short-listed (including a couple you may have seen mentioned on Deskbound Traveller) are:

No Turning Back: Love, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzeid (Oneworld)

The Wife’s Tale: a personal history by Aida Edemariam (4th Estate)
Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta)
The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador)
Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books/Penguin).
  The British Library session was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s “Free Thinking” slot, and is due to be broadcast on May 1.