Travel books Archive

Herzog’s homage to Chatwin

If you haven’t already seen it, you still have a couple of days on BBC iPlayer to catch Nomad: In The Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, a work about a singular writer made by a singular film-maker, Werner Herzog. 

  Chatwin, who died from Aids in 1989, and Herzog were kindred spirits, both given, as Herzog has it, to crafting “mythical tales into voyages of the mind”. Their paths first crossed in 1983 in Australia, where Herzog was preparing a feature film, When the Green Ants Dream, and Chatwin was researching his book The Songlines, about the country’s aboriginal people and their relationship with the landscape. In Nomad — which includes contributions from Chatwin’s widow, Elizabeth, and his biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare — Herzog follows in his friend’s footsteps to the Australian Outback, Patagonia and the Black Mountains in Wales, carrying the rucksack Chatwin left him in his will.

  On the website of Sideways Film, you can also email the company to request a password so you can view the film online.

Hessler and the art of non-fiction

Peter Hessler, who wrote for The New Yorker from Egypt, the subject of his latest book, is returning to China, where he taught English for two years from 1996, a stint recounted in his first book, River Town. In an interview with Frank Bures for the website Longreads, he talks about  his career and how John McPhee, the veteran New Yorker contributor, was a formative influence:

McPhee had a lot of technical lessons, but I think the most important thing was the deeper ways of thinking about writing. One of them, for me, was that you can do fascinating creative writing as a nonfiction writer. I had always been so focused on fiction that I was kind of turned off by the newspaper style of writing. My parents didn’t get The New Yorker, so I didn’t realize there were these other ways of writing nonfiction, and that it could be just as dynamic and fascinating as fiction, and just as artistic.

Where myth and magic endure

When the anthropologists arrive, so the saying goes, the gods depart. Science, in explaining myths, strips away magic. There are places, though, with more resistance than others, places where the magic can still be felt. Among them are the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, which Philip Marsden explores from the sea in his marvellous new book, The Summer Isles (Granta). I’ve reviewed it for The Daily Telegraph, but the review has yet to appear. Here’s the author, in a lovely film made by Colin Midson, explaining what the book’s about…

Theroux far from sluggish in Mexico

Paul Theroux, novelist and essayist as well as travel writer, has been on the road in Mexico for his latest book, which is assessed in the Literary Review by Sara Wheeler. It is, she notes, his fifty-first full-length work. “Demoralising news for the sluggish, especially as… On the Plain of Snakes is a superb book from a master of his craft, and perhaps the author’s best [travel book] yet. A few young authors are making headway in the… genre Theroux practically reinvented in the 1970s. But they still can’t touch him.”

Harris collects $10,000 Canadian prize for ‘Lands of Lost Borders’

Kate Harris this week collected another prize for her acclaimed debut Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road: the $10,000 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

‘Kings of the Yukon’ on Banff long list

The long list for the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition was announced this week. It includes Kings of the Yukon, a superlative debut by Adam Weymouth; Horizon, in which Barry Lopez looks back on a lifetime of journeying and laments what we’ve done to “the throttled Earth”; and The Grand Canyon: Beyond River and Rim by Pete McBride, which is a marvellous photographic record of the canyon from end to end.

  More than $20,000 in cash is awarded annually in eight awards whose winners are selected by an international jury of writers, adventurers and editors.  The jury of three this year includes  the poet Helen Mort, who will presumably have to absent herself when the mountain literature category is being decided: among the books to be considered is Waymaking, an anthology she helped to edit of “prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape”.

  The winner last year in the adventure travel category was Kate Harris for Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road — which was short-listed this week for yet another prize.

‘Lands of Lost Borders’ on Boardman Tasker short list

I’m delighted to hear that Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road, which was one of my favourite books of 2018, was short-listed yesterday for the £3,000 Boardman Tasker Prize, which is presented annually to “the author or co-authors of an original work that has made an outstanding contribution to mountain literature”. For the full short list of six books, see the Boardman Tasker site.  You can read a brief extract from Kate Harris’s book here on Deskbound Traveller.

‘The Last Whalers’

My review of The Last Whalers (John Murray), Doug Bock Clark’s tremendous debut, is now on the Telegraph site (though you’ll have to subscribe there) as well as on Deskbound Traveller.

Season of missives from the road

Whatever it throws at us politically, autumn promises to be a good season for travel writing.

  The German journalist Jens Mühling, who was shortlisted in 2015 for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award for A Journey into Russiahas followed that with Black Earth: A Journey through Ukraine, published last week in Britain by Haus Publishing. It’s a story of a country “at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and the centre of countless conflicts of opinion”. 

  Next month the poet Kathleen Jamie is due to publish a new collection of essays, Surfacing (Sort Of Books, September 17). It’s a book in which she “visits archaeological sites – a Yup’ik village at the edge of the Bering Sea, the shifting sand dunes of Westray – and mines her own memories and family history to explore what surfaces and what connects us to our past and future”. Jamie has written three acclaimed books on nature and place, including Sightlines , which was joint winner of the Dolman prize in 2013. (She will be talking about her new book to Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan and RisingTideFallingStar, at the London Review Bookshop on September 27.)

  Also next month, Pico Iyer is due to publish A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations (Bloomsbury, September 5). It’s the second book this year by the Global Soul on his adopted home: in May he published Autumn Light.

  In his new primer he “draws on readings, reflections and conversations with Japanese friends to illuminate an  unknown place for newcomers and to give long-time residents a look at their home through fresh eyes”.

  In Footnotes (Oneworld, September 5), Peter Fiennes — whose Oak and Ash and Thorn was a Guardian Best Nature Book of the Year — sets out to travel round Britain in the footsteps of a dozen writers, starting with Enid Blyton in Dorset and ending with Charles Dickens on the train that took him to his last resting place in Westminster Abbey. Along the way, he joins Somerville and Ross on their ascent of Snowdon, and retraces journeys in England made by JB Priestley in the 1930s and Beryl Bainbridge in the 1980s.

  On September 19, one of television’s best-known globetrotters, Michael Palin, publishes North Korea Journal (Cornerstone/Penguin), the diary he kept while making a documentary in the “Democratic People’s Republic” for Channel 5 over two weeks in 2018. It was the 98th country he’s visited, and he celebrated his 75th birthday while he was there. His philosophy of travel, he says in the introduction, is that “the more difficult somewhere is to get to, the greater the prize to be won by getting there. But when the prize was North Korea, I found that this was not a view shared by my wife, and a surprising number of my friends. To many of them, this was a step too far…”

  On October 3, Granta is due to publish The Summer Isles: A Voyage of the Imagination by Philip Marsden, author of several much-praised works of travel writing and other non-fiction. In his last book, Rising Ground, Marsden told how his move to a remote farmhouse in Cornwall prompted a journey through the myth-laden South-West. In the new  book, he sets sail from there in an old wooden sloop for the Summer Isles, “a small archipelago near the top of Scotland that holds for him a deep and personal significance”. The book is “an account of the search for actual places, invented places, and those places in between that shape the lives of individuals and entire nations”.

  In November, the Frenchman Sylvain Tesson, who in 2014 won what was then the Dolman Travel Book Award for Consolations of the Forest, his account of a six-month stay in a log cabin in Siberia, follows it up with Berezina (Europa Compass, September 7), the story of his motorcycle journey with three friends from Moscow to Paris, retracing the retreat of Napoleon in 1812. The Berezina is a river in Belarus, the scene of a battle during that retreat. In colloquial French, a bérézina refers to a disastrous situation.

‘The Last Whalers’: a hugely impressive debut

The Last Whalers  by Doug Bock Clark (John Murray), a debut I’ve reviewed today in print for The Daily Telegraph, is a tremendous piece of immersive reporting. The review isn’t on the Telegraph website, but you can read it here on Deskbound Traveller.