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Travel and place at the festivals

Forthcoming festivals with events featuring writing on travel and place include the following:

Appledore Book Festival (September 20-28) 
Raynor Winn returns to the festival to talk about how the 630-mile walk she and her husband made along the South West Coast Path, recounted in The Salt Path, has influenced their lives since; Mike Thomson, the BBC world affairs correspondent, tells the extraordinary story of Syria’s Secret Library, which flourished underground in the town of Darayya during the civil war; Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who made the first crossings of South America from east to west and north to south, talks about the 40 pioneers he has brought together in The Great Explorers; and Nicholas Crane, author most recently of You Are Here: A brief guide to the world, argues that the study of geography has never been more important than it is now.

Jersey Festival of Words (September 25-29)
Contributors include the round-the-world sailor Robin Knox-Johnston, whose autobiography is Running Free; Raynor Winn (see above); the photographer Martin Toft, who in Te Ahi Kā — The Fires of Occupation explores the relationships between an ancestral river and indigenous people in New Zealand;  Bram Wanrooij, a former Jersey resident and author of Displaced, on Europe and the global refugee crisis; and Professor Alex Rogers, who recently served as a scientific consultant on the BBC’s Blue Planet II series, and has written In The Deep: The Hidden Wonders of Our Ocean and How We Can Protect Them.

Marlborough Literature Festival (September 26-29)
Contributors include Adam Weymouth, whose Kings of the Yukon was recently long-listed in the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition; Monisha Rajesh, who went Around the World in 80 Trainsand Raynor Winn, whose The Salt Path has been chosen for the Big Town Read, in which book groups discuss the selected title before having a chance to question the author.

Ilkley Literature Festival (October 4-20)
Mike Thomson (see Appledore Book Festival) talks about Syria’s Secret Library; Laurence Rose, who likes to explore “the joints between nature, culture and conservation”, talks about The Long Spring, an account of a series of journeys he undertook in 2016 to track the arrival of spring from North Africa to Arctic Norway; Ben Aitken, who went to Poland to see what the Poles who came to the UK had left behind, introduces his debut, A Chip Shop in Poznan; Richard King talks about The Lark Ascending, in which he  explores connections between music and the British landscape; David Barrie, author of Incredible Journeys, tells how animals great and small find their way; and Lara Maiklem, who has been Mudlarking on the Thames for more than 15 years, explains what her finds reveal about London and its lost ways of life.

Bewdley Festival (October 11-20)
Speakers include  the television presenter Kate Humble, whose most recent book is Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another; the travel writer Lois Pryce, talking about her Revolutionary Ride on a motorcyle across Iran; and the naturalist and broadcaster Brett Westwood, with a session billed “Into the woods”.

Marozzi talk on ‘Islamic Empires’

Justin Marozzi will be talking about his new book, Islamic Empires, at Daunt Books’ Marylebone branch in London next Wednesday, September 18.

Broad view of the Bering Strait

Bathsheba Demuth’s Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait (WW Norton), which Robert Macfarlane recommended when I interviewed him earlier this year, was reviewed at the weekend in The New York Times by the novelist Julia Phillips (author of the bestselling Disappearing Earth):

The first people to enter the Americas came through Beringia, the stretch of land and sea between what is now Russia and Alaska. That may have been 20,000 years ago. By foot, by boat, they traveled, hunted and built communities. Some of them moved south. Within a few millenniums, people had settled everywhere from the Arctic Circle down to Patagonia. All the places on this continent we know — the cities, the villages, the spot where this newspaper is printed — follow this movement out of the Bering Strait. To study that place is to know a whole hemisphere’s history.

It’s also key for understanding the present. Movement in the Bering Strait continues. In “Floating Coast,” Bathsheba Demuth, an environmental historian at Brown University, tracks the last two centuries of motion between northeastern Russia and northwestern America.

  It is, Phillips says, sometimes a challenging book, but a rich, well-researched and rewarding one.

It keeps under readers’ feet the vastness of Demuth’s expertise, as solid as a land bridge. She has made it her life’s work to learn about Beringia. In relaying her knowledge, she provides a vision not only of where we on this continent came from but where we are headed. We study the Bering Strait to learn what the future holds.

The tale of Islam in 15 cities

In The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, the historian Noel Malcolm reviewed Islamic Empires by Justin Marozzi (Allen Lane), a “deeply engaging and fascinating” history of the Islamic world as a series of accounts of 15 cities, from Mecca to Doha. Malcolm says it’s an episodic, impressionistic work, and also, here and there, a personal one. “Marozzi is an Arabic-speaking journalist with decades of experience of the Islamic world; he is good at evoking the atmosphere of these places in the present or the recent past. In Egypt, he tells us, he has been ‘pursued down narrow alleys by incandescent taxi drivers’ and has travelled up the Nile ‘in prostitute-filled riverboats’. Oh well, I concluded, on balance that must be better than being chased down the alleys by incandescent prostitutes, and finding the riverboats full of taxi drivers.”

“Surfacing’ again

Kathleen Jamie’s new essay collection, Surfacing (Sort Of Books), which I have mentioned here a couple of times, was serialised in the Review section of The Daily Telegraph at the weekend; the extracts are now online.

‘Surfacing’ again

Kathleen Jamie (see earlier post) will be talking about her new book, Surfacing, on September 28 at the Hampstead branch of Daunt Books, in London.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor escapes from the desk.

Jan Morris on truth, imagination and Trieste

Jan Morris, in a piece drawn from the archives to mark 40 years of Granta magazine, reflects on virtual reality:

It has been a dogma of my life that truth and imagination are not simply interchangeable but are often one and the same. Something imagined is as real, to my mind, as something one can touch or eat. A fanciful fear is as alarming as a genuine one, a love conceived as glorious as a love achieved. A virtual reality may only be in one’s own mind, imperceptible to anyone else, but why is it any the less true for that? Music exists before its composer writes it down.

It is easy for writers, even writers of non-fiction, to think like this. Every sentence we create we have created from nothing, and made real, and every situation has been touched up in our memory. For years I remembered clearly how the roofs of Sydney Opera House hung like sails over the harbour when I first visited the city, until it was drawn to my attention that the Opera House hadn’t been built then. Every place I ever wrote about became more and more my own interpretation of it, more and more an aspect of myself, until in the end I determined that I was the city of Trieste, and Trieste was me, and decided it was time for me to give up.

On autumn in Japan and ‘Afropeans’

I mentioned recently that Pico Iyer, whose latest book is Autumn Light, and Johnny Pitts, author of Afropean, would be speaking in London under the 5×15 banner; you can now listen to their contributions on Soundcloud — see below. There’s a 5×15 session coming up on August 4, at the Wilderness Festival in Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire,  on “our place in the natural world”; speakers will include the writer and broadcaster Nicholas Crane and Isabella Tree, whose latest book, Wilding: the Return of Nature to a British Farm, has been short-listed for the Wainwright Prize (for nature/travel writing focused on Britain).

Wendell Berry on what it is to be parochial

The New Yorker has an interview with Wendell Berry, the writer, farmer and environmentalist, in which he talks about local knowledge, embracing limits, and the exploitation of rural America. This is what he has to say on the distinction between provincialism and parochialism:

You mention in ‘The Art of Loading Brush’ that the word ‘provincialism’ has become problematic.

I was talking about this with Seamus Heaney, who I met a time or two. We had this issue in common. And he directed me to Patrick Kavanagh, who made a distinction between the parochial and the provincial. The provincial person is always looking over his shoulder to see if anybody thinks he’s provincial. This worry is really the identifying mark of provincialism. Whereas, the parochial person is always assured of the imaginative sufficiency of the parish. The local place. It’s a very beautiful way of putting it and Seamus characteristically gave an example of the man from Cork who was sending his sons forth into the world. “My boys remember: never ask a man where he’s from. If he’s from Cork, you’ll know him. If he’s not, you’ll embarrass him.” So there’s the question: Am I going to be parochial or provincial?