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Tesson wins the Dolman prize

Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson, his account of six months spent in a log cabin in Siberia well stocked with reading and vodka, won the Dolman Travel Book Award last night. It’s a wonderful book that’s simultaneously about withdrawing from society and savouring life. You can still read an extract on Deskbound Traveller; for a little more about the author, see my piece for Telegraph Travel.

Dentures, drink and Dublin

Colm Tóibín, in The Guardian, has a great story about dentures, drink and Dublin in his review of Hidden City, a new book by Karl Whitney about the Irish capital. I’m looking forward to reading my own copy, which was among a pile of post waiting for me when I got home last night from a trip. More on that soon in Telegraph Travel.

Unbound – again

I’m escaping the desk again. Deskbound Traveller will be back to normal some time after Sept 27.

Keeping life in the Pantanal

“Look at this! I’m for life. And there is no other place in the world where that is so strong, not even in Africa. But if you ask me about the future of the Pantanal, I’m not optimistic.” André von Thuronyi, owner of an eco-lodge in Brazil’s great wetland, talks to Mick Brown, who reports for the Telegraph Magazine on a WWF project designed to protect the threatened headwaters of the Pantanal.

Scotland as seen by Johnson and Boswell

Two travel books researched in the autumn of 1773 seem timely as Scotland’s decision day approaches in 2014. One is A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, by Samuel Johnson, the other The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell. A generation after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, with the Highland clan system destroyed and large-scale emigration under way, Boswell, a patriotic Scot, and his literary hero (the supposed embodiment of anti-Scottish prejudice) indulged Johnson’s “very romantick  fantasy” that they visit the islands. While Johnson observed Scotland, Boswell observed Johnson, inventing, in the process, the modern biography. An edition published by Canongate, with an introduction by Ian McGowan, includes both men’s accounts of the tour.

“Four Fields’ in paperback

Tim Dee’s Four Fields, which I’ve recommended here before, is now out as a Vintage paperback. You can still read an extract on Deskbound Traveller.

Travels in China’s borderlands

If you have any interest in China, then you should read The Emperor Far Away, by David Eimer, published last month by Bloomsbury. It’s an account of his travels in the borderlands, in places where the ethnic minorities (55 are officially recognised) chafe against Han Chinese control. On the website of The Telegraph, you can read my interview with the author and Rana Mitter’s review of the book.


Deskbound Traveller will be taking a break until early September while its editor escapes from his own desk to do some travelling.

Thoreau with vodka in Siberia

ConsolationsjktThe judges of the Dolman Travel Book Award, due to deliver their verdict on September 30, are currently considering the strongest short list there has been for the prize for a few years. Among them is the French writer Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest, in which he chronicles the six months he spent in a cabin in Siberia, like some latterday Thoreau on Smirnoff. “I took along books, cigars and vodka,” he says. “The rest — space, silence and solitude — was already there.” The book is beautifully translated from the French by Linda Coverdale. I’m delighted to be publishing a short extract on Deskbound Traveller, courtesy of Tesson’s British publisher, Penguin.

Speaking of Thoreau, the latest edition of Granta magazine, which takes as its theme “American Wild”, has a “found” poem in celebration of the great man by Andrew Motion. It also has a thought-provoking piece by Adam Nicolson on the return of wolves to New Mexico, seen from the point of view of both  environmentalist and rancher.

In the pub with McIlvanney

In The Guardian last weekend, Ian Jack wrote of a trip he made for The Sunday Times to Glasgow in 1980, with a brief to “concentrate on its fine architectural legacy and the lifestyle of its middle class”. He went with the Magnum photographer Raymond Depardon, who was much more taken with the Glasgow Jack was trying to avoid: “the drunk, the waif, the grim line of tenements awaiting demolition”. Jack eventually gave in and took him to the Saracen’s Head, where “men with those thin white lines on their cheeks – evidence of a razor slashing – sat drinking and looking ominous”.

The story reminded me of a passage from Laidlaw, the first of a trilogy of detective novels from William McIlvanney, a writer who can build the streets of Glasgow in  a few paragraphs (see my earlier post). McIlvanney calls his pub The Gay Laddie.