What’s (nearly) new in writing on travel and place

I like to think I’m well informed about writing on travel and place, but there are books I don’t get to hear about, or find time to read, or both, until well after publication. So it was with Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich (Daunt Books, £9.99), who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. First published in 2003 in the United States by the National Geographic Society, it came out under Daunt’s imprint last April, but I didn’t hear about it until late in the year and didn’t get time to read it (though it’s only 150 pages long) until last month. It’s a book in which Erdrich, who is part Ojibwe (Native American), travels with her 18-month-old daughter through the terrain her ancestors inhabited for centuries: the lakes and island of southern Ontario. It’s a sprightly introduction to the land and culture of the Ojibwe people, and a celebration of books, by a writer who’s worth reading (see above right) even on her packing.

I did mention Geoff Nicholson’s Walking on Thin Air (Westbourne Press) last June, in advance of its publication, but didn’t manage to read it until the start of this month. I rattled through it. It’s about walking and what it can add to life, and it’s far from pedestrian.

Nicholson’s walks would be saunters for Patrick Davies, a former diplomat who in 2021 covered the 1,400 miles between Lizard Point in Cornwall and Dunnet Head in Caithness, Scotland, to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. He tells his story of the journey, and what led to it, in Where Skylarks Sing, published under his own imprint, Caravan Books, at the end of last year.

“In essence,” he told me, “I’d reached a major crossroads in life — a combination of (rashly?) giving up my successful diplomatic career [he finished as the UK’s deputy ambassador to the United States], my dad deteriorating rapidly with Alzheimer’s disease and the UK feeling increasingly polarised and alien (to someone who’d spent his career promoting the country around the world). The book explores issues of identity and belonging, anticipatory grief and the meaning of home in a world turned upside down. I hope it’s an inspiring story of endurance and the healing power of walking, all told through the beautiful landscapes of Britain.”

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