PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

The Best American Travel Writing 2009


The Best American Travel Writing: 2009

Publisher: Mariner
Length: 340 pages
Author: Simon Winchester, Editor
Price: $14.00
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2009-10
Amazon

If Jason Wilson's foreword and Simon Winchester's introduction to this fine collection of essays don't hook you, well, you're probably more inclined toward reality TV than reality travel literature, anyway.

Wilson takes the premise that the narratives found in travel writing are comparable to the simplistic narratives found in video games, a premise sparked from an unexpected conversation with a friend. At first, he's perplexed by her assertion that players' experiences of various locales in gaming are really just backdrop for their own, personal stories. This is how many travelers experience the world outside of their own: as mere backdrop to the stories of their own lives.

Later, he finds himself playing Endless Ocean on Wii with his two sons, and enjoying the pseudo 'experience' of 'adventure' the game aims to invoke. Comparably, we already know that Japan, for example, creates pseudo 'other countries' within its own, so that Japanese ‘travelers’ can experience a recreated Holland, for example, without leaving their homeland. Whole communities, complete with hefty home prices revolve around this concept of living in another country without leaving Japan.

So, too, the experience of reading travel literature is, for many, substitute for actual travel. Do such pseudo-experiences -- gaming, reading, never leaving the resort -- render the meaning of travel ... meaningless? To varying degrees, I’d say yes. But give me an informed essay on Sundarvans (“Tigerland” by Caroline Alexander) long before I set foot in the jungle, and I’m inclined to see much more than just a canvass of green, which is all the uninformed mind will see -- I will, at least, sense the presence of the man eating tiger.

We are rescued from armchair travel-invoked semi-guilty, self-indulgence by Winchester’s introduction, which paradoxically compares Americans’ relative lack of interest in travel (only one in four own a passport), and their embarrassing lack of geographical knowledge (an area of education he laments is sorely lacking in America’s core curriculums) to its healthy production of excellent travel literature, primarily found in magazine format. Granted, Winchester is considering only travel writing published in English, but it is flattering to readers who admire this format, and who probably don’t get out much themselves, to hear that a reputable critic from a land of former imperialists and colonialists (and all the seeing of the world that affords) and always a land of adventurers (possibly more so than any other peoples) affirms what we’ve all suspected; for those Americans (of a nation not without its imperialist proclivities) and English-language readers who are willing to make but the slightest effort, quality, travel literature, produced in relative abundance in America, is but an arm’s reach away. 'Tis the land of plenty, indeed.

“... at its very best, travel writing should be a technique to explore history, art, and politics in the liveliest fashion possible,” writes Robert D. Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History). Those who seek such travel writing, who pick up anthologies such as The Best American Travel Writing 2009, and occasionally get off their duffs and meander through the Atlas before returning to their reading chair, are thus redeemed. Those who get to go out into the world, with a strong sense of history and geography percolating in their brains, are blessed.

Which brings me to the one major weakness of this anthology: The inclusion of Chuck Klosterman’s very brief, absolutely perplexing ‘essay’, “Who is America?” With this entry Klosterman thrusts readers back into the gaming world mentality, where all the exotic settings are but a backdrop for one’s own navel-gazing blather, in this case garnered from a seemingly lazy survey. This otherwise fine anthology is weakened by this inclusion; Klosterman reads like the bore on the bus that everyone hopes is getting off at the next stop and will, for the rest of his stay, never set foot outside of that resort. Meanwhile, the rest of us move on. Eric Weiner’s “My Servant” is comparably short to Klosterman's inclusions, but it at least touches upon an awareness of first-world privilege / post-colonial guilt: meaning; it makes the effort to make a point.

Such are the detours and setbacks of any travel; annoyances that are but minor bumps in the road of an otherwise excellent collection of thoughtful, thought-provoking literature. Enjoy these essay plucked from Harper's Magazine, The American Scholar, and Slate.com, to name but a few, from the comfort of your favorite reading chair, and let the hours blissfully slip by.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.