This title is the second in our series of annual collections of the best travel writing. Many of these stories are original while some have appeared in other Travelers’ Tales titles or elsewhere. But the common thread connecting them is fresh, lively storytelling and compelling narrative to make the reader laugh, weep, wish he were there, or be glad he wasn’t. The 30 stories cover the globe, from encountering the spirit of Odysseus in the Mediterranean to restaging the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Malawi to probing the culture of the working men in the Tokyo fish market. The points of view and perspectives are global in reach and the themes are as eclectic as all of our books, including stories that encompass spiritual growth, absolute hilarity and misadventure, high adventure, romance, women’s solo journeys, stories of service to humanity, family travel, and encounters with exotic cuisine.
James O'Reilly has been a traveler since infancy, and a storyteller almost as long. Born in Oxford, England, in 1953, he savors the early memory of walking as a five-year-old boy across the tarmac at Shannon Airport in Ireland and gazing up at the huge triple tails of the now-defunct Constellation aircraft. The smell of fuel and Irish fog and the amazing sight above him must have made a deep impression because he's been traveling willy-nilly ever since. After emigrating from Ireland to the United States, he grew up in San Francisco, where he was schooled by Jesuits, nuns and assorted yogis and eccentrics in the '60s. His eclectic education was formed as much by growing up in a large Roman Catholic family where he was the second of seven children as it was by being an omnivorous reader who was studying Eastern religion and meditation by his early teens. He traveled a great deal with his family - to Ireland, England, Scotland, and Canada - before heading off to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where, among other things, he spent a semester in Salamanca, Spain.
At Dartmouth, James met his good friend Larry Habegger, with whom he has collaborated since 1982 on projects ranging from radio shows to mystery serials, newspaper and magazine columns to world adventure travel. Since 1985, O'Reilly and Habegger have co-authored the nationally-syndicated travel column "World Travel Watch." In 1993, they co-founded the publishing company Travelers' Tales with James's brother Tim, and have since worked on more than 100 books together, winning many awards for excellence, including the prestigious Lowell Thomas award for outstanding travel book. James has been an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) since 1990, and is a former board member of the Tibet Information Network.
James has visited over forty countries and lived in four. Among his favorite travel memories are visiting headhunters in Borneo, rafting the legendary Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, enjoying a meal cooked by blowtorch in Tibet, and hanging out laundry with nuns in Florence. He has made traveling with his own family a priority, and together he and his wife and three daughters have roamed all over Europe. He lives in Palo Alto, California, where he is usually conspiring to be somewhere else.
I saw this book on the shelf of a local library, just at random, and though I still can't say just why, I picked it up and leafed through it. I've never given travel writing much of a chance. I always told myself that I was probably never going to have the opportunity to travel much, so why read travel books? It's like reading a cook book full of recipes you're never going to make, right? It's lusting over the unattainable, right?
Not right. The unlikelihood of my seeing the world first hand is the very best reason to read about the experiences of those who have. Through the eyes of these writers, I have been to Bali, Japan, Cuba, Alaska, Malawi, Paris, and other places. I have encountered farmers, clerics, shop owners, canoe builders, and boxers. I have gained perspective.
I enjoyed this book so much that I have already gotten my hands on another in the series, with plans to read more after that. This book was an experience. It was more than that, it was a series of experiences. I definitely recommend it.
Like so many anthologies, there are a few proper gems but the overall quality is inconsistent. Took me ages to finish it, and maybe reading about travel during lockdown isn’t fair. I can’t travel, so I expected every word to take me somewhere else. Having said that, I’ve read some excellent writing during lockdown that transported me elsewhere, so I don’t think my expectation was too unreasonable. 2.5 stars.
I enjoyed a couple of travel stories in this anthology. The one that stands out the most is about a man’s return to the placid Aegean where, ho hum, the Odyssey is set—and finally gives it some respect when a sudden storm whips up the waves and almost strands him in the very cave Odysseus may have visited.