Travel Literature Makes My Heart Beat Faster.. discussion

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What is it you like about travel writing?

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message 1: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments As a new travel writer, I'm interested in what people in this group like about travel writing? What style do you like to read and why do you enjoy it so much?

Are you reading for inspiration for your next holiday? Do you read because you can't travel yourself? Do the sights inspire you or the culture? Do you just want the story or do you want to know who's telling it?

What is it that makes your 'heart beat faster'?


message 2: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments I like to know who's telling the story, but there seems to be a delicate balance between including the writer's voice and getting so interior that all that's there is the writer. I, personally, like the author to include more than just the observations of a single trip. I like history, natural history, anthropology, modern politics, some kind of hook so that I'm "learning" something as I read.


message 3: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Miller | 2 comments Many governments run 30-second TV spots promoting travel and tourism to a particular area. These are largely generic in nature, saying "come visit (insert place)." These spots offer beautiful visuals. However, literature can offer a much deeper and lasting emotional connection to a place, whether fiction set in a real location or nonfiction from a travel writer. Often, the writer's response to the place becomes an important part of the story, something that just can't be done on a typical TV spot or other travel advertisement. People might read a book for two hours with undivided attention. This makes travel literature the perfect vehicle for prospective tourists who want to learn more about a place before they visit.


message 4: by Rdonn (new)

Rdonn | 17 comments Actually, I see no way I can visit some of the places, but I love to read travel books, it's a substitute for trips I can't take! I agree, I want observations of people, reactions to places, and I like the writer to be part of the story. I also read many books about places I've been, I made quite a collection of Borneo books after I visited it many years ago.


message 5: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments Yes, dream trips I will never take and other people's trips to places I've been are both interesting to me.


message 6: by Trice (new)

Trice | 10 comments As Andrea said, I too like to learn something - 2 of my favorite travel books (China Road and Travels with Herodotus) combined ancient or at least very long ago history with modern analysis. But I also like to read of encounters with people who live there and their perceptions of their own country and culture


message 7: by Jane (new)

Jane Spencer | 11 comments The obvious answer is that I read travel writing because I love to travel. I am absolutely fascinated that there is still so much diversity on one planet. I especially love to read about locations I have been to, or hope to visit someday. I want to learn, compare experiences and be carried away. But... it has to be well-written. If the piece is well-written then the author's character will shine through and doesn't need to be stated. If the author takes a few risks and does something different, the reader knows they are looking at an adventurous or free spirit (Dervla Murphy). If the author tries too hard to be funny and complains a lot (Bill Bryson), he's revealing more about himself than the place. Intellectual writers like Paul Theroux, write with confidence and authority and a decidedly male perspective and you learn a lot. Some (Laurie Gogh) manage to combine adventure, humor and authenticity. Tell the story honestly - if it was a 24 hour experience say so. If it was a two year stay then acknowledge that you are still an outsider. Above all - have respect for the people -even if you encounter some creeps.


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim | 32 comments I like travel writing because it often makes me want to go to the place written about or gives me a sense of being there.
I especially like travel writing where the writer gives the reader a feeling for the cultural/political/historical identity about the places visited.


message 9: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments I have just completed a memoir of teaching & traveling solo for ten years. Hopefully to be published by June or July.
How many of you would this appeal to???? Just doing a trail question for my publisher.
Thanks for your input.


message 10: by Jane (new)

Jane Spencer | 11 comments Where did you teach?


message 11: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments Jane wrote: "Where did you teach?"
I have taught in Mazatlan,Puerto Vallarta,Zihuatanejo, and San Jeronimito Mexico-Santa Marta,Colombia-Antigua,Nicaragua-& Saigon,Vietnam


message 12: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments Wow! This thread has taken off more quickly than I expected. It's great to see such a diversity of interests.

Jane, I completely agree about the importance of respect. After reading Bill Bryson's condescending humour, I made respect a priority in my writing and my anthropology studies have reinforced it.

It's good to see that a number of you like to have the author's voice and perspective. Some guides on writing travel and some magazines demand a detached, second person voice and I've read comments agreeing. Personally, I'll won't bother reading a book / article if I haven't seen 'I' in the first couple of paragraphs.

Donna, I'd read it in the hope that the voice of the people you taught comes through. I have to agree with Trice on that.

Keep the comments coming.


message 13: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments I'd like to combine a comment and a question. I really get a little tired of "two year stint" books, mostly written by returned Peace Corp volunteers. I think it's because they don't ever really admit that they don't know what they don't know i.e. that even at the end of their stay, they are still kind of baffled. The ones that do admit this make for better reading. Whenever I see a book whose title includes, "two years" somewhere doing something, I'm starting to be a little put off. Am I a grump, and even if so, does anybody else sometimes have this reaction?


message 14: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments Andrea wrote: "I'd like to combine a comment and a question. I really get a little tired of "two year stint" books, mostly written by returned Peace Corp volunteers. I think it's because they don't ever really ..."

I don't know, but after ten years in foreign countries I still do stupid things like; getting on the wrong bus, saying the most inappropriate things, and even drinking the water.


message 15: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments I think I agree with you, Andrea. I'm not a big fan of the 'two years in' subtitle of my book. I prefer to use 'the Bhutan tourists don't get to see' as a subtitle, but the publisher didn't.

I've written two books (the first available as a free pdf on my website) and they both end with me making a mistake and realising there's more to learn. In fact, one thing I hope people get out of my writing is that living in another culture is more frustrating when you judge and when you think you know everything.


message 16: by Trice (new)

Trice | 10 comments 2 years seems to be the beginning point of real understanding, and since the observations are still a bit fresh, in some ways it's a great point to write what you see. Later, some of what was so obviously different or important seems to sink into the background as just a routine part of life, even for a foreigner. And in some ways, people at that level of experience are in a better place to communicate what they see and feel to those who have no experience of that particular country... but yeah, if there's a claim of total understanding it does get a bit... frustrating/annoying or something.


message 17: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Donna wrote: "I have just completed a memoir of teaching & traveling solo for ten years. Hopefully to be published by June or July.
How many of you would this appeal to???? Just doing a trail question for my pub..."


I would definitely pick up a memoir of 10 years teaching in different Mexican cities. I'd be hoping for some humor (because it's Mexico) and insight about Mexican culture and adventures (because it's Mexico). Be sure to post again when your book is available. Will it be on Kindle?


message 18: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisalovestoread) | 14 comments I don't make a decision about a book based on the length of the travel. There are books about traveling and books about living in a foreign culture, and they do not always overlap; both types can be terrific or awful. I do not like books of either type where the author is a "know-it-all," but I find those to be rare. Maybe I've just been lucky in my selections. It depends ultimately on both the author's writing skill and his or her psychological astuteness regarding themselves and those they meet. Most of the travel narratives I've read do not involve actually living in a foreign location. Mark Twain's travels around the world make for great reading even though he was not long in any one spot. The same is true for Anne Mustoe, who bicycled around the world in several stints. Paul Theroux is grumpy about the people he (briefly) meets and his experiences but he projects the air of someone who is grumpy in general so he is forgiven, plus he manages to provide a wonderful documentary. Elizabeth Taylor (not THAT Elizabeth Taylor!) somehow presents the minutiae of her years isolated in the Faroe Islands in the late 1800s in a way that captures the people and place - and my interest. In Arctic Daughter, Jean Aspen beautifully recounts what she learned in her year in the northern Alaska wilderness.


message 19: by Sandra E. (new)

Sandra E. Thompson (consignee) | 5 comments I love Paul Theroux and highly recommend "The Pillars of Hercules". Published in 1995 before the events of 9/11 changed the world forever. Young travellers may find it interesting to read how travel has changed in such a short period of time.
"The Pillars" are the islands of Gibraltar and the southern pillar of Ceuta, Morocco. Theroux travels westward from Gibraltar and virtually circumnavigates the Mediterranean to Morocco. A handsome trip but now, I should imagine almost impossible to do due to recent political events. So, an historical piece when the world was a gentler place not that long ago?
This is part of the reason why I like to read travel writing - recent history.
Theroux's 'grumpiness' is endearing and extremely entertaining. In the first few pages I learn that the Mediterranean Sea has no tides and that no-one on Gibraltar has ever found a deceased resident Barbary ape. Is there a secret 'monkey graveyard' like the legend of an 'elephant's graveyard' or do they throw themselves lemming-like into the sea?
I also like the way he prefers to see the road 'less travelled'.
He is a professor of English and includes many literary references. I loved being reminded about 'the Owl and the Pussycat' with a reference to Edward Lear. A poem I'd almost forgotten from a long ago childhood.
I love travel writing for all these reasons and much more...


message 20: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments Thanks for all the recommendations. I have a growing reading list now.


message 21: by Charles (last edited Mar 09, 2011 04:30PM) (new)

Charles Thompson | 3 comments Andrea wrote: "I'd like to combine a comment and a question. I really get a little tired of "two year stint" books, mostly written by returned Peace Corp volunteers. I think it's because they don't ever really ..."

I didn't realize there were so many books out there by returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Have you read several? Were any of them good? I tend to agree with Lisa. Whether it's a Peace Corps Volunteer, a weekend warrior like Hunter Thompson or a perpetual traveler like John Muir, the writing is what matters. Anyone can take a trip (especially Hunter). Most people will have interesting experiences on those trips. But only some people can make those interesting experiences come alive in a way that engages, entertains, provokes, and perhaps inspires readers. If a writer can take me on that ride, I rarely care what the last stop is.


message 23: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments I hope you will all bear with me. This isn't about what I've been reading, but what I've been writing. I have started a blog at http://esldonna.wordpress.com/
It is the beginning chapters of my up-coming memoir titled Big Backpack & Me or Big Backpack--Little Woman.
I hope you'll check it out. I'd also love to know which title you like best.
Thank you.


message 24: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisalovestoread) | 14 comments I prefer the first title.


message 25: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments Lisa wrote: "I prefer the first title."

Thanks for your reply. It matters!


message 26: by Charles (new)

Charles Thompson | 3 comments Lisa wrote: "I prefer the first title."
I also prefer the first title.


message 27: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments Maybe depends on audience you are going for? But I think some readers might be put off by "little woman." As a "woman of a certain age" I always associate the phrase "little woman" with a patronizing attitude.


message 28: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnamorang) | 12 comments Andrea that is so astute. I'm embarrassed to have missed the connection. Thanks for the heads up.
The title has been debated by family, friends, and writers group, but no one nailed it like you did. This book has had more titles than it has pages.


message 29: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) I love to travel, so I enjoy reading anything that takes me away into lands I'd love to visit (or have visited). I just love reading anything that gets my imagination going.

Also, I've had odd travel articles published, and would like to do more, so it's a learning experience! :)

Rachel


message 30: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments Hey, Rachel, where do you like to travel to?


message 31: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 1 comments I have been traveling all of my life, and the people and the experiences have always been the highlight. To be able to experience the world in a completely different way is very intriguing to me. I love that reality can change, and I can still be me.


message 32: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments What articles have you published, Rachel?

An interesting comment, Jennifer. Do you find that it's easier to be you when reality changes?


message 33: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) Andrea wrote: "Hey, Rachel, where do you like to travel to?"

Scandinavia is my favourite area so far - we had our summer holiday in Greenland last year! And I'd like to see more of Asia, and go to Africa, some day.


message 34: by Murray (new)

Murray Gunn (murraygunn) | 20 comments Does the length of a travel memoir make a difference to anyone else? I've noticed that most are about 300 pages and I find myself enthralled for 250 pages, but wishing it would finish for the last 50 so I can move on to the next book.


message 35: by John (last edited Mar 31, 2011 10:35PM) (new)

John Keahey (jkeahey) | 11 comments I'm a newcomer to this group, and I like the intelligent discussion that's going on here. I've written three published travel narratives about Italy/Sicily -- the third, about Sicily, comes out Nov. 8, 2011. (see www.johnkeahey.com) I read many narratives, and the 2-year idea does not bother me as long as the subject matter is interesting. I've never lived in Italy/Sicily but have been there a lot over the last several years, for pleasure and research. I'm intrigued by the history and culture, and try to understand and capture the nature of a place through those eyes of mine and those of the people. It's the quality of the writing that draws me to travel writers, and their willingness to admit that they can never be authorities on the culture they are writing about. Anyone who claims expertise needs to be looked upon with suspicion.


message 36: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments Murray, I think sometimes the author seems a little tired toward the end. Often the ostensible "mission" has been accomplished and they seem to be winding up threads. I think that's why I tend to lose interest. Personally, I don't like a good travel narrative to be too short!


message 37: by Lois (new)

Lois Joy Hofmann (sailorstales) | 8 comments Barbara wrote: "Donna wrote: "I have just completed a memoir of teaching & traveling solo for ten years. Hopefully to be published by June or July.
How many of you would this appeal to???? Just doing a trail quest..."


I would pick up a book about living in another country for 10 years and traveling solo. My husband and I sailed along the entire Mexican Pacific Coast during our 8-year circumnavigation, and I found numerous differences in the Mexican culture, especially in the cities and towns we visited as we traveled inland. Lois Joy Hofmann

In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage


message 38: by Lois (new)

Lois Joy Hofmann (sailorstales) | 8 comments When we lived and circumnavigated on our 43-foot catamaran, Pacific Bliss, for eight years, before we entered each of the 62 countries, I would read The Lonely Planet and/or other guidebooks, and bring a few books along also written by someone who had traveled there or lived there for a longer time. Often these are travel essays, sometimes in anthologies, such as the Travelers Tales series, and sometimes individual books such as those by Paul Theroux. (I also liked Pillars of Hercules). I liked to read these books during the passages to a country, e.g. before entering Australia, I read Travelers Tales stories of Life Down Under and Bill Bryson's Down Under.In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage


message 39: by Marilyn (last edited Apr 05, 2011 08:06AM) (new)

Marilyn Belleghem (marilyn_belleghem) I love to read about places I'm going and also places I've been to see them through someone else's eyes and thoughts. I love to write about my travels and the experiences that have shaped my beliefs and challenged me. Writing the stories from my journals and reviewing the photos and videos refreshes my memory of the experiences.


message 40: by Em (new)

Em Kay | 2 comments I love reading about far awat places and cultures. If the travel novel is also a historical novel, then I'm really pleased.


message 41: by Steve. (new)

Steve.  g | 5 comments Wow! Lois Joy, great post.
I also (Em) like a writer who combines some historical facts in their travels and reflections.For a Pagan Song: In the Footsteps of the Man Who Would Be King - Travels in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, &The Places In Between spring to mind as does Between the Woods and the WaterA Time of Gifts which read as History books too as they tell of a trip taken on foot accross Europe just before the 2nd WW.

Em, for History, Novel and Travel combined I love the O'Brian 20,Master and Commander 20 Volume Set


message 42: by Em (new)

Em Kay | 2 comments Thanks for the advice, I'll give it a read.


message 43: by John (new)

John Stephen --

I'm (generally) a fan of what I call the "historical footsteps" premise - contrasting the experience of the original subject with the experience in the same place of the modern writer: Finding George Orwell in Burma, TRAVELS WITHOUT MY AUNT: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GRAHAM GREENE, etc.


message 44: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cotterill (rachelcotterill) John wrote: "Stephen --

I'm (generally) a fan of what I call the "historical footsteps" premise - contrasting the experience of the original subject with the experience in the same place of the modern writer: ..."


We loved reading about Rasmussen when we were in Greenland last summer - it's great fun to read about historical figures while retracing (some part of) their journies yourself...


message 45: by Hock (new)

Hock Tjoa (hockgtjoa) Murray wrote: "As a new travel writer, I'm interested in what people in this group like about travel writing? What style do you like to read and why do you enjoy it so much?

Are you reading for inspiration fo..."

I like to read about places I might want to go visit or about places that have somehow intrigued me--the Silk Road... the Balkans... The author should be interested in the people or culture (Rebecca West on the Balkans, e.g.) and not self-conscious about conditions of the toilets or the aspirations of the natives (Peter what's-his-face on China, e.g.). And I'd like the writing to be "good."


message 46: by Glenn (new)

Glenn (gedixon) I like the historical angle too - it touches you personally to be standing on the beaches of Normandy or being in Shakespeare's house. When you smell it and feel it, it brings a whole new depth to history. A good travel writer will capture all that.


message 47: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 127 comments I just came across a "footsteps" book that I hadn't seen before, One Dry Season. I am reading Mary Kingsley now, so will follow with this one as part of my reading for the Great African Reads group's reading for Gabon. Kingsley's original is very funny, by the way.


message 48: by John (new)

John Speaking of footsteps in Africa, I recall liking Julia Llewellyn's Travels Without My Aunt: In the Footsteps of Graham Greene quite a bit.

Earlier today I finished From Here to There, story of a father-son trip by surface from Melbourne to London. Author's style bore a striking resemblance to Michael Palin's - if I didn't know better in places I would've been tempted to believe it was a Palin story, read by an Ozzie.


message 49: by Hock (new)

Hock Tjoa (hockgtjoa) Murray wrote: "As a new travel writer, I'm interested in what people in this group like about travel writing? What style do you like to read and why do you enjoy it so much?

Are you reading for inspiration fo..."

I love travel literature but have to confess that I don't read it because it makes my heart beat faster. I read it for almost the same reason I read cook-books--to enjoy vicariously what pleasures others have encountered and to imagine how I might also, maybe some day, enjoy them....


message 50: by Dina (new)

Dina (dashboard_diva) | 14 comments Andrea wrote: "I just came across a "footsteps" book that I hadn't seen before, One Dry Season. I am reading Mary Kingsley now, so will follow with this one as part of my reading for the Great Afri..."

Have you read any of the intrepid Isabella Bird's memoirs, on her travels in the US Rocky Mountain, Japan and elsewhere? The two were traveling during a similar era, were both remarkable Victorian women.


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