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The Best American Travel Writing 2004 (The Best American Series) Paperback – October 14, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This dizzying collection proves that travel writing goes far beyond the romance and adventure most readers associate with the genre. It might better be called "the state of the world 2004," and although it does include a few romantic and escapist adventures (two in Patagonia and one on a South Sea island), the overall tone is disturbingly somber. Skiing in gorgeous Kashmiri mountains requires entering a war zone. Afghanistan is doing its best to attract tourists, despite warlords, damaged bridges and land mines. Abidjan, Ivory Coast, once a prosperous cosmopolis, has degenerated into Third World poverty, and its youth have rejected tradition and emulate U.S. "gangstas." Mark Jenkins's ambition to hike the Stillwell Road across India, Burma and China becomes a humbling realization of his own arrogance in light of the devastating reality of life for the Burmese. Mountain gorillas, threatened with extinction by the civil war in Congo, embody peace as the humans brutally slaughter each other. The collection also includes compelling cultural musings: multiculturalism in Brazil; what the "endangered species" status of local radio in the U.S. means for cultural diversity; America's changing relationship with Europe. And there are a few light moments: riding the high-tech Segway around Paris; a spoof on a screenwriter's family vacation. Iyer's picks for 2004 reveal the huge diversity of life today.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Editor Iyer brings a counterintuitiveness to this excellent collection of travel writing, fifth in the annual series, saying, "My criterion . . . was to find travel pieces that would be interesting to people who have no interest in travel." That's all to the good. And so, with Tim Cahill's more conventional account of his visit to Patagonia (National Geographic Adventure), Bill McKibben profiles a small Vermont radio station that's all things to its local listeners (Harper's). And along with Kevin Fedarko's account of snowboarding at the summit of a war-torn Kashmir (skiing), Michael Byers muses on the aesthetics of the monuments on Washington's National Mall (preservation). Places described are as far-flung as Germany, China, Sudan, Brazil, and Congo. The most compelling piece, though, might be John McPhee's profile of a driver-owner of an 18-wheeler who hauls "hazmats" (hazardous materials) on American interstates, which brings both comprehension and wonder to a subject that would otherwise have seemed mundane. Recommended where the series has been popular. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 2004 ed. edition (October 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618341269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618341269
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,009,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gwendolyn Knight on February 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the introduction to this annual collection, Pico Iyer writes ".. .travel writing can arise out of the least dramatic places and episodes... when one falls between the craks of one's itinerary and tumbles out of the guidebook altogether."

Indeed, screenwriter Richie Chevat turns a routine vacation to the beach into riotous screenplay, while Adam Gopnik weaves anthropoligical critique and historical perspective into an engaging essay about riding the bus in Manhattan.

In "Ghost Road" one of the strongest pieces of the anthology (and there are many), Mark Jenkins chronicles his obsession with traveling the Stillwell Road in Burma, and his ultimate decision to abandon the "arrogant" quest given the danger to the Burmese he enlists to assist him. "Real adventure-- self-determined, self-motivated, often risky-- forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world... Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind-- and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both." It is a masterpiece-- a riveting narrative filled with percipience and grace.

My only quibble is the paucity of female voices.
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Format: Paperback
What is the gold standard for a travel article? If it is to put you in the writer's shoes to experience what the writer experiences, then you can say that this book has picked articles that meet that criterion. The book contains articles from magazines, websites, newspapers, and online to present to the reader. The experiences will vary from riding a New York bus to being in mortal danger in SE Asia. You will feel what the writers feel. And your horizons will expand---geographically, culturally, and politically.

My only reservation is that the universe of publications, from which the articles were selected, seems to be limited. You will see a similarity between the 2003 and 2004 publications.
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Whether or not you like this collection of essays will depend on your definition of travel writing. D.Cooper's "Canadian Gothic", J.McPhee's "A Fleet of One" and B.Donahue's "Under the Sheltering Sky" are all excellent. However many of the pieces chosen are little more than self-indulgent fluff. Was 2004 such a mediocre year for travel writing? M.Byers "Monuments to Our Better Nature" and R.Chevat's incoherent "Screenwriters Vacation" and M.Gorra's "Innocents Abroad?" are hardly memorable.

As another review has pointed out the selections seem to come from a rather limited field: The New Yorker, National Geographic, Travel&Leisure. There are thousands of publication venues, yet Pico Iyer decided to treat us to an anthology that is top heavy with selections from the main stream "Big Media" press. The publisher of this series, Houghton-Mifflin hasn't strayed far from the ground that it feels most comfortable with-established main stream authors. Even the piece by Tim Cahill does not represent his best writing. Most of the selections in this book seem like warmed-up left-overs.

As another reviewer has mentioned, only 4 of the 24 selected authors are women writers. This just boggles the mind... were there no women writers of merit in 2004?

My main concern is that few of these selections are really "travel stories". Some are set in foreign locales, but deal with subjects like teaching English in Tanzania, riding the bus in NYC, famine in Ethiopia ,and political repression in Burma. There is also an irritating post-9/11 angst in several of the essays.
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Format: Paperback
The editor, Pico Iyer, approaches the 2004 edition with a clear purpose: to focus not on the travel destination but the travel experience. With the world becoming smaller and smaller, this edition shows how travel is becoming less and less about the destinations and more and more about how travel can transform the individual. This is a different and interesting way to look at travel. However, travel stories (in my opinion) should bring the reader into new geographical places with a solid dose of history and maybe a hint of personal, inward reflection. But these writings emphasize too heavily the feelings and experience of the traveler and thus ignores the wonder of geography, history and foreign culture. Despite my dislike for the philosophy employed in selection of this edition, I appreciated the introduction written by Iyer. It was well written, humorous and made a fitting introduction for the collection of 26 writings.

1. Romance. (4) An interesting look into American road travel of yesteryear (1930's). The whole romance angle of the story didn't really work though.

2. Test Day. (8) Very funny tale of a Western teacher attempting to teach English in Tanzania. I enjoyed the recollections of frustration in teaching English. On a side note- teaching English has become a huge business in the last decade with many nations gouging themselves on the promise of wealth through knowledge of English. This has transformed the world, often causing cultures to devalue their own culture in order to embrace English and the hope of Western wealth. In many cases teaching English does more damage than good.

3. Monuments to Our Better Nature. (7) This is a short, concise essay describing some of the monuments found in Washington DC.

4.
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