"Travel writers are romantics," writes contributor Wendy Belcher, and if there is a common chord to the 40 essays in this collection culled from Salon.com's "Wanderlust" section, it's that a majority of the authors find a certain ardor in exotic locations perceived with curious and eager eyes. Some find it in the literal sense--Maxine Rose Schur reminisces about being passionate and penniless in Paris, Laura Fraser finds the perfect Italian lover to help her forget the husband who's abandoned her, and Simon Winchester charms a Romanian girl with his borrowed Rolls Royce. In pursuit of luxury, Po Bronson loses his Club Med virginity to go activity-surfing at the Turkoise Club. Then there's inspiration--Isabelle Allende travels to the Amazon in the hopes of ending a three-year writing block and David Kohn, well, he gets to sample the best pork ribs at the Memphis World Barbecue Cooking Contest. There are certainly satisfactions in these tales, if only as small vicarious thrills (originally tailored for the Web, they are indeed short and sweet). In truth, however, the real gems take travel and travel writing a little more seriously, or perhaps a little less, with an ever-present eye out for the ironies that plague travelers. Wendy Belcher's insightful essay does not actually dwell on romance but the embarrassment of discovering virtually all travel books about Africa open the same way, including hers. Tim Cahill makes clear the chasm between our lives and others when he experiences reverse culture shock in New York City after living with a remote tribe in South America. And in some truly hilarious reports, Susan Hack goes on a desperate hunt for Tampax in Yemen, Rolf Potts attempts to infiltrate the set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie in Thailand, and Douglas Cruickshank takes a decadent blitzkrieg through England ("Indeed, the scene is so excruciatingly exquisite that I've got a good mind to call Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory and tell them to get their softly lit Panavision asses up here.") While travel writers may be romantics, thank goodness they can also be great fun. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
Since Salon.com shut down its Wanderlust section earlier this year (there weren't enough page views to satisfy investors) and since George, the section's editor, has been reduced to contributing a weekly column, this collection preserves in print articles that were likely to become Internet ephemera. The 40 stories are tuned for the computer-screen reader: they are all quick, attention-grabbing, first-person narrativesAas short and direct as a shot of espresso. One-third come from well-known writers, including a handful of brand-name travel writers such as Jan Morris, Peter Mayle, Pico Iyer, Tim Cahill and even Tony Wheeler, the founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks. The others come from Salon's multifaceted contributors, many of whom have published books of their own. The best work here uses irony to convey the complex nature of travel in the age of the Internet, when much of the world is only a mouse click away. Rolf Potts's story "Storming the Beach," for example, contains daily e-mail dispatches about the author's attempt to replicate the events of Alex Garland's novel The Beach by substituting the fictional beach with the actual Thai beach where a film of the novel is being shot. "The Last Tourist in Mozambique" details Mary Roach's discovery that it is easier to get the country's president to talk about transcendental meditation than it is to convert dollars into local currency. Salon has always been a self-consciously literary Web site, so it is no surprise that these stories survive the transition from the computer screen to the printed page. But the shutdown of the site's Wanderlust section may limit the readership for this pleasant anthology. (Nov.)
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