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The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road Paperback – July 24, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Travel maestro Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) conducts a rambling tour of the genre in this diverting meditation on passages from his own and other writers' works. Several chapters spotlight underappreciated travel writers from Samuel Johnson to Paul Bowles, while others explore themes both profound and whimsical. There are classic set-piece literary evocations, including Thoreau on the hush of the Maine woods and Henry James on the miserable pleasures of Venice. A section on storied but disappointing destinations fingers Tahiti as "a mildewed island of surly colonials"; travel epics—shipwrecks, Sahara crossings, Jon Krakauer's duel with Mount Everest—are celebrated; exotic meals are recalled (beetles, monkey eyes, and human flesh, anyone?); and some writers, like Emily Dickinson, just stay home and write about that. The weakest section is a compendium of aphoristic abstractions—"Travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography to oblivion"—while the strongest pieces descry a tangible place through a discerning eye and pungent sensibility: "I do not think I shall ever forget the sight of Etna at sunset," Evelyn Waugh rhapsodizes; "othing I have seen in Art or Nature was quite so revolting." Photos. (May 26)
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A "diverting meditation on passages from his own and other writers' works. [T]he strongest pieces descry a tangible place through a discerning eye and pungent sensibility..."
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This collection includes selections from a variety of travelers, such as Samuel Johnson, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Louis Stevenson, Peter Matthiessen, and Freya Stark, to mention just a few. The book explores, in intriguing ways, how and especially why travelers leave home, and why they write about their experiences. "The Tao of Travel" samples centuries of travel books, including unique captures of persons, places, times, and more than a few instances of fiction.
On display is Paul Theroux's superbly enjoyable prose and his keen but wry sense of observation. He includes, naturally, some essential lists for his fellow travelers to argue over, such as the most dangerous, alluring, and happy places he has visited, and the ten items that constitute his personal tao of travel.
"The Tao of Travel" is very highly recommended as an entertaining reading experience for fans of Paul Theroux, and for those who themselves feel compelled to travel; they will understand the tao.
It is true that there is very little that is original in this book. So what? What is there is marvelous, and even though Theroux quotes from himself a good bit, it is also quite true that it is highly unlikely that I would ever have come across most of the reflections on travel by other authors that Theroux includes here. That alone makes this book a gem. For example, here is this pearl from Hans Christian Andersen, right on page 1: "Homesickness is a feeling that many know and suffer from; I on the other hand feel a pain less known, and its name is 'Outsickness.'" Is there any true traveler with whom that quote won't resonate? I am very much like Theroux in that, like him, I have felt a wanderlust, and urge to travel, at least from childhood or early adolescence, and it is exactly that wanderlust that Andersen is referring to when he mentions "Outsickness." For me the urge to travel began when I read Richard Halliburton's books as a teenager, and I was happy to see that Theroux mentions and quotes from Halliburton here. This is especially gratifying because, although Halliburton is remembered and revered by people of a certain age, he is almost forgotten today.
Theroux does not shrink from differentiating between travelers and tourists. I had to chuckle at one of Theroux's own comments: "Choose your country, use guidebooks to identify the areas most frequented by foreigners--and then go in the opposite direction." This is very similar to something I have always said to acquaintances that I consider serious travelers--if, when you tell people where you are going and their response is "what the hell do you want to go THERE for?"--then you know you're going to the right place. Theroux also mentions other essentials of travel if it is truly going to be the learning experience or epiphany that you want it to be: travel alone, don't overplan, and above all, leave your electronic equipment at home.
This book is unlike anything that Theroux has written before in that it seems to be a distillation of everything essential to be said about travel--hence, I suppose, the title. But it also caused me to wonder, given that Theroux recently turned seventy: is this Theroux's swan song? Is this his goodbye to travel writing? Is this his way of saying "that's all there is; there is no more?" Will we be seeing any more travel books from Paul Theroux? If that is indeed the case, then this book is a very worthy ending to an illustrious career. If you love travel, and if you haven't done so already, I urge you to buy a copy posthaste.