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Posts Tagged ‘anthologies’

I like to flatter myself that I’m pretty well-traveled. After all, I’ve been to 24 states and eight countries, and I lived abroad for three semesters (a semester in Oxford as an undergrad and then a year there as a grad student). But I tend to revisit – and read about – the same types of places over and over again. Oxford has my heart, but I adore the UK in general. I never, ever get tired of Paris memoirs; I love stories about Americans forging new lives in Europe because that’s a dream of mine; I drool over Little Brown Pen’s Paris pictures on a regular basis; and yes, I loved Eat, Pray, Love (but the Italy section was my favorite).

Recently, however, I read and reviewed two collections of travel essays – The Best American Travel Writing 2011, and the much more interestingly titled Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar – both of which were extensive tours of places I would never, ever choose to travel. (This is partly because several essays in the first collection, and all the essays in the second one, were set in war zones, where, frankly, I’ve never had any desire to go.) I think the locales in the Best American anthology – Saudi Arabia, Haiti, Moscow, Mumbai, Serbia – provide a clear portrait of where America’s eyes are focused these days (namely: the Middle East, the sites of natural disasters, and rapidly developing countries of all stripes). There was only one gentle European essay, about a man in pursuit of Monet, and while it was lovely, it sort of paled in comparison to the other, more vivid – and usually more shocking – stories.

The map of stories in Mud Crabs reads similarly, though of course conflict is overtly present in every single story, not just hiding behind the scenes. (And the conditions for war-zone journalists are worse than for travel writers in peacetime, however uneasy the peace.) But despite the fact that I would never choose most of these locales to visit (or, usually, to read about), I was totally swept up in the stories of these people, and their keen-eyed observations of cultures so totally different, so completely Other, than my own. It’s a testament, in part, to great travel writing, which evokes a place in a few well-chosen details and conversations. But perhaps it also represents a broadening of my own horizons.

I’m still not sure I want to go to Asia or Africa or the Middle East on my next trip – besides the concerns for safety in some of these places, I suspect I’ll always be an Anglophile at heart. But I’m learning to appreciate stories from all locales, however war-torn or foreign to me, and I think that’s got to count for something.

What places do you like to read about that you’d never choose to go?

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