The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road by Paul Theroux
New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. ISBN 9780547336916
The Tao of Travel is a delightful collection of un-commonplace remarks and episodes by writers who have traveled, edited by a master of the genre. Even writers who have not traveled happily make for good reading, especially when a summer heat dome or winter's sub-zero has driven one indoors. Such conditions affirm Huysmans's thought that "the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate-substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience."
The range of people and places, historic and present, runs to five index pages of double columns, from Edward Abbey and Africa to Yu Zhining and Yugoslavia. While most entries tend to be on the short side, certain writers get separate chapters: Henry Fielding, Paul Bowles, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Johnson. Johnson is an example of a relatively untraveled writer who always interesting. On a walking tour, Johnson observes "how often a man . . . with his resolution, will, in the hour of darkness and fatigue, be content to leave everything behind him but himself." One travel writer named Murphy (Dervla) allows Theroux to create a chapter entitled "Murphy's Rules of Travel." Included in that chapter is this advice: "travel alone or with one prepubescent child," since children "rapidly demolish barriers of shyness or apprehension" when one approaches a community unused to foreigners. From a seasoned reporter, Theroux gets "Rosenblum's Rules of Reporting," and this useful advice: "On arriving in any distant place, the first thing you should do is learn the quickest way out." Well into the book, the observations lengthen in such delectable chapters as "Everything Is Edible Somewhere" and "Writers and the Places They Never Visited."
Ruskin says somewhere that an error or flaw in a masterwork is to be valued as evidence of individual human endeavor. Happily, the chapter on walking has one. It begins, "All serious pilgrims go on foot to their holy destinations—Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims stand for so many others." Unfortunately, those pilgrims sat on horseback.
On the other hand, some of the best observations and stories come from Paul Theroux's own books—twelve listed. On trains, for instance: "Years before, I had noticed how trains accurately represented the culture of a country." Or, "In the best travel books, the word 'alone' is implied on every exciting page." His brief biographies of major travel writers enrich their excerpts and set them in useful contexts. His own contributions fittingly prevail in the end chapters, particularly in "Five Travel Epiphanies" that are published here for the first time.
The Tao of Travel is a text-filled volume, compact, eschewing the weighty illustrations that relegate it to the coffee table. For the reader who prefers to read of places that matter in their impacts on events and characters—in history or fiction—The Tao of Travel may seem quite enough, in and of itself. But with its handsome faux leather cover, rounded corners, and elastic bookmark, it is also ready to go somewhere.
W. M. Hagen
Oklahoma Baptist University
IAmerican young-adult novelist Virginia Euwer Wolff, winner of the 2011 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, headlines the January 2012 issue of WLT.
Table of Contents
NSK Neustadt Prize Laureate
Virginia Euwer Wolff
- ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: [Excerpt] "A Case of Time-Release Insight: The 2011 NSK Prize Lecture," Virginia Euwer Wolff
- ESSAY:"The Courage to Be Compassionate: A Tribute to Virginia Euwer Wolff," Suzanne Fisher Staples
- READING LIST: "Children's Literature Favorites" by featured authors from the January issue of WLT
- "Poetic Journeys: A Conversation with Nathalie Handal," Kaitlin Bankston
- "A Brief Conversation with Laleh Khadivi"
- "Eva Stachniak," Ania Spyra
- "Post-3/11 Literature: Two Writers from Fukushima" Takeshi Kimoto
- "The Single, Shared Text? Translation and World Literature," Valerie Henitiuk
- "Burmese Poetry: Tectonic Shifts," James Byrne
- "The State of Zapotec Poetry: Can Poetry Save an Endangered Culture?," Clare Sullivan
- "Poetry Is Liberty: The Macondo Writers’ Workshop in Mexico," Wendy Call
- "In the Palace of the Dragon King," Hiromi Kawakami
- "Past-Bitterness-Recalling and Present-Sweetness-Realizing Meal," Qiu Xiaolong
- Four Poems, Nathalie Handal
- Seven Poems, Feliciano Sánchez Chan
- Zapotec Poetry: Bilingual recordings and an artists' gallery
- "Zodiac 9," Moikom Zeqo
- Six Burmese Poets
IN EVERY ISSUE
- LETTERS/EDITOR'S CHOICE
- WHAT TO READ NOW: Sri Lanka
- CITY PROFILE: Hargeisa, Somalia
- INTERNATIONAL CRIME & MYSTERY: "He Do the Police in Different Voices: The Rise of the Police Procedural"
by J. Madison Davis
- OUTPOST: Kesennuma, Japan