Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Travel Lit & Animal Racism

Today, I sit on my Mexican ranch with a warm sun overhead and a fresh breeze rustling the cornfields all around. My black labrador Jack rolls and yawns luxuriously. I'm reading a Macmillan lit collection called simply Travel Stories while fading in and out of a bliss coma. Sometimes, it's nice to sample classic journeys without committing to entire books.

This compilation joins Graham Greene in Mexico, Eric Newby in India, Ewan McGregor in Mongolia, Michael Palin in Tibet, Bill Bryson in Norway, and Robert Louis Stevenson on the Atlantic Ocean. Yet, one thing is odd. The selected authors are overwhelmingly British (and Bill Bryson is quite Brit-ish), but no mention is made of this attribute of the collection. I think that's a mistake. This feaure should be noted for 3 reasons.

1) It's good for travel fans to grasp the impact British authors do have on travel writing. The understated analytical style employed by many Brits lends itself well to accurate reporting, in contrast to the hypersubjectivity of some travel lit: "The Grand Canyon gave me a blueberry feeling as it reminded me of the drainage ditch by the trailer where my uncle molested me." WTF!

2) Such dignified prose is not representative of all travel lit. It may not capture attention well in the current context of graphic, confessional, "reality" media. Aspiring authors should be aware they may need to get down and get dirty (literally and figuratively) in ways that old school travel writers did not.

3) Equating travel lit with Brit lit risks the worn-out stereotype of sunburned white guys visiting places where locals wear bones in their noses and speak "Oooga-booga" gibberish. (I'm referring, of course, to the primitive hangouts of public-school-attending teens.) Travel should be a global thing, not a colonial thing.

All that said, this work is a valuable asset for travel writing lovers and travel writing professors like myself. The book includes exercises with each story to enhance a reader's use of words and structures common in the travel genre. While the vivid personality of a great travel writer is difficult to impart, such compositional tools can surely be learned from a resource like this. Besides, what's cooler than traveling the globe with just one book and without leaving your rocker?

"Okay Jack, I understand what you're saying and you have a point, but my question was rhetorical and directed at folks who can't lick themselves."

Plus readers, any resource is better than taking inappropriate suggestions from your animal companion.

"No Jack, it's not because you're black. It's because your ideas aren't helpful. Play the damn color card one more time and you're not watching CNN for a month."

By the way, if you think black cats are bad luck, that's totally racist. Jack holds this truth to be self evident: all cats are created equally disgusting. Now, pardon me while I get back to life, liberty, and the pursuit of drunkenness.


  1. And if one believes black cats to be good luck?

    That's quite an eclectic group of authors!

  2. Your blog is very interesting, good job!