Archive for January 17th, 2007

Half-wandered tales

It’s a bad habit of mine, one that I imagine many addicted readers often indulge – buying new books even as a pile of half-read stories lays by the bedside. Here are a few travel-related books that I’m currently invested in:

After following the legal and political troubles Turkish author Orhan Pamuk faced in his home country, I was spurred to pick up one of his novels: The New Life. The back summary sounds intriguing – a young student losing his identity after simply reading a book, to then find himself falling hopelessly in love, and wandering aimlessly on buses. But so far, the reality of the novel has been strangely aimless itself, vaguely dream-like, and at times employing awkward prose – which could be reasoned with given that the story was translated from Turkish. It’s quick reading and I’m hanging on – the book has recieved great reviews (though one Amazon reviewer said “It must be read in Turkish”) – but as of yet I’m still unenlightened to the genius between the lines.

I dug this one up at Magus books in Seattle after reading Pico Iyer’s Sun After Dark. Iyer’s writing style does as much to illustrate the mental aspects of travel as the physical ones: his stories focus on internal transformation and reflection he wanders through enchanting corners of the world. So when I came upon The Best American Travel Writing: 2004 (which Iyer edited) I was pretty excited. The results have been mixed – some of the selected essays have been really gripping (like “The Ghost Road” by Mark Jenkins, which tells the author’s story of traveling illegally to lesser-seen parts of Burma), while others (like “Segways in Paris,” which boasts the cool-ness of riding those annoying body-movers as Parisians look on in awe) were disappointing. Some I’ve skipped over. But over all I’ve noticed a profound (if subtle) and unified message – that the connectedness of this new world is inescapable, even for the most earnest of vagabonds and escapist travelers.

Tales from Nowhere (Lonely Planet) is my latest purchase, though I’ve yet to wade into its stories. I was drawn by a few authors in particular who are in this collection, namely Pico Iyer, Rolf Potts and Simon Winchester (both of whom I previously wrote about). The back summary pontificates on the idea of nowhere – which it says could have been in “the middle of Borneo or Beijing […]” Coincidentally, when I think of nowhere, I do think of Beijing, holed up inside of a inconspicuous teashop along the outer wall of the Forbidden City. Thinking about the sensation of freedom, awe and anonymity I felt in that place lulls my thoughts to a kind of stillness – I’m hoping these stories are that good.

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January 2007