Friday, October 06, 2006

On travel writing...

I was having a conversation about a week ago with someone who told me he thinks travel writing is incredibly boring. Not that he does any -- he finds the reading of it boring. "You know," he said, "it's just 'where to eat,' 'where to stay,' 'where to party.' I mean, anyone can do that."

Ummm... ye-ah, sure.

Being someone who dreams of travel writing -- and who has done some herself -- I was offended. Initially. And then I decided I didn't need to have anything to do with someone so... stupid. (Yes, I am judgemental about people's literary worldview.)

But perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, maybe not everyone can tell the difference between the genre that guide books fall into and that of actual travel writing. On the other hand, maybe he was just not so richly endowed with the discernment gene.

The truth is, there's serious art in travel writing. Consider this: there is a finite number of countries in the world. And yet, people write about them all the time (witness the number of monthly magazines devoted to travel), which means coming up with a new take each time. Which, believe me, is not easy. And yet, the great travel writers manage to do just that.

I was reading October's Conde Nast Traveler and ran smack into a piece by Pico Iyer (I genuflect before his talent) about Singapore -- a city written about so extensively, I'm surprised anyone has anything left to say. And yet, his article was remarkably fresh. Which is what Pico Iyer consistently manages to do.

The trick is to be part nomad, part writer and part cultural anthropologist. Then, any place becomes more than just the sum of its hotels, restaurants and clubs.

Now that's travel writing.

7 Comments:

At 5:30 PM, Blogger V!Aiyer said...

Whoa! Pico Iyer-I checked him in when he visited The Oberoi Amarvilas in 2003. I was working there back then. His *brilliance* just oozes out and he with his Japanese wife make a cool combination. You are absolutley on the money when you say 'not so richly endowed with the discernment gene'...Some people just don't have it.

Try reading Gallivanters guide. I am sure you will like it. Lyn Middlehurst is my favourite.

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger V!Aiyer said...

When I read the second para of this blog(again)..It is blunt. Keep it up!

I like it..

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger sac said...

oof.. if that guy thinks the likes of theroux, dalrymple, ier, chatwin and bryson are lonely planet scribes, he deserves nothing more than flying ryanair and frying for a week on a majorca beach jampacked with families of human lobsters every goddamn year

 
At 1:31 AM, Blogger rhea said...

vinayakan: unfortunately, i rarely have time to read anything that i don't have to these days, but thanks for the suggestion.

sac: amen!

 
At 1:53 AM, Blogger sinusoidally said...

You will make one fantastic travel writer, really you will. :-) You could start with travelling to jersey hee hee. Was in the city this weekend to see The Producers, wanted to email you to see if you for a drink or something but I was just plain lazy. Seriously we should catch up soon...yes? :-)

 
At 1:02 AM, Blogger rhea said...

sines: yes! :)
and thanks for the ego boost!

 
At 7:48 AM, Blogger Alex said...

I'm a great Pico Iyer fan myself.. thanks for the link

 

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