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July 2005

Around the World in 80 (or so) Pages

Three books guaranteed to fuel wanderlust

By Michael Palin
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004

was written to accompany the BBC 1 television series of the same name, but it stands alone very successfully. Some readers may not be familiar with Palin’s work as traveler, broadcaster and writer, but he’s known to everyone for his part in the Monty Python comedy team.
“Great journeys tend to bring me out in a rash of over-used superlatives, so all I will say is that Himalaya was a wonderfully, magically brilliant journey, with more gasps of astonishment per square mile than any other in my entire life.” These are the words of Palin in his introduction, describing his journey through 3,000 miles of the Himalayas. The book is written in a diary style, which makes it an easy and informal read, and takes the reader through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, Yunnan, China, Nagaland and Assam, Bhutan and Bangladesh, over a period of 125 days. The color photographs taken by Basil Pao are a wonderful mix of people, breathtaking scenery and Palin clowning around!
Himalaya is more than just a beautiful book. It’s informative and covers every aspect of the countries it features—from their history and politics to their geography and, most importantly, their people. Talking to people is where Palin excels—he seems just as comfortable chatting to sporting hero and political outsider Imran Khan as he does with the Dalai Lama, Bangladeshi fishermen or a Nepalese Sherpa. Like all good travelers, he’s endlessly curious and a keen observer—his descriptions are so vivid that you feel you’ve visited each place with him. It’s unusual to read a traveler’s account, and not a mountaineer’s account, of the Himalayas.
Palin’s wit and humor keeps the book entertaining throughout—his diary entries include comments like “the chicken at supper is, well, muscular.” The combination of his gift for storytelling and the fact that he’s writing about some of the most fascinating countries in the world, make Himalaya an excellent read. However, his very British writing style might not be to everyone’s taste.

By Pico Iyer
Bloomsbury, 2005
Sun after Dark
is a collection of travel writing about journeys that have affected the author. When Iyer finds himself rattling through the suburbs of La Paz, Bolivia, in a taxi, his mind is flooded with memories of past encounters and journeys. From LA to Haiti and Yemen to Ethiopia, the stories are evidence of a lifetime of restlessness.
Iyer’s adventures take him to a Bolivian prison and a hidden monastery in Tibet. He experiences a collection of skulls in Cambodia, and travels through Arabia in the weeks before September 11, 2001. He meditates with Leonard Cohen and talks geopolitics with the Dalai Lama.
What sets Iyer apart from other travel writers is that he seems to focus more on what is going on inside his head as he travels than on where he is. He asks constant questions about the world around him, and lives for that temporal shift that comes with travel. Iyer successfully conveys the idea that no matter how geographically remote you are, you are never far from yourself.
Sun after Dark is comical in places, although it is not clear whether this is intentional; Iyer is undoubtedly a gifted thinker and writer, but the fact that he appears to take himself a little too seriously will dull the enjoyment of the book for some readers.

By Don George
Lonely Planet, 2005

Lonely Planet did not take long to figure out that, these days, everyone wants to be a travel writer. Don George, who has been a travel writer and editor for 25 years, wrote this guide with the aim of helping people turn their passion into a profession.
Chapters include travel writing then and now, what it takes to be a travel writer, finding your story, the art and craft of writing, examples of good travel writing and tips on getting published. At the end of each chapter there is expert advice on travel writing from prominent writers, editors and agents. The appendix provides an extensive collection of UK, US and Australian resources, including useful publications, publishers, Websites, reference books and writers’ groups. It’s interesting to note that, despite its “make your passion your profession” motto, the book doesn’t just focus on how to become a professional travel writer. George also gives valuable tips to postcard-scribblers, bloggers and journal-jotters.
The best thing about the book is that George describes the more realistic side of being a travel writer—the hours sitting in front of a blank computer screen, the stress of impending deadlines, the flow of rejection letters and the fact that travel writers rarely make a decent living. In fact, this guide will probably put off a number of would-be writers when they realize it’s not all beaches, tropical cocktails and five-star hotels, but disciplined and demanding work that requires, as George says, “talent and tact, pluck and luck.” <<<

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