Meet the Man with All the Stories

October 17th, 2020

Greetings from Thailand!

One of the benefits I've found from moving around a bit less these past months has been more time to pick up a book and read. I suppose the time was there before, but it so easily disappeared in the scramble from A to B and all of the madness in between.

In any event, I've had the opportunity to read a number of interesting books, including one I'm in the middle of now called On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. It has an amusing and occasionally scathing chapter on the principles and challenges of producing good travel writing. Some bits and pieces I thought were valuable:

Whether the locale you write about is urban or rural, east or west, every place has a look, a population and a set of cultural assumptions unlike any other place. Find those distinctive traits.

Whatever place you write about, go there often enough to isolate the qualities that make it distinctive. Usually this will be some combination of the place and the people who inhabit it.

This is the essence of good writing about other countries. Distill the important from the immaterial.

The English (as Pritchett reminds me) have long excelled at a distinctive form of travel writing—the article that’s less notable for what a writer extracts from a place than for what the place extracts from him.

New sights touch off thoughts that otherwise wouldn’t have entered the writer’s mind. If travel is broadening, it should broaden more than just our knowledge of how a Gothic cathedral looks or how the French make wine.

It should generate a whole constellation of ideas about how men and women work and play, raise their children, worship their gods, live and die. So when you write about a place, try to draw the best out of it. But if the process should work in reverse, let it draw the best out of you.

The last line in particular compelled me to reach out to our resident-but-itinerant storyteller Mike Sowden, who is currently distancing better than any of us way up in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. I thought it would be nice to formally introduce him to you, say thanks for all the inspiring travel stories he's told us over the past few years, and ask him about travel writing in these unusual times.

Just two quick notes on things upcoming - we've got our trip overview webinar for Israel & Jordan coming up, as well as Part 1 of a series on Incredible Train Journeys, which, I'm excited to dive into as a huge fan of travel by train. You can find the sign up links below.

P.S. At some point I'd like to send a copy of my book, The Heart of Hospitality: The Art of Gastfreundschaft in Austria to those interested in a copy, but we're having some challenges with the webpage. So stay tuned! And in the meantime, please send me any great book recommendations you have 🙂


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