Friday, August 23, 2013

Great Travelers, Great Writers: Naipaul & Steinbeck, not a Miller moment…



Travel writing not only has the potential to compete with other genres.  It should excel.  After all, it’s potentially got it everything: exotic locations, true adventure, multiple story lines, peak emotion, honest reflection, and poetic insight… for starters.  So why is most of it—in short (magazine) form, anyway—so bad?  Follow the money.  No other literary genre is expected to sell peripheral products—tickets and tours and gear and (gulp) insurance—in addition to magazines and books.  Maybe travel writing should be reserved for non-travel-writers.  If I could time-travel, I’d travel back in time and cure Rimbaud of his disease so that he could live out the rest of his life as a travel writer, enlightening us all in the process.  Ahhh, time travel… now that’s the best kind…

     
Fortunately the long narrative form of travel writing is much better than the short, so we’ve still got some good options (just make sure they spend as much time in threadbare hovels as they do in fancy resorts).  V.S. Naipaul did just that in his “The Middle Passage,” an account of his 1960-ish trip to the Caribbean, first and foremost to his birth home of Trinidad, but also including five societies in the Caribbean region of all different colonial stripe.  Given the title of the book and his own Indian heritage, you can bet that slavery and racism are not far from his mind.