Roundup: Travel Book Revival?

–A new book about travel writing has been published. Ever hopefully, a new look for a possible revival of the genre is undertaken by Tim Hannigan in his book The Travel Writing Tribe. This is reviewed by Noo Saro-Wiwa and appears in the current issue of TLS. It opens with this:

“Is travel writing dead?” It is a question that has been asked regularly since the nineteenth century. Yet time and time again, the genre has defied all predictions. Evelyn Waugh was writing it off in 1946 when Paul Theroux, one of today’s bestselling authors, was just five years old. Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) sold 1.5 million copies and is often credited with launching the travel-writing boom of the late twentieth century, when seemingly anyone could get a book deal, and advances for the top writers were hand-rubbingly high. Yet these days the bookshop travel sections are getting slimmer. Large publishing houses dropped dedicated travel lists years ago, while smaller travel writing publishers have mostly shifted to novelty gift books and business manuals. In terms of advances, £15K is the new £50K.

Cheap, mass travel and television documentaries have perhaps contributed to the declining readership of travelogues. In a world that’s been thoroughly mapped and photographed, one sometimes wonders what exactly these shirtless men bestriding today’s sand dunes are discovering. So where can travel writing go in the twenty-first century? Tim Hannigan sets out to answer this question in The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in search of a genre, an excellent and thought-provoking book. […] Genial and passionate, he speaks to writers, scholars and even lay readers as he explores issues including not only class, gender and ethics but also fictionalization and whether the use of the first person is an indulgence.

Hannigan describes his own travels in connection with his visitations to current travel writing practitioners such as Sara Wheeler, Colin Thubron, William Dalrymple, Dervla Murphy et al., “in their natural habitats. The conversations are full, frank and often surprising.” He comes away with the conclusion that there is

…scope for a possible revival: if mass travel killed the genre, then a Covid-ridden world of restricted movement could conceivably spark a resurgence. He expects at the very least that publishers will make greater effort to seek out more diverse travel writing voices, the “insider-outsiders” or those who are “writing back” and turning the lens towards the traditional centres of power.

In any case, the human desire to hear about alien societies and cultures is an enduring one, and [Colin] Thubron believes the genre will survive because it is accessible and flexible. “It can change itself to suit anybody that wants to write about what it means to be somewhere else. I think the future’s there for travel writing, it’s just not going to be travel writing as you and I perhaps recognise it.”

The book is also reviewed in the Guardian. It is available for sale in the UK and will be published in America in September.

–In her Times review of the new book about wartime literary London, Writing in the Dark, Laura Freeman writes that the book is a tour:

…of literary London during the Second World War. [Will Loxley, the author,] starts with a cast of important characters: Virginia and Leonard Woolf, founders of the Hogarth Press; Christopher Isherwood and WH Auden, on the verge of their America flit; John Lehmann, poet, editor and founder of New Writing; Stephen Spender, poet and (briefly) “poster boy for the British Communist Party”; Cyril Connolly, former literary critic for the New Statesman, now editor of Horizon magazine; George Orwell; Dylan Thomas; Evelyn Waugh and Julian Maclaren-Ross, “soon-to-be novelist, short story writer and screenwriter, but currently working as a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman”. This is a book about poetry, politics and propaganda, about little magazines and big ideas.[…]

After Isherwood and Auden left for America in January 1939, Waugh assessed the lie of the literary land. “The highbrows have split — half have become US citizens, the other half have grown beards and talk of surviving to salvage European culture.” As bombs fell, salvaging European culture meant magazines printed on rationed paper and edited amid dust, rubble and air raids.

See previous post. According to this link, will be selling the print version in the US on and after 22 July 2021.

–The books blog The Letterpress Project has posted the last in a series of reviews of Waugh’s war trilogy. This is by Alun Severn and relates to the final volume, Unconditional Surrender. It opens with this:

In Officers and Gentlemen, the second volume of Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, we rejoined Guy Crouchback in black-out London following his ignominious discharge from the Halberdiers. In the third and final volume, Unconditional Surrender, Guy is again back in London and once more on the hunt for meaningful wartime employment. He still – just about – sees the defeat of fascism as an almost chivalric calling, one that his landed gentry ancestors would have understood and rallied to the flag for. On the other hand, he is realistic about his own declining physical powers and the absurdity and failure of at least some of the ‘actions’ that war has cast him as part of.

Archived with this review are the reviews of the previous volumes of the trilogy, as well as several other books including Brideshead Revisited, Put Out More Flags (2), Scoop and Handful of Dust. These are by Alun Severn and others. They are thoughtful, well written and worth reading.

–A legal news website Above the Law has posted a reading list with recommended books for the summer holidays. Here’s one contribution of interest to our readers:

Brian Dalton, Breaking Media SVP, Editorial Director

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it.” I’m old enough to agree with Nabokov on this one. Some old favorites I revisit:

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh — Among the two funniest books ever written.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis — The other one of the two.

Cultural Amnesia by Clive James — A liberal arts education that you can keep in your bathroom.

–Finally, Emily Mortimer who wrote, directed and appears in the recent BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel The Pursuit of Love is interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald. This is in advance of Australian transmission of the adaptation on Amazon Prime. Before discussing the adaptation, the interview explores Mortimer’s previous career and the influence her father had on it. He was John Mortimer who drafted a script for the adaptation of the 1980s Granada TV version of Brideshead Revisited. Here’s an excerpt:

Just as John Mortimer’s father, Clifford, was sharply present in his thoughts and writing (the inspiration for Rumpole of the Bailey as well as his memoir A Voyage Round My Father), Emily feels the same way about her own father, who died in 2009: “I feel very sad that he’s not here any more,” she says.

His spirit imbues her version of The Pursuit of Love, she says: “Every single part of this has been influenced by my dad and the way he saw life. That kind of resolute and determined lack of earnestness that Nancy had, an absolute allergy to it, my dad had. You know: that you can be anything as long as you’re not boring.

UPDATE (23 July 2021): In the US, is selling print, not Kindle versions of the book Writing in the Dark. The text has been corrected accordingly.




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