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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

When Twain is Your Travel Guide: an Interview with James Wallace - Page 4

Written by Erin Kuschner
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Literature has always been a portal into the foreign. The exploration of lives that do not belong to you in a place you have never been is what a reader hopes to encounter page after page, from beginning to end. And for those who can only discover a new country from the seat of an armchair, travel literature is the holy grail of experiencing the unfamiliar.

INTRAVEL: I was disappointed when we read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast which talked about that wonderful bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare & Co. If only I had known it was there before I went!

JW: Yeah, it’s a very cool place. It’s kind of like somebody’s house filled with shelves and shelves of books, and then chairs, and cots, and beds. You go in and people are sitting there reading or sleeping. It’s still the case that young, aspiring writers show up there and plan to crash: Here I am in Paris, where can I sleep?

INTRAVEL: What do you think makes a good travel book? Because a lot of people think they can write about travel – they go to a place and think; I’m the first one who has seen this.

JW: Good writing, plain and simple. Gopnik and Bryson and people like that. They’re wonderful stylists. They have a really sharp eye for detail, but also an ability to create metaphors and express themselves in a way that help you to see things in a way that are new and fresh, as if you’ve been there for the first time. And also to appreciate the tiny details that most people would overlook. The ability to create a sense of differentness, along with the sameness, of a culture—those are important things. And, as that implies, a good travel writer, like any good writer, sees more than you and I. They are more acutely tuned to small differences, to detail. They’re able to see below the surface in a way that most of us don’t bother to at the time. So that’s what makes reading them a real experience. They create another world, and that’s the pleasure of it.

© Erin Kuschner

(Page 4 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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