Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology: a very short review

The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology is, probably, just what you think it is: under the Lonely Planet brand name, the fairly-well-known travel editor Don George gathered short essays from a significant collection of other quite-well-known authors, and published them as a book.

All of the essays, unsurprisingly, take "travel" as a theme, and do so fairly faithfully.

None of the essays was a poor effort, or was a waste of time to read. Some of the essays are a little forced, but most are quite good, and a few are superb.

In particular, Rebecca Dinerstein's Small Lights in Large Darkness, about her mid-winter visit to far-northern Norway, is nearly perfect, every word a carefully-selected gem. Here, she visits the local graveyard:

Like the air, these lives had frozen their impurities away, had been preserved, had lasted. The trees rising behind the graveyard were pink because it was midday and the sun was both rising and setting. The snow was blue. As Mr Lockwood does at the conclusion of Wuthering Heights, I 'wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.' My friend wished her mormor (mother-mother, a perfectly simple construction for 'grandmother') a God Jul, a Merry Christmas.

Other stories take their delight from the plot, if not so much from the elegance of the prose. There are adventure stories, romance stories, metaphysical awakenings, and ruminations upon life and death. Our narrators encounter wild animals, struggle with language barriers, eat all sorts of different foods, confront social and cultural differences, and bring it all wonderfully to life.

Most of the stories are uplifting or at least reflective; a few are flat-out heart-breakingly tragic.

On the reflective side, I was particularly taken by Jane Hamilton's observations about the "validity" of a travel experience:

It took years, too, for the sorcery of the warden to wear off, to come to the the conclusion that no one owns the raw material of experience. It is now dangerously politically incorrect to say so but here it is: I don't believe you have to suffer in the particular way of someone else's interest group or tribe to understand suffering. The warden of Raasay, that variety of wicked queen, c'est moi. Belle Stewart, weary old singer with visions, check.

As for the story of the Dane -- that's certainly my material, and therefore it not only has a keen specificity, it now has scope: I can see how the event radiated into my future. In truth, however, it could be anyone's material. My story is merely a shape, a structure which can hold infinite variety.

Although not infinite, The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology has variety indeed, and nearly all of it worth your time.

If you should happen upon this small volume at some point, give it a try. I believe you'll enjoy it.

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