Travel writing

On my last walk in Germany (Dolfingen-Passau) I bought, faute de mieux, the New York Review of Books. It turns out to be better, fuller, more rounded, than the TLS that I have read occasionally for years. (My father used to get it, and the Listener, delivered.) In the March 5 edition there was a review by Brenda Wineapple of a writer I have never heard of, Sybille Bedford, including her book A visit to Don Otavio: A traveller’s tale from Mexico.

Apparently “Bruce Chatwin called Don Otavio a book of marvels that never stoops to the travel writer’s ‘cheap ironic asides’.” I know what Chatwin means. When I write about travelling I think of myself as describing – but the odd is interesting – and easy to caricature.

For example I wrote, arriving in Vilshofen on the Danube,

I hit the bookshop first, of course. There were only about 10 books in English (“unless you want a cookbook”). The shop assistant kindly pointed out which of these were for men. I bought The Book Thief, which was a mistake.

Are the second and third sentences cheap ironic asides? I think of them more as revealing, as all properly-lived and -reflected on life does, how differently others look at the world from me.

Still, a quote to bear in mind, and a book I should read.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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