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The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road

by

The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Preface:

The Importance of Elsewhere

As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my

mind was of flight — my little self hurrying off alone. The word “travel”

did not occur to me, nor did the word “transformation,” which was my

unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find a new self in a distant

place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was

something I took on faith. Elsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too

young to go, I read about elsewheres, fantasizing about my freedom.

Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads

I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I

saw that the most passionate travelers have always also been passionate

readers and writers. And that is how this book came about.

 The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire

to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances

of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience

an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown, to bear witness to the consequences,

tragic or comic, of people possessed by the narcissism of minor

differences. Chekhov said, “If youre afraid of loneliness, dont marry.”

I would say, if youre afraid of loneliness, dont travel. The literature of

travel shows the effects of solitude, sometimes mournful, more often enriching,

now and then unexpectedly spiritual.

 All my traveling life I have been asked the maddening and oversimplifying

question “What is your favorite travel book?” How to answer it? I

have been on the road for almost fifty years and writing about my travels

for more than forty years. One of the first books my father read to me

at bedtime when I was small was Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in

Maine. This 1930s as-told-to account described how a twelve-year-old

boy survived eight days on Mount Katahdin. Donn suffered, but he made

it out of the Maine woods. The book taught me lessons in wilderness

survival, including the basic one: “Always follow a river or a creek in the

direction the water is flowing.” I have read many travel books since, and

I have made journeys on every continent except Antarctica, which I have

recounted in eight books and hundreds of essays. I have felt renewed

inspiration in the thought of little Donn making it safely down the high

mountain.

 The travel narrative is the oldest in the world, the story the wanderer

tells to the folk gathered around the fire after his or her return from a

journey. “This is what I saw” — news from the wider world; the odd, the

strange, the shocking, tales of beasts or of other people. “Theyre just

like us!” or “Theyre not like us at all!” The travelers tale is always in the

nature of a report. And it is the origin of narrative fiction too, the traveler

enlivening a dozing group with invented details, embroidering on experience.

Its how the first novel in English got written. Daniel Defoe based

Robinson Crusoe on the actual experience of the castaway Alexander Selkirk,

though he enlarged the story, turning Selkirks four and a half years

on a remote Pacific Island into twenty-eight years on a Caribbean island,

adding Friday, the cannibals, and tropical exotica.

The storytellers intention is always to hold the listener with a glittering

eye and riveting tale. I think of the travel writer as idealized in the

lines of the ghost of Hamlets father at the beginning of the play:

  I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

  Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

  Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

  Thy knotted and combined locks to part

  And each particular hair to stand on end

 But most are anecdotal, amusing, instructional, farcical, boastful,

mock-heroic, occasionally hair-raising, warnings to the curious, or else

they ring bells like mad and seem familiar. At their best, they are examples

of what is most human in travel.

 In the course of my wandering life, travel has changed, not only in

speed and efficiency, but because of the altered circumstances of the

world — much of it connected and known. This conceit of Internetinspired

omniscience has produced the arrogant delusion that the physical

effort of travel is superfluous. Yet there are many parts of the world

that are little known and worth visiting, and there was a time in my traveling

when some parts of the earth offered any traveler the Columbus or

Crusoe thrill of discovery.

 As an adult traveling alone in remote and cut-off places, I learned a

great deal about the world and myself: the strangeness, the joy, the liberation

and truth of travel, the way loneliness — such a trial at home — is

the condition of a traveler. But in travel, as Philip Larkin says in his poem

“The Importance of Elsewhere,” strangeness makes sense.

 Travel in dreams, for Freud, symbolized death. That the journey — an

essay into the unknown — can be risky, even fatal, was a natural conclusion

for Freud to reach, since he suffered from self-diagnosed Reiseangst,

travel anxiety. He was so fearful of missing a train that he appeared at

railway stations two hours ahead of time, and when the train appeared at

the platform he usually panicked. He wrote in Introductory Lectures on

Psycho-Analysis, “Dying is replaced in dreams by departure, by a train

journey.”

 This has not been my experience; I associate my happiest traveling

days with sitting on trains. Some travel is more of a nuisance than a

hardship, but travel is always a mental challenge, and even at its most

difficult, travel can be an enlightenment.

 The joy of travel, and reading about it, is the theme of this collection —

and perhaps the misery too; but even remembered misery can produce

lyrical nostalgia. As I was rereading some of the books quoted here I

realized how dated they were, and how important as historical documents

— the dramas as well as the romance of an earlier time. Yet a lot of

the old-fangledness of travel ended very recently.

 This book of insights, a distillation of travelers visions and pleasures,

observations from my work and others, is based on many decades of

my reading travel books and traveling the earth. It is also intended as a

guidebook, a how-to, a miscellany, a vade mecum, a reading list, a reminiscence.

And because the notion of travel is often a metaphor for living

a life, many travelers, expressing a simple notion of a trip, have written

something accidentally philosophical, even metaphysical. In the spirit of

Buddhas dictum “You cannot travel the path before you have become the

path itself,” I hope that this collection shows, in its approaches to travel,

ways of living and thinking too.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780547737379
Author:
Theroux, Paul
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Author:
Theroux, Paul
Subject:
General Travel
Subject:
Travel Writing-General
Subject:
Asia - General
Subject:
Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20120731
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Line drawings
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in

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Product details 304 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547737379 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
A philosophical guidebook and collection of insights celebrating the joy of travel, chosen by eminent travel writer Paul Theroux
"Synopsis" by ,
Paul Theroux, the author of the train travel classics The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, takes to the rails once again in this account of his epic journey through China. He hops aboard as part of a tour group in London and sets out for China's border. He then spends a year traversing the country, where he pieces together a fascinating snapshot of a unique moment in history. From the barren deserts of Xinjiang to the ice forests of Manchuria, from the dense metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing, and Canton to the dry hills of Tibet, Theroux offers an unforgettable portrait of a magnificent land and an extraordinary people.
"Synopsis" by ,
This startling, far-reaching book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark todays India. Therouxs Westerners risk venturing far beyond the subcontinents well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged couple on vacation veers heedlessly from idyll to chaos. A buttoned-up Boston lawyer finds succor in Mumbais reeking slums. And a young woman befriends an elephant in Bangalore. We also meet Indian characters as singular as they are reflective of the countrys subtle ironies: an executive who yearns to become a holy beggar, an earnest striver whose personality is rewired by acquiring an American accent, a miracle-working guru, and others.

As ever, Therouxs portraits of people and places explode stereotypes to exhilarating effect. The Elephanta Suite is a welcome gift to readers of international fiction and fans of this extraordinary writer.

"Synopsis" by ,
A new novel from the world's favorite travel writer and best-selling author of the novels The Mosquito Coast and The Elephanta Suite.
"Synopsis" by ,
When Jerry Delfont, an aimless travel writer with writers block (his “dead hand”), receives a letter from an American philanthropist, Mrs. Merrill Unger, with news of a scandal involving an Indian friend of her sons, he is intrigued. Who is the dead boy, found on the floor of a cheap hotel room? How and why did he die? And what is Jerry to make of a patch of carpet, and a package containing a human hand?

He is swiftly captivated by the beautiful, mysterious Mrs. Unger—and revived by her tantric massages—but the circumstances surrounding the dead boy cause him increasingly to doubt the womans motives and the exact nature of her philanthropy. Without much to go on, Jerry pursues answers from the teeming streets of Calcutta to Uttar Pradesh. It is a dark and twisted trail of obsession and need.

Beautifully written, A Dead Hand demonstrates the powerful evocation of place and character that has made Paul Theroux one of the most perceptive and engaging writers today.

"Synopsis" by ,
“A book to be plundered and raided.” — New York Times Book Review

“A portal into a world of timeless travel literature curated by one of the greatest travel writers of our day.” — USA Today

Paul Theroux celebrates fifty years of wandering the globe in this collection of the best writing from the books that have shaped him as a reader and a traveler. Part philosophical guide, part miscellany, part reminiscence, The Tao of Travel contains excerpts from the best of Theroux’s own work interspersed with selections from travelers both familiar and unexpected:

Vladimir Nabokov         Eudora Welty

Evelyn Waugh          James Baldwin

Charles Dickens         Pico Iyer

Henry David Thoreau         Anton Chekhov

Mark Twain         John McPhee

Freya Stark         Ernest Hemingway

Graham Greene         and many others

“Dazzling . . . Like someone panning for gold, Theroux reread hundreds of travel classics and modern works, shaking out the nuggets.” — San Francisco Chronicle

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