Promoting a travel book in the United States — even one like mine, on Tibet — is to promote a minority genre. Enter a bookshop in New York or LA, and you'll find travel narratives lurking among guide books somewhere at the back, or perhaps not there at all.
In Britain, on the contrary, the travel section may occupy pride of place. Numerous talented British writers have excelled at the travel book. Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Jonathan Raban spring to mind. Even top US travel writers such as Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux started their careers in England.
Why should this be so? What is it about my country that should generate both a love of armchair travel and the writers to supply it?
Various explanations propose themselves:
- That we British haven't yet understood that we've lost an empire and travel on as if we owned the world.
- That we have realized all too well and are making up for it by writing arrogant travelogues.