The inaugural issue of an anthology of the year’s best travel pieces.
In his introduction, Bryson (In a Sunburned Country, p. 684, etc.) declares that “travel writing . . . is the most accommodating . . . of genres.” Judging from the assemblage here, it might be more accurate to say that he has been the most accommodating of editors: while searching for the “year’s best” in travel-writing, Bryson has selected some pieces (from journals as diverse as The Washington Post and Coffee Journal) that might be more accurately described as sportswriting or foodwriting and squeezed them in, like duffels in an overhead compartment. In the two-dozen-plus pieces we get such marriages of mind and matter as Dave Eggers ferrying hitchhikers around public-transportation–deficient Cuba, David Halberstam reflecting on changes in the life of Nantucket over the decades since he first visited the island, and P.J. O’Rourke approaching a late-20th-century India with as many faces as a statue of Shiva has arms. The longest piece, Isabel Hilton’s engrossing narrative on the clandestine maneuvers of the Tibetan government-in-exile, seems more distinguished as reportage than travel-writing. You might begin to ask whether we need yet another anthology of this sort, but should you argue with a collection whose subjects range from Mark Ross’s harrowing firsthand report as a victim of machete-wielding guerrillas on the Uganda border to Steve Rushing whimsically teeing off for the first World Ice Golf Championship in Greenland? For the travel-writing purist, there are pieces from Jeffrey Tayler on his sojourn in westernmost China and—though the destination may not be the farthest-flung—Bill Buford’s simple and straightforward account of spending the night in Central Park. By perusing this anthology you can see that we are traveling more and in widely divergent “modes,” and that magazine editors are evidently giving writers less room to reflect on their journeys: all the pieces except Hilton’s end a bit too soon, some with cutting-the-trip-short abruptness.
If it’s Tuesday, this must be yet another annual volume to dip into at random.