An assortment of essays, reviews, and excerpts from British travel writer and biographer Wheeler (The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle, 2012, etc.).
Spanning 20 years (1990–2010), the pieces are loosely organized around a number of different themes, such as recollections from her earliest travels (most notably as a 20-year-old in Poland in 1981) and her first excursions into the polar regions (an interest that has spawned two travel books, a biography and a children’s book). She has a number of short biographical essays on others, including reviews of biographies of travel writers she admired. Wheeler also examines some much more mundane adventures, including learning to belly dance in a gym near her apartment and climbing into bed with a catalog from Argos, the U.K. department-store chain, which she claims is one of only a few activities that “guarantee pleasure.” While this collection has its high points—for example, her early travel writing—it also has the unfortunate effect of highlighting the problems with Wheeler’s work. For example, she falls backs on the phrase “tweed-skirted Victorian[s]” to describe two different 19th-century travel writers, Mary Kingsley and Isabella Bird, in two different essays published five years apart. In the introduction, she asks, “Don’t you sometimes find daily life almost unbearably poetic?” Unfortunately, most of her prose is flat and declamatory, lacking the poetic details she claims to love. At the same time, her brief biographies of other travel writers often serve to drive home the point that there are much more interesting travel writers out there.
Uneven and mostly bland.