Friday, January 2, 2009

What is travel writing in America?

Travel writing is a bit more than offering airline schedules (you can get those on the airlines' own websites), and auto routes and descriptions of rooms at chain hotels on any continent.

(Well, maybe there's an exception to that. Had I described US chain hotels in Ireland in the early 1980s, it would have been a valuable public service. The Irish didn't do US hotels; the US-style hotels in Ireland were basically awful. They did do--and still do--Irish hotels and those were the ones of choice. They now do US-style fine, too. Had to. Self-defense against travelers who read only airline schedules and not information that might provide insight about a place or mode of transport.)

Paul Theroux, arguably our best modern travel writer of some repute, has been castigated for his writing about places visited and modes of transport taken about as often as he has been praised. So I would expect that I'm in fairly decent company when I'm insulted by readers, such as one who commented on my "Laugher at 30,000 feet" article posted on Dec. 31, 2008. I also suspect that it wasn't the description of the contest per se that the reader was upset about; it was the fact that I included the observation that much of the intelligent universe is chortling with glee over the upcoming exit of a dismal (to say it nicely) administration in Washington, DC.

Whether it was the political content or some other factor that set that reader on a course of derision, one thing is certain; it is easy to make insulting comments when one's identity is hidden.

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