Picking a Literary Travel Destination

News Editor

We’re looking at a very interesting list of books in the general category of literary travel, assembled by a writer who has done considerable traveling herself. Or would that be a traveler who has done considerable writing? Jeannette Belliveau has published two books, An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet and Romance on the Road, and seems to be one of those exceedingly literate outdoorsy folk, like Paul Theroux and a surprising number of other adventurers. In a way, it’s kind of strange that the gene for sitting alone in a room, and the gene for roaming the planet, are so often found in the same person. Belliveau has also held various editorial posts, and currently is a professional speaker. The reason given for one of her recommendations, Redmond O’Hanlon’s No Mercy, goes like this:

The complex and heartbreaking aspirations of his gentle third guide, Manu, close No Mercy in a way that could serve as a shout of anguish from the soul of a continent whose people get no second chances in life.

She suggests a fiction work, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, as the ideal companion piece to No Mercy, because “the greatest and smallest aspects of life in the Congo are utterly consistent, in a way that suggests the essential truth-seeking of both O’Hanlon the travel writer and Kingsolver the novelist.”

These literary travel picks include tales of Afghanistan, Borneo, the Congo, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and a slew of other interesting places. Belliveau rates the books and the writers according to such criteria as (these are all quotes) chokingly funny, amazing maturity, overly obsessive, particularly intriguing, deceptively insightful, and stoic hilarity. Not all, obviously, in reaction to the same book.

About The Ends of the Earth by Robert D. Kaplan, Belliveau says he “argues quite believably that borders, which only became fixed within the last half-century, are falling away as ethnic links reign supreme once again.” Borders are a concern of Kevin Dolgin, as we have noted previously. Before you’re even a dozen pages into his book, he makes the position clear: “I deplore the presence of borders and cross them whenever possible, sometimes just to spite them.”

Today’s other featured list comes from TripAdvisor, and it’s called “Top ten literary travel destination ideas.” If your desire is to visit the home or birthplace of a great author, or see the urban or rural landscape frequented by an imaginary character, here’s a good starting point for inspiration.

They are tried and true, all cities, and mostly Anglocentric: London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Edinburgh, Dublin, New York, Concord, San Francisco. Plus Paris, Rome, and St. Petersburg. Plenty of examples are given of the authors and books each place represents.

For something a little more out of the way, give this one a try: hike the Lebanon Mountain Trail, as described by Norbert Schiller in The National. It’s only a mere 440 km (or around 270 miles), of which the Baskinta Literary Trail is an offshoot. This route includes 22 cultural and literary landmarks, including places associated with the writers Amin Maalouf, Abdallah Ghanem, and Mikhail Naimy.

We’d like to hear about other not-so-ordinary literary travel destinations.

photo courtesy of marviikad , used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writing Turned Inside Out in Ireland


News Editor

What we have here is the very opposite of travel writing. It’s host writing. It looks at our favorite subject not as a traveler might, but from the point of view of the inhabitants of a place. In this excellent Dublin Independent piece, Martina Devlin makes comparisons of the cost, and looks at the difference between the tourist experience in France (good) and Ireland (not so good). She explores the three main factors that are responsible: price, service, and quality. Okay, that’s about what you’d expect from any writer with both an aesthetic sense and a grasp of realpolitik. And then she goes brilliant:

What we do have to offer — our unique selling point — is our reputation as the Land of Saints and Scholars; our literary tradition. We can attract tourists by offering well-organised, weather resistant events: one extension of the “smart economy” we should not ignore… If we are to live to tell the tale of this once-in-a-century recession, we need to access those survival-of-the-fittest genes hardwired into our DNA.

In the matter of price, Devlin contends that the Irish don’t have a chance, because of the twin pillars of socialism, namely, high minimum wage and high income tax. As to the causes, agree with her or not — but the evidence is undeniable: it’s no longer an Ireland where visitors “will be content simply to admire the scenery.”

Devlin even provides specific suggestions, by giving examples of what has been successfully done in the literary tourism field. The recent West Cork Literary Festival, for instance, offered a class on travel writing, and encouraged professional travel agents to sign up. It’s that niche marketing concept. For novel-writing classes, about a third of the participants came from outside Ireland, and she believes this trend can be capitalized on to the very great benefit of the local economy. Ireland did just fine in its recent renaissance, and if there’s any country that can make a comeback, this is the one to do it.

Martina Devlin has published four novels and two nonfiction books. Her website offers great advice for writers. This opinion is not necessarily endorsed by Kevin Dolgin or anyone else around here, but the writer of this blog says it loud: Devlin is hot, hot, hot.

Last year, TripAdvisor compiled a list of the top ten literary travel destinations and #4 is Dublin, so things are heading in the right direction. Dublin has Yeats and Joyce, of course. For Harry Potter fans, this Skyscanner page offers a list of 13 possible destinations. Ireland is included on the basis of winning the 1994 Quidditch World Cup, and also on general principles, for being the stomping ground of Imps, Porlocks and Kelpies.

Ireland needs a literary-tourist-magnet on the scale of Menabilly, which is in the British county of Cornwall. That estate was the prototype of the fictitious Manderley in Daphne DuMaurier’s immortal best-seller Rebecca. Apparently, the author fell in love with a house, and wrote a bestseller featuring the house as a character, and made enough money to lease the house and move in. What a great story!

The person who knows the most about it is Justine Picardie, who has just published a book about DuMaurier, and who tells many entertaining details in The Times. Her description of that whole area makes a person want to go there right now. Not to Menabilly itself, of course. It’s not open to the public. But there is a yearly gathering in the nearest town, for devotees of the novel and the house. This article also gives careful directions for the optimal self-guided walking tour of the local countryside.

One reader we asked says that in Ireland, she’d like to see places associated with Maud Gonne. Or Bobby Sands. We’d like to hear more ideas. In Ireland, or any part of the United Kingdom, whose house or neighborhood would you like to have a peek at?

Cornwall coast photo courtesy of Kai Hendry , used under this Creative Commons license