By PAT HARTMAN
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.