Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Best American Travel Writing 2003

Just in the period of the year when I want many audiobooks to listen to while gardening, doing house repairs, and toiling at other chores, I am finding ones that interest me harder to find. I have fairly broad interests, but that is mostly within the realm of nonfiction. Though I like some classic novels and short stories, most fiction just seems to me like repetitive stuff people made up. Libraries, of course, buy more fiction audiobooks, which pleases most of their clients. Looking at the libraries that I frequent, I am finding that I have already listened to many of the biography and history audiobooks. (No self-improvement titles for me - don't need them.) So I am looking a little harder through the rest of nonfiction. Luckily for me, I found The Best American Travel Writing 2003.

With travel writing, it does not matter at all that the stories are already seven years old. It is the storytelling that matters, and in this collection, there are numerous stories worth hearing. The book starts with Geoff Dyer's "The Despair of Art Deco," a wickedly funny account of several days spent in the insect-infested hotels of Miami Beach where tourist snap pictures of themselves on sidewalks, standing where famous people died in front of Art Deco facades. Next is Lawrence Millman's adventurous account of trying to visit a newly discovered Arctic island (retreating ice pack due to global warming is uncovering unknown places); he tells us in "Lost in the Arctic" of being stranded on a nearly lifeless pile of rocks, imaging death by starvation, while his Inuit guides try to fix the engine of their boat. In "The Happiest Man in Cuba," Rebecca Barry tells about accompanying her fanatical train-spotting father to Cuba where all the old steam engines still run. Peter Canby recounts weeks of travel across the thick rain forests of the eastern regions of the Congo, assessing the health of wildlife and environment in "The Forest Primeval." Finally, in "My Dinner in Kabul," Andrew Solomon tells about spending his days reporting on the terrible destruction of war in Afghanistan and his evening enjoying the cuisine of the country's most accomplished chef. There are ten stories in all, most read by their authors.

The Best American Travel Writing Series continues in print, but it appears that the 2003 edition was the last one in audio. That's unfortunate. I am, however, ordering older editions to see where they take me.

Best American Travel Writing 2003. Houghton Mifflin Audio, 2003. ISBN 061839074X. 4 discs.

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