Do not be fooled into thinking you must be an adventure-seeker to enjoy the tantalizing tales packed in the pages of The Best American Travel Writing 2010. A jealousy of high proportions will undoubtedly keep the trailblazer riveted until the end, but even if you never want to leave your couch, these stories give you the chance to experience that unique kind of self-discovery that can only come from understanding exploration.
Editor Bill Buford begins the book by declaring that we are all defined by the places we live and the places we go. Sometimes, a physical place leaves traces of itself within its visitors, and other times the act of traveling itself leaves the everlasting impact.
In this book, there is every type of self-discovery, and because these writers so compellingly capture their experiences, it is easy to feel that we are changing and discovering right alongside them. With detail so vivid it is almost tangible, readers will feel like they have waded through the depths of a river in the Peruvian Amazon, hunted baboons with the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, and bartered for donkeys in a Moroccan market.
From the claustrophobic confines of a run-down van driving across Siberia to the three-hundred-person island of Tristan da Cunha, the reader will be whisked to every corner of the earth, mostly on expeditions you won’t find in any guidebook. The writers’ masterful use of personal narrative to communicate larger ideas about cultures as a whole is astounding.
Even more, the stories all seem to come together, forming a cohesive commentary on the ever-entwining artifacts of tradition and modernity. Susan Orlean watches donkeys transport color TVs through the paths of Fez, Morocco. Christopher Hitchens observes neighborhoods of ancient Greece be unearthed from beneath a bustling city. Michael Finkel hunts baboons with native Tanzanian tribes just miles away from paved roads. It seems the thrill of adventure has been found in the beauty of coexistence between past and present.
The Best American Travel Writing 2010. Bill Buford. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 314 pp. $14.95