The best American travel writing 2010

by Bill Buford

Paperback, 2010




Boston, MA : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.


Edited by The New Yorker’s Bill Buford, the pieces collected here "prove that a restless, intrepid spirit isn’t unwelcome to American readers” (New York Times Book Review).

User reviews

LibraryThing member dianaleez
The Best American Travel Writing: 2010" is an often interesting and entertaining collection of twenty-one travel essays.

The offerings vary in length, depth, and scope, and the essay genre provides a perfect venue for busy readers who read on the go.

The essays come from diverse sources. Offerings
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from "The New York Times" and "Virginia Quarterly Review" nestle quite comfortable beside those from "The Believer" and "Vanity Fair."
All are easily read, not especially complex or erudite, and easily lend themselves to a quick read.

With twenty-one essays to choose from, surely each reader will find some to be of greater interest than others. Ian Frazier's `Travels in Siberia' and Avi Davis's `The Undead Travel' were noteworthy for this reader, while David Sedaris `Guy Walked into a Train' was more a story about his youthful self than a travel essay. But different readers will, as always, be pleased by different authors.

This is in many ways a well wrought collection of interesting travel essays. And well worth a look from those who enjoy reading about the adventures of others.

But if I may add a personal note? I'd initially looked at this book as a quick and easy solution to holiday gift giving. However, many of my friends are women and there is only one submission by a woman in the collection. One out of twenty-one?
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
2010 is an excellent year for Best American Travel Writing. When your done you'll have a lot to talk about at your next social function, from Morocco to Siberia to Florida to Scotland, it's a lot cheaper than going in person. The longest piece is by Ian Frazier, which takes about 20% of the book,
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it is an excerpt from his recent Travels in Siberia.

There are 21 pieces, but I'll just high-lite a few of my favorites. Michael Finkel in "The Hadza" (National Geographic) describes what it was like to live with a band of hunter-gatherers in the East African bush. The Hazda people are some of the genetically oldest humans still alive, and thus possibly still living in similar ways our ancestors did before leaving Africa tens of thousands of years ago. I find every aspect about this fascinating, from what they eat, sexual habits, etc.. it says a lot about who we are today. They have no wars, major disease, hunger, classes, etc.. they are the answer to Utopia, if you don't mind eating baboon brains cooked in the skull and sleeping in the open on the ground. Finkel leaves after considering their lifestyle as "one insanely committed camping trip."

J.C. Hallman in "A House is a Machine to Live In" (The Believer) is a biographical piece about Knut Kloster Jr, who was a pioneer of the Norwegian cruise ship industry, and who built the ship The World in which residents live full-time as the ship travels the world non-stop. He weaves historical anecdotes about utopian visions of island retreats from classic authors with the reality of a modern cruise ship and the people who live on it. I thought I'd hate it, the ship and the people, like with David Foster Wallace's skewering in "Shipping Out", but The World actually seems like a neat idea, if you can afford the $200,000+ a year it costs to own a small room.

George Packer in "The Ponzi State" (The New Yorker) interviews some regular people in Florida who were hurt by the real-estate bust. Indeed, he shows how the entire state of Florida is built on a Ponzi scheme dependent upon new arrivals -- when people stop immigrating to Florida, it will fiscally implode. The state's main industry is real-estate. Fascinating look at a weak part of America that could drag down the rest of the country, if not already.
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LibraryThing member Periodista
Not the best entry in this series. Buford has written one or two food books so there's too much on food for my taste.
I don't have anything against food but writing about food has virtually replaced most any other kinds of so-called travel writing about certain countries. It's a safe topic. You
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don't have to touch on history or politics. As a result when many, many tourists talk about "culture" or writers claim to be expert on Thai or Vietnamese culture, they really just mean food. There's one piece about food in Italy (remember that Eat Pray Gag lady already did that?) and another about steak in Argentina that I only kimmed.

Peter Hessler ("Strange Stones") on traveling with a Peace Corps friend in China is the gold standard, in my opinion.

Susan Orlean's piece on donkeys in Marocco reminded me, as did her collection, My Kind of Place, that she really is at her best in the United States. Ian Frazier has also been better elsewhere but it just might be because I've read Colin Thubron and others on Siberia. Transylvania and the roots of Dracula? It sure feels like it's been done a lot. Garrison Keillor's essay on state fairs (from National Geographic) reminded me of David Foster Wallace's better, hilarious take on the same subject. However, come to think of it, they both hit similar themes. It is a prime example of what Keillor does and so many others can't quite imitate: He hoves so close to treacly nostalgia but then he veers away, glancing on some dark and sad places.

"A House is a Machine to Live In"--on utopian cruise boats and a particular Norwegian one where the rooms/suites are owned rather like vacation condos--Yikes! How come I haven't heard about this before? But I couldn't help thinking of DFW's tale of his own cruise. It conveyed what it's like to be stuck on a cruise, the insider's feel.

Love George Packer (gold standard re how to explain very complicated things) and "The Ponzi State" is a very evocative and informative piece on the "ghost subdivisions" and shellshocked aftermath of the real estate boom in Pasco County, Florida. But I don't get why it would be considered a travel piece. Yes, Florida is vacation land but not this particular inland neck of the woods, 45 minutes northeast of Tampa. I guess it's that prosperity in this state depends on property development and rapid population growth, which in turn follow the direction of tourism.

David Sedaris ("Guy Walks into a Bar Car") story is a roundabout way of telling how he met his longstanding partner. But it involves backstory travel tales and is surprisingly wise/philosophical, so that's fine. "The man behind the counter offered me three options, and I guess I said yes to the one that meant "No seat for me, thank you. I would like to be packed as tightly as possible amongst people with no access to soap or running water." "Perhaps the thrill was that we could talk, that our tongues, flabby from lack of exercise, could flap and make sounds in their old familiar way." "Given the short amount of time we spent together, it's silly how often, and how tenderly, I think of him ... When you're young, it's easy to believe that such an opportunity will come again, maybe even a better one. Instead of a Lebanese guy in Italy, it might be a Nigerian one in Belgium or maybe a Pole in Turkey. You tell yourself that if you travel alone in Europe this summer, you could surely do the same thing next year and the year after that."

Didn't read the Simon Winchester entry because he's the number 1 trafficker in imperial propaganda after Jan Morris (The British empire is fun! Why don't you wogs stop whining? Castration? Persecution? Apartheid? Let's talk about fake things!) when he's not fabricating or lying. Disappointing that Buford lived in England for a long time and still swallowing this Kool-Aid.
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LibraryThing member figre
I decided to read this book for a very strange reason. (Okay, the real first reason was that it was on sale as part of a going out of business sale – but that one is beside the point.) I have always wondered what is meant by the phrase “Travel Writing” – how is it different than other
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writing, is it just a bunch of travelogues some of which do a better job of describing the land, how many travel writing pieces can there really be?

I got my answer. Travel writing (at least if I am to believe what I learned from this one book) is nothing more than an essay that happens to include travel. Oh, there are exceptions – some of these pieces are easily identifiable as writing about a trip/travel. But many are much more about the person writing or the stories of the people involved – the core of most successful essays – than about the trip. In fact, in one or two instances, it seemed to me that calling it a travel writing piece was a bit of a stretch. (One quick example – “The Ponzi State” by George Packer appears to be included because it talks about Florida. What it really talks about is the causes for the economic collapse we have just experienced. This is a business piece – deserving of being in “The Best Business Writing” if there is such a thing – not a travel piece.)

So, as with any of the “Best of…” series, there is some good, some really good, some bad, and some really bad. The really good include Tom Bissell’s “Looking for Judas” which is a literal search for the place where Judas hung himself and includes an inspection of the scriptures surrounding that story as well as the people living there now, Ian Frazier’s “Travels in Siberia” which tells of his driving across the entire length of Siberia (an essay almost as long as that limitless expanse – but worth the read), David Owen’s “The Ghost Course” about the discovery and rebuilding of a Scottish course designed by Old Tom Morris – the founding father of modern golf – and the effects on the area, Matthew Power’s “Lost in the Amazon” about Ed Stafford’s attempt to walk the entire length of the Amazon river, and Steven Rinella’s “Me, Myself, and Ribeye” about the quality of meat that can be obtained when dining (to fancy a word for what occurs) in Argentina.

So, as often happens with such collections, the good are good, the bad are bad, and the book is only as strong as the average of all the pieces.
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LibraryThing member missbrandysue
This collection of American travel writing reaches across the globe from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and everywhere in between, including one article on the gracious place State Fairs have in our culture.

I am a huge world traveler so, of course, this was right up my alley. I loved the
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articles! From the gritty homosexual encounters to the argument against the pride of being a "tourist." I thought each article took on its own personality and caught a glimpse into each of the authors' souls. Very nice collection!
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LibraryThing member Rdra1962
some great writing, only one female writer, too many "friends of the editor" - New Yorker magazine writers - Buford edits that magazine.



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