Friday, October 21, 2011

Paul Theroux - The Tao of Travel

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 Paul Theroux likes to travel alone. Not just on your average vacation, but on lengthy, continent-spanning trips. He has a disgust for tourists and a lot of the people he meets along the way. And while many travel books do their best to paint every foreign country in a positive, semi-exotic light, Theroux holds no punches; if he doesn't like a city, he's going to lay out exactly what he doesn't like about it.

Such an attitude can be (and has been) mistaken for misanthropy. But while Theroux's writing can be barbed, dismissive, pessimistic and overly critical, his keen eye for detail, love of traveling, and occasional moment of bliss are what prevents his books from descending into pure vitriol. And Theroux is just as critical of himself as he is of his fellow travels and destinations. Much of the time he struggles with paradox of travel writing - how to accurately describe your own experience in a location without devolving into narcissism.

This strange combination of cynicism and persistent curiosity is what makes Theroux one of my favorite travel writers. And because he's been writing accounts of his travels for the past thirty-five years, there's a lot of books to choose from, though this can be intimidating to the newcomer. Theroux's latest book then, The Tao of Travel, can be seen as both an introduction to the man's work, as well as a summary of his career as a travel writer. {Read the full review}

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