Saturday , September 26 2020
“The story of the journey is never the journey itself: it is at best a summation, based on past events but delivered for the listeners in front of us at the moment of retelling. Between the past and the memory of the past there is always a gap. … That gap is called perspective.”

Book Review: ‘Reclaiming Travel’ by Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison

ReclaimingTravel For many, travel means a vacation trip of discovery and exploring new places. Reclaiming Travel emphasizes the fantasy and reality of travel over the centuries. Readers can explore the allure of travel, and discover why many of us are always packing a bag, eager to go somewhere, anywhere, several times a year for the pleasure of being away from home.

Authors Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison say to travel is to consent to the prospect and potential of the unfamiliar.

We leave home in one way and come back in another. The person who departs and the one who returns aren’t the same. A transformation occurs, or better, a metamorphosis. The person before and the person after might share the same features… but their inner truths are different. … In short, travel at its best gives us access to what we might have previously believed to be beyond our grasp. It enlarges the scope of our thinking, gives a larger context to our self-understanding.”

From the very first chapter, Reclaiming Travel forms the basis for understanding travel as something more than it appears, and explores concepts beyond the average reader’s perception of travel. More than wanderlust or exploration, travel has the power to transform and enrich our lives.

Writers will enjoy the comparisons of travel writing to memoir; the life story circumscribed by a journey. As with memoir there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to every trip.

Reclaiming Travel offers us a generous look at modern travel writing from authors, such as Geoff Dyer, Rebecca Solnit, and John McPhee. These writers and many like them are able to deliver a gripping narrative, using journalistic techniques, history, environmental activism, and science to tell their story.

In “The Endless Atlas” chapter, readers who love maps will be filled with glee over the history and stories about how maps were perceived back when they were the only way to plan travel. Back then, “the blank space on a map suggested the potential for exploration.”

Stavans and Ellison offer an intelligent and fascinating look at the meaning and history of travel and creates awareness of the vast difference between “vacation” and “travel.” Reclaiming Travel will likely motivate you to see the difference, and get much more out of your experiences as you travel near and far. Consider the ubiquitous presence of technology. This thoughtful discussion addresses the technological progress that makes it easier for us to find our way, but we pay a price. “Before GPS, no one expected to be instantly locatable and to be instantly oriented to our destination.” When in the past, we would wander a city to get oriented, and follow a paper map; maybe now we charge our gadgets and let them lead the way. By bringing the world to us, it might detract from simply experiencing what lies before us.

Bouncing freely from modern travel issues and fascinating historical comparisons, Reclaiming Travel offers a look at international literature by some of the best known writers. It is through their distinct cultural viewpoints that a traveler might first make sense of a foreign location such as Istanbul or Egypt.

The book ends with a fascinating history of the development of the leisure lifestyle in Southern California and of the Grand Tour concept popular in England, where extended travel was undertaken for cultural enrichment and is enlightening without scolding those who prefer package tours. “All of us journey depending on where we are in life. To reclaim travel is to recover the capacity to wonder…”

It is then that we return to ourselves.

 

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About Helen Gallagher

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