THE TAO OF TRAVEL by Paul Theroux

Book Quote:

“As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my mind was of flight–my little self hurrying off alone. The word ‘travel’ did not occur to me, nor did the word ‘transformation,’ which was my unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find a new self in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith.”

Book Review:

Review by Doug Bruns  AUG 12, 2011)

How many travelers has Paul Theroux influenced, I wonder? If poets and composers and artists are prodded, pushed and inspired by predecessors and peers, why not travelers?

Many years ago, after reading The Happy Isles of Oceania, Mr. Theroux’s 1992 book about his exploits paddling around the South Seas in a kayak, I was infected with the Theroux travel bug. (I don’t know what else to call it.) My first adult foray abroad, after reading it, found me in Chilean Patagonia and there, surrounded by fellow travelers with rambling resumes of adventure as long as your arm, I realized that there are people who travel in a serious way in this world. Really seriously, with concentrated intent, focus and devotion. I subsequently devoured Theroux’s travel oeuvre, got my passport renewed, and set out for parts unknown. And then it happened. Fast forward. One night, while on a boat in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of the Seychelles, I became seriously homesick. It was, I realized, the night of my daughter’s homecoming dance and my heart was breaking for home. Only then, I understood, that not everyone can be Paul Theroux. Because one likes to travel, one is no more a traveler á la Theroux, then a day hiker is Sir Edmond Hillary.

Like so much of Theroux’s work, The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road, is deceivingly fun. That is to say, his writing is entertaining, his insights profound without being laborious and his style simple and breezy. But make no mistake, Mr. Theroux takes his travel and his travel writing, seriously.

The Tao of Travel is not a travel book, per se. It is a compendium of travel quotes, observations and insights accumulated by Mr. Theroux and collected into categories, framed by his editing and commentary. Here, for example, in a chapter called, “Travel as an Ordeal,” we find William Burroughs commenting, “The Upper Amazon jungle has fewer disagreeable features than the Mid-West stateside woods in summer.” Or in the chapter called “Travel Feats,” Mr. Theroux relates to story of Göran Kropp (1966-2002) who “biked seven thousand miles from Stock-holm to Nepal (via Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan) and then climbed Everest….Afterward Kropp biked back to Sweden, being assaulted on the way by xenophobes and stone-throwing people.” Other chapters include, “It is Solved by Walking,” “Traveler’s Bliss,” and “Perverse Pleasures of the Inhospitable.” There are twenty-seven chapters total and every one is a gem.

Mr. Theroux writes in the Preface, that the book is “intended as a guidebook, a how-to, a miscellany, a vade mecum, a reading list, a reminiscence. And because the notion of travel is often a metaphor for living a life, many travelers, expressing a simple notion of a trip, have written something accidentally philosophical, even metaphysical.” The writing might occasionally rise to the metaphysical, but The Tao of Travel, the very physical book, is a tangible marvel. The cover is soft pearled leather, with faux gold-leaf inlay. And, upon opening the book, one discovers in the leaf a replication of the 1626 “NEW AND ACCURAT [sic] MAP OF THE WORLD.” To finish the package off is an elastic, Moleskine-like, book clasp. The book is not only a delight to read, it is a pleasure to hold. As a gift, particularly for the young traveler, The Tao of Travel will provide a lifetime of pleasure. It belongs on the shelf of every reader interested in the world beyond his or her study, which is to say, everyone.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 37 readers
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 19, 2011)
REVIEWER: Doug Bruns
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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August 12, 2011 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Non-fiction, y Award Winning Author

One Response

  1. poornima - August 24, 2011

    With this review, you have shown that the pleasure one derives from reading is as much from holding a physical, tangible book (leather, smell of pages) as the story itself. I could easily tell you are a reader. Thanks for pointing out the descriptors of the book itself. Only a reader would be able to appreciate these and know to do so.

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