Monday, October 10, 2011

Paul Theroux does not like travel blogs

Paul Theroux, probably the best-known travel writer working today, is a famous grouch and he does not like travel blogs.  He told an interviewer in last May’s Atlantic  --  who had suggested there might be a certain bloggish quality about his recent book  --  that he loathes travel blogs.  He finds them hasty, chatty and particular.  “Blogs look to me illiterate . . ., like someone babbling. To me, writing is a considered act . . . something which is a great labor of thought and consideration. A blog doesn't seem to have any literary merit at all.”  Not surprisingly, he does not write a blog.

In all fairness, one must admit the man has something there, plain-spoken as he may present it.  And I know it can be answered that a blog isn’t literature: it’s blogging.  But in which case one needs to have some reason that anyone else would want to read it.  If you have just found a lost city or been raised up as a god by an undiscovered tribe, then the raw data feed could be interesting, but for most of us we need some art to make our more quotidian adventures of interest to others.

It takes effort to make something worth reading.  It is not enough just to have taken the same train. 

And if you want to know what Theroux thinks good travel writing looks like, see his new book, The Tao of Travel, a commonplace book of the great travel writing.


  1. I haven't read the newest of his book--I'll have to read it. I have read many of Theroux's books and have always thought that I wouldn't want to travel with him and I don't always agree with him, but I enjoy reading and learning from him and I keep reading his books.

    1. Sage: He is who he is. I suspect he may have been describing himself, albeit in an exaggerated form, in the protagonist of Mosquito Coast.

      His latest, The Tao of Travel, is a commonplace book on travel writing and a lot of fun to read. You could easily mine it for a series of posts.

      Grouchy as he may be, he has thought seriously about the genre and I have learned a lot from him.

      My model in travel writing, though, remains Evelyn Waugh. I would love to be Wilfred Thesiger or Paddy Fermor or even, on occasion, Redmond O'Hanlon, but I fear I would never measure up. I loved reading Bruce Chatwin, but don't think I would have wanted to live his sort of life.

      Thesiger describes a meeting with Waugh in Addis Ababa when Waugh wanted to tag along on a trip into Danikil country. Thesiger found everything about Waugh repulsive, down to the cut of his clothes, and said essentially that had they gone out into the desert together that he would have killed Waugh. As I admire both gentlemen and also find Thesiger's reaction entirely understandable, I intend to write about that someday.