“The Best American Travel Writing 2005” Edited by Jamaica Kincaid
Even a week-long jaunt to my hometown gives me the thrills.
I like packing suitcases and crossing off days on a calendar until a trip arrives.
Is it any surprise that the Houghton Mifflin Company’s “The Best American Travel Writing” series floats my boat?
Recently, I picked up the 2005 edition for a steal at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. This edition, edited by Jamaica Kincaid, is jam packed with twenty-five non-fiction essays from every magazine from The New Yorker to the Missouri Review, and each of them made me want to being up Travelocity and start a’plannin’.
My favorites of the batch are a grab bag. “My Florida,” by William E. Blundell, is a touching story of the authors father having grown older and retired to the strange land of Florida with it’s vacation image and retiree reality. “The Vertigo Girls do the East Tonto Trail” by Pam Houston is about two women out for a challenging hike through the Grand Canyon. “Into the Land of Bin Laden” by Robert Young Pelton brings back memories of only a short while ago when the world was still looking for the notorious terrorist. In Pelton’s essay, bin Laden is still on the run somewhere in the nearby area. Reading the essay, and then thinking about the present day, it’s easy to see how we’re living history each and every day.
Of all the essays, I’d have to say the one I’ll remember is Mark Jenkins’ “Leap Year.” In it, a family decides to uproot their life to move to Spain and adapt to the incredibly different lifestyle and language.
Here’s a brief sample of why I loved this essay –
It is not possible to know a country well without knowing its language. Language is the magic key that opens the imposing gates to another kingdom. Once inside, everything looks different, not the least of which is your mother country on the other side of the fence. What you actually see and feel and believe – that is, who you are – depends a great deal on where you’re standing on the globe. Geography is destiny.
If there was ever a passage that explains everything I like about travel writing, that’s it right there. Jenkins, like the rest of the writers in this collection, is incredibly skilled at his craft and is able to paint a portrait of what being in any of these situations and places – from New Jersey to India – might be like.
It’s like traveling without actually traveling. (Not bad for a $3 purchase.)