Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse, Edited by Brian Bouldrey
When publishers inquire whether I want to review a book of travel essays, I generally have said “No, thanks. My readers prefer a place-specific book.” Inspired Journeys breaks that rule. Fortunately, the publisher, University of Wisconsin Press, sent it without asking in advance.
It sat on my shelf for a while, because I didn’t think I would like it much. Essay collections are generally so uneven that I hate wading through the chaff to get at the fruit. (to mix an agricultural metaphor). Plus which, the title was off-putting–all a bit to woo-woo for me.
But one day I picked it up and started reading. I am glad I did. The seventeen essays, so different from each other in subject and style, have in common outstanding writing. No, of course, I did not love them all equally, but I can honestly say there were none that I thought was a total waste of time. I am not sure how Brian Bouldrey was able to pull off getting so many excellent writers in one book, but I appreciate his effort.
As for that woo-woo title–the book does have a strong theme, but the theme is hard to explain (as is evident in the divergence between title and subtitle.) Each writer, in essence, is on a pilgrimage, or a quest. Some are trying to connect with a favorite writer. “Little Log Houses for You and Me” by Kimberly Meyer relates a trip through Laura Ingalls Wilder country. “The Way of the White Clouds” compares writerTrebor Healey’s life to Jack Keroac–some actual travel, but lots of travel through life. We even go on a trip to visit the history of the world’s worst poet in “The Terriblest Poet” by Brian Bouldrey, the editor of the volume.
The more traditional pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago in Spain gets a look in “Buen Camino” by Sherman Apt Russel. A particularly beautiful and well-structured piece by Russell Scott Valentino, called “An Accidental Pilgrimage,” visits family history in the Azores. He quotes a Russian writer friend as saying, “travel for its own sake is always a search for God.” The quote is just one of things that makes this piece memorable.
Many philosophical questions arise from the imperious comment of a border guard in “What means Go?” by Lucy Jane Bledsoe. One thought, common to everyone of us who call ourselves travel writers–“I never know if I’m a writer so that I can travel or if I’m a traveler so that I can write.”
“The Chevra” by Goldie Goldbloom taught me about a Jewish ritual I was unaware of. I found the piece to be particularly moving because of the author’s spare, matter of fact style in describing very emotional subjects.
But I really must stop, even though I have not mentioned every excellent piece of writing in this little gem of a book. I hope you will give it a look.