The Tao of Travel – Paul Theroux

After he wrote The Fearful Void, he told an English interviewer from the Guardian, “Doing this journey was a piece of propaganda in a way.  It seems to me that every writer’s a propagandist, in that he’s trying to advance a point of view he believes, and my point of view is that we’re all essentially like each other.  We all suffer the same things, we all laugh at the same things, and we all have to recognise this interdependence.
Geoffrey Moorhouse – The Fearful Void (1974)

It has the right ingredients, writers and their travels, complied by a writer who has travelled and written about it for a good portion of his life, the mixing was thorough, sections such as The Pleasures of Railways, Travellers who never went alone to Imaginary Journeys and Travellers Bliss, with nuggets of travel wisdom from luminaries such as Evelyn Waugh, Freya Stark and Samuel Johnson sprinkled in.  But in the end it didn’t turn out to be quite as enjoyable as I hoped.

I think Theroux is a great travel writer and this book promised to be an insight into his inspirations and also the rich vein of travel writing which he has become a contemporary part of, but it just didn’t interest or inspire as much as I hoped it would.  There are parts of interest throughout and the books strength comes in it’s highlighting new writers to read about, or giving you a taste of writers who you may have wondered about but not actually read.

I agreed with all but one of Theroux’s essential Tao of Travel points and maybe I was expecting too much, but it felt too much like a reference book at the end, something to dip into, but not to read on a long train journey to destinations far flung.

Modern education ignores the need for solitude: hence a decline in religion, in poetry, in all the deeper affections of the spirit: a disease to be doing something always, as if one could never sit quietly and let the puppet show unroll itself before one: an inability to lose oneself in mystery and wonder while, like a wave lifting us into new seas, the history of the world develops around us.
Freya Stark – The Valleys of the Assasins

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