Paul Theroux On How He Became a Travel Writer

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Paul Theroux may be a curmudgeon, but he’s a damn good travel writer (if that’s what you must call him). This piece in the Guardian about how and why Theroux became a travel writer comes a few days shy of the release of his books The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express as Penguin Modern Classics.

I couldn’t agree with Theroux more on this point:

The travel book was a bore. It annoyed me that a traveller hid his or her moments of desperation or fear or lust. Or the time he or she screamed at the taxi driver, or mocked the folk dancers. And what did they eat, what books did they read to kill time, and what were the toilets like? I had done enough travelling to know that half of travel was delay or nuisance – buses breaking down, hotel clerks being rude, market peddlers being rapacious. The truth of travel was interesting and off-key, and few people ever wrote about it.

I can hardly stand reading a long-form travel writing feature (unless it’s in Outside Magazine), even though that’s the line of work I’m in. It’s an inconvenient truth. And, yet, the guidebook writing business is one that leaves little opportunity to report on the distasteful aspects of travel. As guidebooks must take on a certain form – where to go, what to do, where to eat, etc. – there’s little room to list the negatives. And so you cull the best from what you have experienced.

I think that blogs offer the critical travel writer a great forum for expressing the more personal aspects of trips. Perhaps, some day, I will have the chance to write a book about what I really think about Italy, Turkey, India, etc. Stay tuned!

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