Ho asolato

I continue, as ever, through the Best American Series. This time it is The Best American Travel Writing 2010. Unlike many library books — especially older ones — the book feels new and the pages are not worn at the corners and there is nothing sticky joining certain sections.

So far all of the stories have varied greatly in length and content. They are all about travel, which can be mean just about anything.

The foreword is magnificently well written. Unlike many forewords it doesn’t ramble on about what the book is about or give details one doesn’t really care for — in the case of The Best American Series some kind of yearbook, explanation or theory about the genre. Instead, it is a story from the editor’s travels. I think he — Jason Wilson — is trying to make the point that travel is magical even though we don’t always know why.

Wilson talks about being trapped in Italy because of the explosions of the Icelandic volcano last spring. He passes his time leisurely and no one feels too bad that he is stranded. He briefly discusses the enigma of his sightseeing, “During her exile, the Italian verb asolare — meaning “to pass time in a delightful but meaningless way” — came into usage. Perhaps that’s how I can sum up my brief stranding in Italy. I visited some more wineries. Made some friends. Ho asolato.” Wilson can’t help but turn the foreword into something that would fit in with the articles that were selected to make up the rest of the book.

The travel writing is much more personal than other forms of journalism. Beyond what is found in travel books and advice sections — the basic game reports and election results — are stories of journeys and experiences that people have taken. It is predominantly in the first person and can be about whatever happened to someone, somewhere, when they weren’t at home. This is more like a novel or a memoir than it is reportage. This is a series of events that unfolded, memories, wanderings, a story. This is the complex phenomenon that we all save up for — except those who are lucky enough to get paid to write about it — and go off in search of.

This writing is personal, someone is sharing their experience with you. It is not about being objective or gathering sources, it is about telling a story.

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