Grand (Literary) Tour

The truth is I am not an enthusiastic traveler. In fact, aside from work, I barely travel at all. I’ve always feared that what Ralph Waldo Emerson said in Self-Reliance is true: “Traveling is a fool’s paradise … I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.”

But to blame Emerson for my lack of lust for travel is romantic in the extreme, and also disingenuous. Here’s why I don’t travel: I am stymied by the most mundane activities that it entails—choosing dates, buying maps, checking air or rail fares, and packing a suitcase. I am frustrated by my inability to speak any language but English and fear that I am too old to learn a second (or third).

I am, to use an au courant phrase, an inveterate virtual traveler. I’ve always loved armchair travel and stories of dashing and daring explorers. Some of the books I’ve most enjoyed over the years are those that have given me a sense of being in another place and time, whether they’re nonfiction, mysteries, historicals, or science fiction and fantasies.

It took about two solid years of reading, of trolling the 900s in the library and spending hours at new and used book stores, before I began to actually winnow down the lists of books I read into what became my latest book. And those two years were wonderful: discovering (or rereading) authors of travel and fiction like Sara Wheeler (Antarctica, Chile, Greece), Michael Mewshaw (North Africa), Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador), Gavin Young (China), Tobias Schneebaum (Peru, New Guinea), Dervla Murphy (Cuba, India, Ireland, Nepal, Peru, Siberia), Daniel Alarcón (Mexico), and Colin Cotterill (Laos), among so many others, was a great treat and a rare privilege.

So I think I can say with some justification that in writing Book Lust to Go I was, in accord with what I read years before in A Girl Can Dream, writing about the things I know. To paraphrase a former recent president, it all depends on what the meaning of the word “know” is.

—Nancy Pearl
Book Lust to Go

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