If your jet-lagged self is in need of a little inspiration before your next adventure, look to Michael Shapiro’s new book, A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration.
Part of the Travelers’ Tales series, this collection of interviews with leading travel writers from around the world is a fascinating look at what goes on behind the story-not just on a specific trip, but in a writer’s life-past and present-that pushes him or her to explore the world, notebook (or laptop) in hand.
For four years, Shapiro wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle travel section. He won the 1998 Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers, and he helped to develop Global Network Navigator, the first online directory of sites on the World Wide Web.
Shapiro traveled throughout the United States, Great Britain, and Europe to interview the writers he chose to include in the book-a selection he made based on the influence their work has had on his own. Included in the book are Tim Cahill; Frances Mayes; Jonathan Raban; Redmond O’Hanlon; Isabel Allende; Bill Bryson; Paul Theroux; Arthur Frommer; Pico Iyer; Rick Steves; Simon Winchester; Jeff Greenwald; Eric Newby; Sara Wheeler; Brad Newsham; Tom Miller; Peter Matthiessen; and Jan Morris (from a personal standpoint, I would have liked to have seen more female writers included, but this is Shapiro’s book, not mine!).
This isn’t a “how-to” for travel writers. You won’t necessarily learn any tricks of the trade. You will learn about the writers though. Bill Bryson is apparently as humorous and genial in an interview as he is in his books (one of the few writers who actually makes me laugh out loud when I’m reading). Sara Wheeler unapologetically admits to just making stuff up (not when it comes to facts and history…but when she’s trying to convey a “poetic truth”). Jonathan Raban hates long plane flights. Isabel Allende’s ideal vacation consists of “sitting in a chair beneath an umbrella on my patio, reading books of adventures I would never consider attempting unless I was escaping from something.”
Reading this book is both enlightening and motivating. And yes, at times practical too, although perhaps without meaning to be. My favorite piece of “advice” in the book comes from Shapiro himself who tells British writer Sara Wheeler that his editor at the San Francisco Chronicle always takes one trip a year without his notebook just for the sheer joy of travel.
This might be just the book you should take along on your own travels.