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From the Reading Chair: Travelling

This is an off year for real travel, so I must travel vicariously. Luckily, the library has many trips you can take via a book in your own reading chair.

Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia  renewed and invigorated the modern travel book. It introduced us to many fascinating characters, places, and sensations. The most interseting character was the author himself. Theroux is a bit of a curmudgeon: he dislikes so many things; luckily, his travel writings do not sink into the "I hate it here' sub-genre of travel books. The worst things get, the more resilient he gets, and the more he seems to enjoy it.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar  returns us to the trail of that book written thirty years ago, and some things have changed, and some have not. Communism is gone, but pointy headed bureaucrats (a fav foil of Theroux) remain. Some of the trains he took do not exist anymore, but Theroux, admirably, has no qualms about hopping on a rattletrap chicken bus, iffy taxi cabs, or walking. Theroux is curious, a good trait for a traveller, and his writer's eye for detail makes him an enjoyable, if sometimes grumpy, guide. I highly recommend this and all his travel books.

Nicholas Rankin came to travel Robert Louis Stevenson's wanderings via a different route from Theroux's reason for travel. He bought a volume of Stevenson's work on Cervantes and Shakespeare's death day (April 16), and  the short stories in the book reminded him of Jorge Luis Borges' fables. Then Rankin had an opportunity to interview Borges, and read Stevenson to the blind author to break the ice.When Rankin left, Borges gave him a stone: a touchstone, he called it. Rankin had read Stevenson's "The Touchstone" to Borges. Chance favors the prepared mind, so when an editor asked Rankin some months later if he would like to write of RLS' travels. He started packing and the result is Dead Man's Chest: Travels After Robert Louis Stevenson .

When I picked up this book, I had been reconning the Kidnapped trail, to follow David Balfour and Alan Breck's course from the Western part of Scotland to Edinburgh. Rankin trumps this bagatelle. He goes everywhere RLS did, from his Edinburgh roots to America and his grave in Samoa.The book is many things: travel book, biography, and critical reassessment. Rankin likes Stevenson and his work. This book is clearly a labor of love, and people with a fairly keen interest in RLS will enjoy the trip along the too short path of Stevenson's life.