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I think it was Elmore Leonard who suggested that writers should get rid of extraneous descriptive passages, and keep the narrative speeding along through the use of crisp dialogue and constant action. Great travelogues should do the exact opposite, devoting substantial portions of the book to evocative descriptions of places, people and things. One of the greatest travel books of our time, Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, does this extraordinarily well.
I first read it, over a quarter century ago, when I first went to America, and I was immediately entranced by the author’s gorgeous trawl through the back roads of his nation. The book seemed to be talking about another country—a place of calendar cafés that were the polar opposite of fast food franchises, winding roads, local eccentricities, bizarre place names and a host of other things—that I suspected the vast majority of urban Americans knew very little about. Even then, the things the author was writing about were rapidly vanishing. Read it and be transported to a country you probably didn’t know existed.
David Davidar is the co-founder of the Aleph Book Company and the author of Ithaca
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